Smith Brothers Restaurants
HomeCity GovernmentCity OKs Housing Element, Updates Zoning Code

City OKs Housing Element, Updates Zoning Code

Following two rounds of public hearing and years of discussion and community outreach, the South Pasadena City Council approved last week the remaining and vital ordinances necessary to update and finalize the housing element, bringing the city in compliance with state regulation.
The approval caps off a lengthy and tumultuous process that included a lawsuit, heated debate and battling views over the future development of South Pasadena’s cherished craftsman-style neighborhoods and downtown village. Ultimately, the Council voted 4-1 to pass the Program Environmental Report, Downtown Specific Plan and General Plan, with Mayor Pro Tem Evelyn Zneimer voicing dissent.
The vote came on the heels of presentations held last month by city staff and consultant firm Rangwala Associates on Sept. 18 and Sept. 27.
Community development deputy director Alison Becker, planning manager Matt Chang and Kaizer Rangwala of Rangwala Associates shared the bulk of the presentation, providing data, recommendations and feedback to the Council for the proposed housing and development updates and amendments.
Concerns surfaced, however, during the September meetings pertaining to the now-approved Program Environmental Report, the General Plan and the Downtown Specific Plan. Errors were acknowledged by city staff and consultants during the presentation, and Councilmembers and residents questioned the validity and accuracy of the projections.
“Our schedule to complete this project would have benefitted from additional time,” Becker said at the Sept. 18 meeting. “Our final documents are imperfect, as is our housing element, because of this compressed schedule.”
Along with approval of the General Plan on Sept. 27, the city on Oct. 4 voted to greenlight amendments to the city’s zoning code and map to help with state density requirements, and to adopt an ordinance to rescind the the Mission Street Plan and replace it with the new Downtown Specific Plan.
The city is required to plan for an additional 2,775 dwelling units as part of state housing requirements. The number is well above the city’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation requirement of 2,067 units, largely due to a state housing element policy requiring a capacity buffer when cities use broad rezoning strategies to get up to standard.
The General Plan initially contemplated 589 additional housing units prior to receiving the RHNA numbers in 2019. South Pasadena adopted its housing element on May 30.
In coordination with the California Department of Housing and Community Development Department, city staff projects 2,887 new units over the next 20 years as part of the updated General Plan, which also includes an additional 430,000 square feet of commercial space.
“We know that we’ve got some numbers to play with now, and we’re able to turn it in,” said Councilmember Jack Donovan. “It’s there. It’s just going to require some work.”
The new Downtown Specific Plan builds upon the Mission Street Plan, expanding to include Fair Oaks Avenue. According to city records, the plan is intended to preserve historic assets, encourage contextual development of vacant and underutilized parcels and accommodate housing for a variety of income levels, among other things. It is a companion initiative to the city’s General Plan.
The new downtown plan projects a maximum of 1,230 additional units, largely in two zoning designations labeled as Mixed Use Core and Fair Oaks Corridor. The plan follows a “form-based code,” which is primarily concerned with regulating the scale and appearance of buildings and how the buildings relate to the public realm.
“We have a form-based code which is very focused on making sure that new development fits in and we’ve done everything possible to make sure that that permissive density or intensity of development is designed in a way that is still reminiscent of the South Pasadena that people know and love.” Becker said during the Sept. 18 meeting.
The Mixed Use Core encompasses the Mission Street area and contemplates a development intensity of 70 dwelling units per acre with a height range of one to five stories. The Fair Oaks Corridor, or the area located between the 110 Freeway and Monterey Road, will have a maximum density of 110 dwelling units per acre.
“This is an estimate, and if it changes and things become different, then I think we need to amend the General Plan and make adjustments five years later, 10 years later, as things change, if they’re not part of the estimate,” said Rangwala, who also called the projections “a realm of theoreticals.”
“We’re just doing a ‘best assessment’ of existing conditions [and] ‘best assessment of market conditions,” he added.
The Mixed Use Core is not just limited to the downtown area. It is spread out over different areas and includes portions of the Ostrich Farm district, according to Rangwala.
City staff projects 880 units to be added along Fair Oaks Avenue and 350 units along Mission Street. The plan would also allow for up to 225,000 square feet of new nonresidential uses — commercial and office — with 175,000 square feet anticipated for Fair Oaks Avenue and 50,000 for Mission Street.
“We made commitments in the housing element,” Becker said. “Part of the obligation from HCD, in terms of their ability to calculate capacity, was to ask us to assign allowable densities in our growth areas, and because commercial zones don’t typically have residential densities associated with them, it was necessary to lay them over in those commercial areas. That’s why you wind up with such a large number in the two categories that are related to commercial.”
The Ostrich Farm district is expected to get an additional 490 units, and the area along Huntington Drive and Garfield Avenue will add 140 units. An extra 60 units will be added to the residential area along Huntington Drive and Fremont Avenue.
Alongside adoption of the program environmental report, the General Plan and the Downtown Specific Plan, city leaders voted to approve adoption of several ordinances stemming from a 120-day program enforced by a court order following a 2022 lawsuit from Californians for Homeownership that required the city to complete certain housing element programs within an allotted time frame.
City staff recommended the Council to adopt an ordinance to amend Chapter 36 of the municipal code related to zoning. The amendment would allow officials to increase density including rezoning the existing Focused Area Overlay zone to a Mixed-Use Overlay zone, and amend the zoning map in compliance with the updated General Plan and the 2021-29 housing element.
The second ordinance replaces the Focused Area Overlay zone with Mixed-Used Overlay zone, which will allow mixed-used development and housing and allow for an increased residential density in the area if mixed-use is desired.
The city also adopted a resolution to amend the Affordable Housing Incentives portion of the zoning code to revise existing regulations to conform with the state density bonus law.
An ordinance that would allow increased employee housing and amended inclusionary housing requirements were unanimously approved.
The passage of employee housing creates a new definition for the clause. Employee housing is six or fewer employees living in a single-family home and will become an allowable use by-right in low density residential zones. It will become consistent with the state’s Employee Housing Act and enable housing solutions for certain types of employers.
Meanwhile, the city is reducing inclusionary requirements down to 15% from 20%, and at the same time offsetting that by raising project eligibility from three units or more to any projects with 10 units or more. This allows any project that has three or more units to be subject to the inclusionary housing ordinance, increasing that threshold and say any project greater than 10 units will be required to provide affordable housing. This will then require the project to provide 15% of the units as affordable housing.
“We are slightly reducing the percentage requirement and increasing the threshold to provide better balance based on early feedback received by the development community,” Becker said.
However, during the Sept. 27 meeting, Zneimer expressed strong opposition to passing any part of the General Plan and housing element programs. She was the lone dissent vote in the adoption of the program environmental report, the General Plan and the Downtown Specific Plan, and she abstained from voting on the amendment to the municipal code regarding zoning.
“I just cannot support the General Plan as it is written,” Zneimer said. “I would rather have staff produce a draft of corrections because the housing element — the errors — are so significant that it impacts our General Plan [and] the zoning. We don’t have to do the zoning if we make the amendments to the [data tables].”
During public comment at the Sept. 27 meeting, Ed Elsner, a member of the city’s finance commission, raised questions about where the city staff and consultants compiled the data from. He, along with other public speakers, were also concerned about the possible displacement of existing tenants due to the future development — about 6,000 of them, according to Elsner.
“The General Plan tables are totally erroneous,” Elsner said. “The assumptions in there are not in any way reality-based, and I think the City Council will be doing a really bad service to the city by approving that document.”
Zneimer shared community concern with the units in the Mixed Use Core and the Fair Oaks Corridor, inquiring if the numbers could be adjusted.
Becker said state law allows the General Plan to be amended four times per year, noting that state lawmakers anticipated changes within the 20-year span of the plan.
With that, city attorney staff recommended the Council to move forward with approval of the plans, and Councilmember Janet Braun agreed.
“It’s time for us as a city to embrace the development of housing in South Pasadena to allow for continued economic growth in our surrounding area and to ease the burden on so many housing-constrained Californians,” Braun said at the Sept. 27 meeting.
Prior to Council voting on Sept. 27, Zneimer admonished the city staff and attorney’s office for encouraging leaders to approve the plans with existing mistakes.
“I know that we are boxed in with the stipulated judgment, but we have every right to ask for an extension,” said Zneimer. “At the same time, we buy time to really think responsibly on our amendments that really impact our General Plan.”
Zneimer added: “I know staff pointed out that we might piss off HCD, well, we already pissed them off. I’d rather wait, and I would like a true up in the numbers in the housing element, specifically the corrections on table 6-5.1 should be at least before us with a proposal of those corrections.”

First published in the October 13 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

Most Popular

[bsa_pro_ad_space id=3]