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Town Hall Elicits Talk on Housing Density

By Eric Licas

The Review

The city of South Pasadena is continuing efforts to implement a housing element that satisfies a state mandate to increase the availability of housing, officials told residents during a virtual town hall meeting on June 12.

In the face of soaring housing costs across California, state officials are requiring local governments to dramatically increase the number of dwelling units available. South Pasadena had committed to allow for the zoning and addition of about 2,700 new homes by 2029.

To do this, the city must successfully implement its housing element. The document detailing the plan was supposed to have been approved by California Department of Housing and Community Development in 2021. However, multiple drafts of the document were rejected by state officials. The delay resulted in a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit Californians for Homeownership that ended in a settlement in 2022.

A fifth draft was tentatively accepted last October. The city has about six months to successfully implement the latest version of the housing element, per the terms of their settlement with the nonprofit. However, a number of hurdles still stand in its way. 

One of the most prominent of these will be a ballot measure to repeal a citywide building height limit that currently prevents the construction of larger apartment buildings that will be needed to satisfy the state’s housing mandates.

During last week’s virtual town hall, residents brought forth a number of concerns regarding the process. One attendee asked if the city had any capacity to challenge the state’s housing mandate.

“Really, given the legislation over the last few years, there’s very little, limited opportunities for cities to challenge these housing mandates,” South Pasadena Community Development Director Angelica Fausto-Lupo said. “I’ll also offer that there have been cities who have been unsuccessful when they sued the state.”

One city that still hasn’t approved a housing element is Huntington Beach in Orange County. It had filed a lawsuit against the state and requested a temporary restraining order barring HCD officials from imposing related fines. However, the latter request was rejected, and in April, California’s Attorney General sued Huntington Beach for violating state housing law. A superior court judge ultimately sided with the state, however, Huntington Beach is planning to file an appeal.

Another attendee of the town hall asked how an increase in housing density might affect parking. Planning Manager Matt Cheng noted that there are ordinances in place that require developers to plan for appropriate parking availability. An exception to those rules exists for buildings located in areas with easy access to public transit, like the A-line for example. However, city officials still expect developers to include parking spaces in their amenities to attract their tenants, Cheng said.

“Developers will still provide parking because they want parking to entice residents and commercial tenants,” the planning manager said.

Another town hall attendee asked how a larger population might impact public safety in South Pasadena.

“What we found after we asked our first responders, both police and fire, is that neither department believed they would need to construct additional facilities in response to the additional development,” Community Development Deputy Director Alison Becker said.

She added that the fire department partners closely with agencies in neighboring communities, and those relationships should allow them to provide adequate emergency response. Meanwhile, though South Pasadena police shouldn’t require any new buildings to serve a larger population, officials have indicated that the addition of two more officers to the force may be necessary to ensure adequate response times.

More broadly, town hall attendees asked how higher housing density will affect current residents in general. City staff suggested that property values in the city would go up, especially in areas that will see the most new development. They also noted that new development would increase the amount of property tax the city receives, potentially allowing it to better fund local initiatives.

First published in the June 21 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

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