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Council Weighs Environmental Impacts of More Housing

The Aug. 29 study session at a South Pasadena City Council special meeting explored multiple facets of the city’s general plan, but environmental impact was a major concern for several councilmembers.
A Program Environmental Impact Review found “no impact” or “less than significant impact” on the following areas, despite the influx of housing unit increases that South Pasadena is slated to receive: agriculture and forestry resources, energy, hydrology and water quality, mineral resources, public services and recreation, transportation, utilities and service systems and wildfire.
“We’re adding about 2,000 (housing) units. That’s about a 20% increase in housing stock, 20% increase in population, 20% increase on the usage of water, sewer, schools,” Mayor Jon Primuth said. “[The California Environmental Quality Act] allows us to create an appearance of [making] no significant impact. But you don’t, in reality, have ‘no significant impact.’”
Primuth’s comment was met with applause from residents in attendance at the meeting. Mayor Pro Tem Evelyn Zneimer made similar comments and also received applause.
According to the CEQA, other areas that would have “significant” and “unavoidable impacts” were aesthetics, air quality, culture, greenhouse gas emissions, noise and population and housing.
These areas of impacts are seen as a trade-off under the state CEQA requirements and are “overriding considerations” which can include housing growth, complying with state law and economic benefits.
The environmental changes will come about due to South Pasadena increasing its housing capacity by 2,067 units in accordance with its state Regional Housing Needs Allocation. This increase has been taken into consideration in the city’s housing element, which was finally adopted on May 31, after facing multiple rejections from the state.
Additionally, the city was sued by the Californians for Home Ownership in 2022 and reached a settlement in the same year. South Pasadena had court-ordered deadlines as a result as well as required rezoning, the latter of which was another highlighted topic at the council’s Aug. 29 study session.
The deadline for rezoning is 120 days after the housing element’s adoption, or the end of September. Rezoning will occur in multiple locations throughout the city, such as corridors along Fair Oaks and Huntington Drive, to encourage housing in mixed-use areas with transit access.
Development standards for mixed-use projects include a maximum lot coverage of 70 feet, a maximum height of 45 feet and a maximum of four stories.
The study session also gave a visual glimpse of what South Pasadena might look like after the rezoning is completed and housing units are added.
Kaizer Rangwala, an urban planning consultant from Rangwala Associates, emphasized a plan to preserve the character of South Pasadena in spite of having to add so many housing units.
“The winds were blowing in a number of directions, but we do have the ability to take the sails and get to the place where we want to be,” Rangwala said. “That’s what our effort has been focused on.”
Maps and models showed that the two-story aesthetic of Mission Street will remain intact, while three- and four-story buildings will be built beyond the downtown area. For example, there is a four-story mass of buildings in the Ostrich Farm district that reduces height to blend with the neighborhood surrounding it.
The General Plan continues to be a document easily amendable up to four times per element. The draft of the plan remains largely the same as five years ago when it was first developed, with the exception of the density and growth capacity due to the RHNA.
“We used to adopt general plans and keep them on the shelf and [revisit] them in 20 years,” Rangwalla said.
“I don’t think that’s going to be possible anymore. You don’t know what shocks are coming in the future. Some of them might be climate, some of them might be economic. You’re going to have to do this on a periodic basis.”

First published in the September 8 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

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