Pasadena Considers Ways to Entice Developers Into Cooperation

Published : Monday, October 22, 2018 | 4:55 AM

Rather than simply fighting against the state and developers to maintain control over construction projects in Pasadena, city officials are exploring the option of coaxing cooperation through incentives.

A slew of new state laws has weakened California cities’ ability to block developments they find objectionable, so long as the developments include a required amount of affordable housing.

In an effort to keep control of Pasadena’s character and skyline, city officials are now working with the newly formed San Gabriel Valley Committee of the Building Industry Association of Southern California, Los Angeles/Ventura Chapter to craft their own “density bonuses,” said attorney Richard McDonald on behalf of the Committee.

“We’re happy to work with the City on that. We think that’s a good approach,” he said.

A City Council public hearing was scheduled last Monday to consider raising the fees developers must pay the city in lieu of building sufficient affordable housing into their projects. Staff recommended they do so.

But at the same time, staff pointed out the city’s weakening grasp on the development that takes place within its borders.

“Over the course of the past two years, the California state legislature has passed numerous bills aimed at increasing housing production and affordability.· Many of these laws went into effect in January 2018, and have the overall effect of limiting the ability of local governments to deny proposals for housing development, particularly those that include affordable units and are seeking to take advantage of state density bonus law,” according to a City staff report.

“With housing affordability remaining a key issue for the state for the foreseeable future, it is expected that the state will continue the ongoing trend toward limiting local governments’ ability to deny or restrict development intensity, particularly the development of housing and affordable housing,” according to the report.

The City Council delayed action and instead ordered a study on the idea of offering local density bonuses that may lure developers into complying with the City’s vision, rather than taking advantage of superseding state laws to construct projects the City doesn’t think fit in Pasadena. For one example, developers are able to build taller structures using the state exemptions than would otherwise be allowed by Pasadena’s ordinances.

“So what staff was saying was maybe if we offer a little less height and a little less (floor-area ratio), and we do parking reductions or we come up with some other incentives,” McDonald said on behalf of the Association Committee..

Developers also may be enticed by the prospect of “by right” status for their projects, meaning they would be exempted from further discretionary review and able to be completed much more quickly than usual, he said.

“We’re in favor of a study, but we need to be included in discussion about it because we’re the ones that build these buildings and we’re the ones that can tell you the economics of it,” McDonald added.