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City Concerned Over New Housing Projections

Failure to meet RHNA projections could allow developers to skip zoning, CEQA processes

Published on Wednesday, August 26, 2020 | 9:03 am

New Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) numbers expected to be released next week could be problematic for the city, based on a law that changes the RHNA process from aspirational to regulatory.

According to draft projections released earlier this month at a meeting of the City Council’s Legislative Policy Committee, the city must guarantee it can build 9.409 units of housing between 2021 and 2029 based on zoning code provisions and land use ordinances.

That number is up from the 2014-2019 cycle, when the city was required to plan for 1,332 units.

The official numbers are expected to be released on Sept. 3.

The city’s housing element is a state-mandated part of the General Plan and must be updated every four to eight years to address the city’s current and projected housing needs.

The state allocates a certain amount of housing to each jurisdiction through regional entities, but the state does not require a jurisdiction to construct the number of new housing units in its RHNA.

Instead, each jurisdiction is required to plan for the new housing units by providing appropriate zoning with adequate density to accommodate the number of new units in its RHNA target.

Pasadena has the zoning laws in place to plan to meet the projected benchmark. But Senate Bill 35, which became law in 2018, allows developers to skip parts of the city’s development process and overrides zoning laws depending on how far jurisdictions fall short in their RHNA numbers.

Projects could be streamlined, exempted from The California Environmental Quality Act, CEQA, which generally requires state and local government agencies to inform decision-makers and the public about potential environmental impacts of proposed projects, and only come up for scrutiny under the city’s design review process. 

“It’s almost double the number of the last cycle,” said city Planning Director David Reyes. “It will be a daunting challenge. The planning won’t be challenging. It’s whether or not we are going to produce those units. The state is penalizing jurisdictions that don’t produce units. Before it was about planning, but now it is about producing.”

In the past, the numbers were determined by a local jurisdiction’s growth forecast and included zoning codes, the General Plan, and other factors for growth. Those numbers are still important, but now the state is also considering jobs and transit, which means Pasadena’s numbers have increased due to its growth.

“Given our progress in the last cycle, no matter what our land use may permit, there is no way we are going to approach the production designated in the new cycle,” said Mayor Terry Tornek.

According to the numbers, the city must produce 2,739 very-low-income units, 1,659 low-income units, 1,562 moderate-income units, and 3,449 above-moderate-income units.

In the last cycle, the city only hit the above-moderate threshold, which was 561.

“It almost sounds impossible,” said Councilman Gene Masuda.

The process provides for an appeals process which allows cities to appeal up to 45 days after the numbers are released, and includes an opportunity for a public hearing. However, that process is even murkier this year. Cities can appeal other jurisdictions’ projected numbers. And even if the appeal is successful, the numbers will be moved elsewhere. So if another city appeals its numbers and 1,000 projected numbers are removed from its total, the projected 1,000 units could be split up and added to the overall projection of other cities.

“The whole underpinning is the region is experiencing growth so each municipality has to accommodate regional growth,” said Councilman Steve Madison. “We may decide we like the size of our family the way it is and the state comes along and says no, you have to increase the size of your household. I have been on the council for years. It’s endless.”

According to Reyes, no nearby city in the region will be able to meet their numbers. The city is looking for ways to appeal the numbers after the official projections are released next week. So far, Reyes said they are hoping for a miscalculation. Tornek said the city may have to consider a legislative approach in its response if it cannot successfully appeal the projections.

The City Council will receive a report on the projections after the official numbers are released.

“When you make the transition from being aspirational to regulatory, which is what happened here, it is no longer saying each community has to have theoretical ability to achieve this, even though you know you can’t,” Tornek said. “If a developer wants to come in and do something you don’t like you won’t be able to stop it anymore. That’s what it translates to. Those of us who are elected and those of you appointed by the city will be held accountable for impacts we don’t have control over.”

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