California Attorney General Rob Bonta said Thursday that the city of Encinitas should have approved a permit for a 277-unit housing development and that he will "promptly act to hold the city accountable" if it does not approve a modified version of the project proposal.
In a statement, Bonta's office said the city's denial last year of the Encinitas Boulevard Apartments blocked the state's efforts "to increase housing affordability and accessibility" in the city. The statement noted that the city's median home price is more than double the median price statewide.
"No one needs to do everything to solve the problem, but everyone needs to do something," Bonta told NBC 7's Mark Mullen in an interview Thursday. "And what is that problem? We are 2.5 to 3 million housing units short in the state of California. It's led to the average median home price to be $800,000 -- far out of reach for most working families."
The project, proposed for the Olivenhain neighborhood, would have included 41 units set aside for lower-income families.
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Bonta's office said the project should have been approved because state housing laws restrict local governments from denying permits for such projects.
"You don't have this unfettered discretion to do whatever you wish. There are laws that apply ... laws like the density bonus law, the housing accountability act. Those came into play here with the city of Encinitas," Bonta told Mullen.
In a letter dated Thursday to Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear, Deputy Attorney General Matthew T. Struhar wrote that the project's developer is expected to submit a revised proposal that will set aside 20% of its units for affordable housing, which is about 5% more than originally planned.
City officials did not immediately respond for comment regarding the Department of Justice's letter.
"While we're pleased the city may have the opportunity to take corrective action by approving a modified version of the Encinitas Boulevard Apartments project, it shouldn't take the threat of legal action to induce compliance with the law," said Bonta. "As we work to tackle California's housing crisis, we need local governments to act as partners to increase the housing supply, not throw up roadblocks. Our Housing Strike Force is working to hold those who break our housing laws accountable in order to help California families wrestling with the high cost of housing, and we're in this fight for the long haul."