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City Will Race the Clock to Appeal State Housing Mandate

Staff preparing to present case against state's housing allocation for Pasadena

Published on Thursday, October 15, 2020 | 9:34 am

At its Oct. 26 meeting, the City Council will hear details on plans to appeal a mandate that calls for the city to allow nearly 10,000 housing units to be built by 2029.

But as the city makes its presentation to the council it will be racing against the clock.

Oct. 26 is also the last day an appeal can be filed with the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), which means the appeal will have to be turned in immediately after the council approves it.

“We’re putting our best thinking forward,” Planning Director David Reyes told the Planning Commission on Wednesday. “We hope to have something for the council to endorse before the deadline.”

Reyes provided the update at the request of Planning Commission Chair Felicia Williams.

“I believe the City Council will proceed with the appeal for all the reasons that have been discussed at prior Council meetings and will be discussed on the 26th,” City Manager Steve Mermell told Pasadena Now on Thursday morning. 

“If that is the case, staff will ensure it is received by the state prior to the deadline,” Mermell said.

According to the City Council, the city has no chance to meet the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) allocation, which is mandating the city build 9,400 units of housing by October 2029.

The HCD determines the share of the state’s housing need for each region based on population projections prepared by the California Department of Finance and other factors identified in recent housing legislation.

Pasadena’s allocation includes 2,740 units of very-low-income housing, 1,659 of low-income housing, 1,562 moderate-income housing, and 3,447 units of above-moderate-income housing.

If the city does not hit those targets, developers will be allowed to skip parts of the city’s development process and override zoning laws based on how far cities fall short in their RHNA numbers.

Pasadena has the zoning laws in place to plan for meeting 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.

Every eight years, the fair share assignment has been determined through the Regional Housing Needs Assessment.

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

In a joint letter to the City Council, the West Pasadena Residents Association, the Madison Heights Neighborhood Association, and the Linda Vista-Annandale Association called on the city to oppose the allocated numbers.

“Many cities in the [Southern California Association of Governments] jurisdiction, including Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Cerritos, South Pasadena, Alhambra, and West Hollywood, have sent detailed letters of criticism to SGAG and appear ready to formally appeal and resist the new RHNA allocation numbers,” the groups wrote.

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

Reyes said he hopes the RHNA appeal will be the first item on the 2 p.m. council agenda.

“We will be racing against the clock,” Reyes said. “We hope to be first on the agenda and get it approved and then file it.”

Gaining an appeal could be hard in its own right. Appeals cannot be granted based on a local jurisdiction’s existing zoning ordinance and land use restrictions, local ordinance, policy, voter-approved measure or standard limiting residential development, prior underproduction of housing in a jurisdiction from the previous regional housing need allocation. 

Several other cities including West Hollywood have also announced their plans to appeal.

But even if a city is successful in appealing the numbers, the numbers removed from the city successful in the appeal would be added to another city’s allocation, which means Pasadena’s already-excessive allocation could increase.

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