City Council and the Planning Commission held a special joint meeting to discuss potential revisional changes and additions to the next draft of the city’s housing element plan on Nov. 9.
The General Plan Housing Element is state mandated and requires a city to meet existing and projected regional housing needs for all income levels. The requirements for the current cycle of housing element proposals are determined by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), a state-recognized joint powers association made up of local government officials.
The state authority reviewing and determining the acceptability of the city’s housing element plan is the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).
The agenda for the two-hour joint meeting consisted of two items of stressed importance — a review of HCD comments on the city’s third housing element draft and a review of recommendations intended to amend the city’s zoning text to meet HCD housing element requirements.
The meeting’s purpose was solely directed toward discussion about the development of a fourth housing element draft for HCD. The city has been working on the housing plan since 2020 with an original deadline set for October 2021.
The current deadline for the city is to have a public review draft of the 4th housing element plan prepared by Dec. 5 and a draft submitted to HCD by Dec. 12.
Grant Henninger, principal of Mobius Planning, gave a presentation outlining the potential changes needed to satisfy HCD’s requirements in the 4th draft of the city’s housing element.
The urban planning firm was recently contracted to draft the city’s 4th housing element after the third draft was denied by HCD on Oct. 28. Mobius Planning is taking over after the city cut ties with Placeworks, another urban planning firm that oversaw the city’s housing element drafts up until this point.
“The city has to, based on substantial evidence, show that these sites are likely to be redeveloped during the planning period (for the next eight years),” Henninger said.
Janet Braun, commissioner on the planning commission, speculated on what HCD is looking for in the city’s next draft and considered why previous drafts were not acceptable to the state housing authority.
“So, my sense in reading through these and previous HCD comments is that they have consistently asked for more analysis. That seems to have been what has tripped this up … It seems to me, that HCD is looking for, not a detailed analysis, but if you were an investor or property owner then why would you (redevelop),” she said.
Henninger agreed: “Right now, HCD is saying that it doesn’t appear that there’s enough substantial evidence and the evidence for redevelopment goes both ways. They want us to clear that up and build that case that these sites are likely for redevelopment.”
Mayor Pro Tem Jon Primuth gave his opinion on the housing element situation and why he believes HCD seems to be seeking high standards of evidence proving the viability of the city’s proposed properties.
“What HCD is saying here is that they want to know about potential impediments,” he said about Site 17, a two-story office building the city identified to be developed into a 50-unit housing site within the eight-year planning period.
The property, located between Fair Oaks Avenue and Banks Street, has an existing lease which HCD determined might be an impediment to potential redevelopment. Henninger proposed that city staff take steps to identify the terms of the existing lease to see if the property can remain a potential site for the housing plan.
“(HCD) haven’t bought the argument that the economic potential of this site is big enough to overcome the potential impediment of a lease. In other words, no developer will buy out a lease because it’s too costly. Well, that’s not necessarily true but we need to show a scenario for a buy-out or a lease would not impede on redevelopment. This is a high standard of proof,” Primuth said about the HCD comment.
Primuth continued his interpretation of the situation later in the meeting and spoke to the general sentiment that the city is coming up short or not doing enough.
“I think we have a credibility problem with HCD. When you look at how their comments have been structured, what they’re asking for — there’s no choice but to conclude that there’s something about the information that South Pasadena has submitted that causes them to be skeptical.
“They’re looking for a lot of evidence … I don’t think they’re necessarily picking on us. I think we made some missteps in our first submission. We put in some pieces that may have showed that we thought this is a paper game. That may have set our relationship with HCD, at least the reviewing panel, in the wrong direction,” he said.
Along with addressing HCD’s comments on the city-identified sites and redevelopment viability, the joint meeting addressed comments on the city’s proposed policies and programs to satisfy housing needs within the planning period.
The programs in the housing element draft seek to address city-government constraints that might hinder redevelopment. Many of the changes to the programs would require city municipal code changes with regard to zoning.
According to the city’s third housing draft, the policies should meet five requirements: conserving the existing supply of affordable housing, assisting in the provision of housing, providing adequate sites to achieve a variety and diversity of housing, removing governmental constraints as necessary and promoting equal housing opportunity.
Members of City Council reviewed proposed zoning amendments to South Pasadena Municipal Code to align with state law and acknowledged their intention to adopt the amendments within 120 days of housing element draft approval.
The intention to amend and further adopt city zoning code changes within 120 days of housing draft approval not only aligns with changes that would satisfy state housing element requirements, but also satisfies a settlement item reached between the city and Californians for Homeownership in August.
The lawsuit filed by CFH, a nonprofit associated with California Association of Realtors, moved to ensure that the city come up with an acceptable housing element plan sooner than later and that affordable housing redevelopment will actually happen in accordance with state law.
Though the details of the zoning amendments were not discussed or voted on, city attorney Andrew Lead said the intention to review and amend the city’s zoning code is a big step forward.
“The action that you’re being asked to take tonight is a blessing of sorts. You’re blessing staff to proceed and get the running start and begin the process. It’s also a very vocal and public acknowledgement that you’re taking an affirmative step toward the requirements of the housing element,” Lead said. “You’re not adopting any of the details tonight, but you’re making a very firm statement on this housing element issue and that you’re serious about it.”
Primuth addressed critical public comments that have created a challenge for city officials and stated that the city is working to do the best to comply with state requirements to meet regional housing needs.
“Now it’s time because of the housing transit corridor to contribute our fair share of affordable housing … hopefully going forward HCD will see the council’s good faith,” Primuth said. “This motion is much more than a formal acknowledgement that we have to follow the law, it is a symbolic amendment of our desire to move forward with all of our housing elements.”