Pasadena Continues Wrestling With State for Control Over Local Development

Published : Monday, August 13, 2018 | 5:20 AM

Archival photograph shows demolition in Pasadena in 2016 before new construction began.

The City is continuing its wrestling match with the state over control of Pasadena’s skyline, with a new round expected as soon as next month, officials said.

A previous City attempt to curtail recent state laws that override city planning ordinances in favor of large and high-density residential developments stalled in April after City officials received a letter from the California Department of Housing and Community Development warning that Pasadena’s plan could potentially run afoul of state law.

But the City isn’t giving up.

Pasadena Planning and Community Development Department Director David Reyes says he recently spoke with state authorities and told them of the City’s intention to revisit the issue in the coming months.

“Two weeks ago, staff had a conversation with the state housing office,” he said. “And staff explained we had received the letter, we are evaluating that letter, and we are evaluating the direction from Council and we will be looking to go back to the City Council with potential options in the City’s interest to balance the playing field… sometime in September.”

“And we, both the state and the staff here, promised to be in touch before we went to Council to do another check-in. We anticipate having that check-in meeting in early September,” he said.

Recent changes in California law allow state regulators to overrule a city’s objections to a development based on concerns over it clashing with the existing community.

“Some state laws, such as density bonus SB1818 (of 2004) is taking away local rights with respect to zoning. That sometimes results in projects that have an imbalance in terms of the developer [getting] a huge upside in the number of units and revenue that he’s able to generate from that project, and the City is left with just a few affordable units,” according to Reyes.

“What we would like to do is balance the scale so that the city is benefiting,” he said. “If we cannot stop the state from passing these laws that take away our ability to control development, we at least want to balance the scales so that we get greater upside, and that could come from a greater number of affordable units or some other community benefit that we might not otherwise get. That’s our goal and challenge right now.”

Reyes said the current rulings heavily favor developers.

“It is nearly impossible to make the findings for denial, and there is no court case on record where a city has prevailed when they’ve denied a density bonus project,” he said.

And legislators could always go further, Reyes said. “We’re very concerned about those future bills.”

While Pasadena has adopted regulations requiring developments to include a significant amount of affordable housing that are more strict than many other jurisdictions, state law has the ability to undo that careful planning, he said.

“What we need to do is seriously look at our inclusionary housing requirements and see if that’s what needs to be addressed,” he said. “At least we get a greater number of affordable units from the developer if they’re getting cleaner market revenues.”

Despite what’s going on in Sacramento, “The City Council and Planning Departments are working diligently to do everything we can to maintain and preserve the character of the city.,” Reyes said.

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