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Attorney General’s SB 9 Letter Draws Mixed Reaction From Pasadena Residents

Published on Friday, March 18, 2022 | 5:46 am
[-Image courtesy of City of Laguna Nigel]

[UPDATED] Local residents responded to state Attorney General Rob Bonta’s letter to city officials decrying a recently-approved Pasadena ‘urgency’ ordinance in response to Senate Bill 9.

The ordinance passed in December prohibits the application of SB 9 to any parts of the city designated as a “landmark district.”

Bonta said the ordinance is illegal.

SB 9 mandates local agencies must approve certain subdivisions of one single-family residential lot into two without discretionary review and requires local agencies approve proposed two-unit development projects on lots in a single-family residential zone without discretionary review.

Critics of SB 9 claim the bill will lead to the destruction of single-family housing and that it will have a negative on impact Black and Brown communities.

But according to Bonta, SB 9 does not exempt landmark districts — it exempts only specific landmarks, historic properties, or historic districts.

The city currently has 23 designated landmark districts as well as 20 historic districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Bonta also said Pasadena’s criteria for designating areas “landmark districts” are extremely broad and untethered to historic resources so as to potentially encompass large swaths of the City.

Bonta called on the city to repeal or amend its ordinance to comply with the new state law within 30 days.

“I am glad the State Attorney General is addressing this,” said local attorney Richard McDonald. “We all know there is a housing shortage, and that we have an obligation to the next generation to provide more housing. The state has passed laws to do that, and the courts have upheld those laws over a variety of local objections. We are a nation of laws. We may not like them, and we can oppose them; but, once we have them, we have to follow them or seek to change them. Evading or dodging them is not an option, and I support the Attorney General’s efforts to enforce the law.”

Bonta did not say what would happen if the city failed to repeal or amend its ordinance.

“The Attorney General’s opinion seems to be just that, a very narrow, strict interpretation of Senate Bill 9 based on nomenclature.  Whether or not local landmark districts — like state and national register historic districts  — are exempt in their entirety from the provisions of SB 9 as Bonta contends will most likely have to be tested in the courts,” said Julianna Delgado, president of the Southern California Planning Congress, who sits on the city’s Planning Commission.

According to Delgado, since Pasadena adopted its first local landmark district   — what the City calls its local historic districts  — starting in the late 1980s,  criteria for designation has been generally in keeping with those established by the US Dept. of Interior for the National Register of Historic Places.

“The difference is that landmark districts may solely be significant to the city’s history, not the state’s or nation’s,” Delgado said. “As applied per Chapter 17 of the City’s Municipal Code, within Pasadena’s landmark districts, properties may be differentiated as contributors [those that support the significance of a district with respect to Pasadena’s history] and non-contributors [those that do not contribute to district significance].  The AG contends that  contributors to local landmark districts may be exempt from SB 9 on an individual basis but not the district in its entirety.  Thus, like with all new laws, broader interpretation will need to be adjudicated.”

More than 200 California cities have opposed SB 9.

Supporters of SB 9 say it will help solve the state’s growing housing crisis.

On Tuesday, Mayor Victor Gordo said the city received the letter regarding the city’s implementation of SB9 without any prior conversation regarding the substance of its regulations and how they comply with the law.

“The City of Pasadena’s efforts regarding housing policy and production have been progressive and responsive to the housing crisis and we remain committed to doing our part to help address the state’s housing issues. The Attorney General’s letter recognized Pasadena’s good faith effort to always comply with the letter and the intent of SB 9.”

“Our interpretation of SB 9 appears to differ from that of the Attorney General’s regarding historic and landmark districts. We will review the Attorney General’s letter and the statute further and promptly provide a written response.”

The Madison Heights Neighborhood Association also took Bonta to task when reached by Pasadena Now.

“The Attorney General’s letter suggests he is unaware of how Pasadena designates landmark districts,” said Glenn Camhi,  Secretary of the Madison Heights Neighborhood Association. “He incorrectly suggests it’s an arbitrary process, but in fact the City uses an extremely rigorous, time proven, evidence-based methodology for identifying areas of historically significant architecture worthy of landmark district status. Having worked on getting a landmark district designated for the past several years, we can attest to that rigor. The Attorney General’s letter does not seem to make sense, and will surely be responded to with clarification.”

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9 thoughts on “Attorney General’s SB 9 Letter Draws Mixed Reaction From Pasadena Residents

  • How about getting a comment from anyone other than the Madison Heights NIMBY Association?

  • I want to provide some background context to your recent article’s comment that the Madison Heights Landmark effort was initiated in response to SB9 as that is not entirely accurate. The Madison Heights Landmark District effort to preserve our historic homes began years before SB9 was passed . The Landmark effort is complex and COVID restrictions made our efforts, especially signature collection, time consuming and difficult. With the reduction in COVID restrictions this year, we resumed our signature collections efforts and this coincidentally coincided with the emergence of SB 9. The Madison Heights Neighborhood Association, in consultation with the city, believes SB 9 protects Landmark Districts and we added this as another rationale to protect our historic neighborhoods.

    John Latta
    President of Madison Heights Neighborhood Association

  • Pasadena says they are doing everything possible to address the housing shortage but don’t try legalizing an existing ADU in Pasadena unless you want to spend a lot of money on lots of regulations, city fees and permits

  • Hang tough, Pasadena. SB9 is bad legislation, stripping too many protections from us and our beautiful state. Like transportation and recreation, it puts too much of the cost of business expansion on ordinary taxpayers.

  • This article has a factual error: the Madison Heights Neighborhood Association began seeking landmark district designation *four years ago*, not in the wake of SB 9 or the new city ordinance as this article claims. We’ve been working on this and had gathered a large percentage of our signatures since long before SB 9 was even dreamt up (but were stalled temporarily by the pandemic). All that SB 9 did that’s relevant was add another threat to historic architecture, except that it carves out historic districts for protection, which Pasadena’s landmark districts (a synonymous term) are. The Attorney General didn’t seem to read our code before writing his letter to the City, but once he learns more, he should retract it.

  • I’m in Historic Highlands in a non historic home (built 1941). Does the state interpretation support me in turning my garage into an ADU for grandma?

  • SB9 doesn’t allow removal of the existing property so the images provided are providing a false picture of SB9. Over 90% of properties in most regions do not meet the requirements for an SB9 lot split.