Thanks for your article “Planning Commission to Receive Zoning Code Amendment….” (1/25//22) which accurately reported public comments and provided background for the Planning Commission meeting in which a zoning amendment is being considered that would allow congregations to have affordable housing built on their underutilized land.
For the past two years Pasadenans have been requesting that this be a “by right” ordinance with clear guidelines about permissible height and density. This would ensure that the project is in keeping with the character of the neighborhood in which the project is built and would save hundreds and thousands of dollars for each project. There are eight Specific Plans in the city whereby design standards are well thought-out giving guidance to development over a 20 years’ timeframe. This is the same concept, but citywide.
Your article brought up a project in Altadena that caused a lot of controversy because it was five stories and many felt it was out of keeping with the character of the neighborhood. But the comparison is misleading. Altadena City Council approved a Community Standard that would allow only three-story buildings. But because Altadena is part of unincorporated LA County, the county’s ordinance that allowed affordable housing to be built “by right” superseded the community’s standard. This caused community outrage, Supervisor Kathryn Barger intervened and the height was lowered to four stories.
This couldn’t happen in Pasadena because it is a charter city and can enforce height and density requirements. We are asking for a zoning amendment that would allow congregations to build affordable housing “by right” as long as it conforms to height and density standards determined by the city. Projects would still go to design review and if the community is opposed to the design, the Planning Commission could require that the design be modified to address community concerns.
The reason that many see rezoning religious land as a racial justice issue in Pasadena is 1) some of the churches that want to have affordable housing built on their land are African American and are prevented from doing so because their land was zoned commercial—even though most of the area around it is residential. 2) with a city-wide zoning amendment, religious institutions in all parts of the city would be able to offer affordable housing to the community. Spreading affordable housing throughout the city creates more racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods, which is in keeping with a policy known as “affirmatively furthering fair housing.”
The need for affordable housing in Pasadena is urgent, especially for lower income people of color who have not had the opportunity to obtain homeownership for many historical reasons, and for those experiencing homelessness. 31% of those counted as experiencing homelessness are African American, even though Blacks constitute fewer than 10% of the city’s population. Too many of our African American neighbors have fallen into hard times, not because of any fault of their own, but due to a history of exclusionary laws and racism. Exacerbating this is gentrification and soaring housing costs. Churches want to be part of the solution and bless the community with affordable housing on their excess land. All they need is a well-crafted zoning amendment to make this possible.
Got something to say, email Managing Editor André Coleman, at andrec@pasadenanowmagazine.