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Guest Opinion | Councilmember Victor Gordo: It’s Time for Pasadena to Lead the Charge Against Sacramento’s One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Published on Monday, January 13, 2020 | 6:19 am
Victor M. Gordo

Like many of you, I recognize that California faces a housing emergency and I support the State’s goal of increasing residential units to meet current demand, if Pasadena’s zoning rules and design standards are allowed to apply.

As a council member, I have supported the construction of affordable housing in my district, personally leading the fight to replace two nuisance liquor stores with high quality, affordable housing developments that were compatible with and supported by the surrounding neighbors. In fact, District 5 has among the highest number of affordable units in the city – 431 and counting, which house over 200 low-income families and seniors.

For many years, the City of Pasadena has been a leader among cities in the development of affordable housing. Our Housing Department recently received national recognition for creative use of “in lieu” fees which created many more affordable units than we otherwise would have.

In focusing on building these quality affordable homes, we have honored our city’s zoning rules and have preserved the character of our neighborhoods.

Yet, if the Legislature and Governor have their way, none of this will matter. Pasadena will lose control over what its neighborhoods will look and feel like.

In the rush to build even more affordable housing, Sacramento lawmakers just enacted a package of nine piecemeal laws that effectively usurp local control and threaten to end single-family residential zoning.

While I agree with the goals in these new laws, Sacramento bureaucrats should not be able to override Pasadena’s local creativity and control.

Instead of forcing one-size-fits-all requirements on cities, Sacramento should recognize that Pasadena’s local residents and locally elected representatives work together to balance the interests of homeowners, renters, businesses and historic preservation while increasing our stock of affordable housing. We also are better equipped locally to address the politically difficult decisions on how equitably to distribute units throughout the City instead of continuing to concentrate them in one area, where 75% currently exist.

The only way to get local control back over housing and zoning is by challenging Sacramento.

The City of San Mateo recently challenged one of the laws that requires municipalities to offer their surplus public land for affordable housing, no matter how unsuitable, before using it for other purposes.

Because the League of California Cities opted not to join the legal challenge, San Mateo was left alone in its challenge.

As one of the state’s most respected charter cities, I believe Pasadena needs to step up and join the fight.

Like San Mateo, however, we can’t do it alone.

That’s why I’m calling on my Council colleagues to rejoin the San Gabriel Council of Governments (COG).

The COG is the strategic planning and sub-regional governmental agency representing 2.3 million residents of the San Gabriel Valley. Its members include three Los Angeles County supervisorial districts, three local water districts, and 30 member cities.

It secures funding and coordinates efforts on common issues related to transportation, homelessness, housing, air quality, green energy, and environmental matters.

Unfortunately, in March 2018 Pasadena under the current mayor, pulled out of the COG. I voted against it at the time because it was a bad idea. It made absolutely no sense to isolate ourselves from our neighbors while trying to battle these issues, which do not respect city limits.

It still doesn’t make sense – especially as we contemplate going to court to uphold the right under the California Constitution to maintain local control over zoning decisions.

We must reverse the bad decision to leave this regional planning body so we can join forces with neighboring public officials to regain local control.

Just as homelessness and sky-high rent don’t respect city boundaries, neither should our collective responses. The only way to end this crisis is to join forces with other municipalities, making sure we’re all doing our part.

It’s time for Pasadena once again to lead the charge against Sacramento’s one-size-fits-all approach.

But we can’t – and shouldn’t – do it alone.

Victor M. Gordo is a Pasadena City Councilmember who is currently running for Mayor in the March 3, 2020 election.

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