City Strives to Finish Mandated Housing Document

First published in the Sept. 24 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

The City Council last week reviewed staff progress on the municipality’s updated housing element, with the discussion providing a glimpse of what South Pasadena’s housing planning may look like for the next eight years.
The state wants the housing element to be adopted by Oct. 15, although there is a grace period that extends the deadline to Feb. 11. South Pasadena must adopt the housing element by the latter date if it wants to remain on the eight-year cycle. If it doesn’t, the cycle switches to four years.
“As I’ve watched the development of the housing element, I’ve realized it’s not a housing element; it’s elements,” Councilman Jon Primuth said last week, emphasizing the plural. “There’s so many pieces of policy that go into this.”
With the city allocated 2,067 new housing units through the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, the city’s planning staff conducted an inventory that examined existing, vacant and underutilized sites. Staff members also looked at possible density and zoning changes and the number of accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, that could be built.

The inventory found that the South Pasadena housing element can accommodate up to 2,355 housing units. RHNA allocations and the housing element are not building quotas or mandates — rather, they require that cities show that, through their planning and zoning policies, the number of housing units in the allocation could theoretically be developed.
The proposed South Pasadena housing element recommends densities of 50 dwelling units per acre on Mission Street, 60 per acre on Fair Oaks Avenue and 70 per acre in so-called “height sites,” 12 of which have been identified.
Margaret Lin, interim director of planning and community development, outlined several goals of the housing element in the staff presentation, which was made at the Sept. 15 City Council meeting.
The housing element will serve to maintain standards of livability by using green building standards, use California Department of Transportation surplus properties as housing options and make improvements to lower-income housing units, the staff report said.
Affordable housing is also at the forefront. The city will work with the San Gabriel Regional Housing Trust as well as state and county programs to create affordable housing.
Opportunities for increasing housing production will be pursued, including building ADUs. Equal opportunity housing with market-rate programs like senior housing is another goal.
The city also looks to make sure zoning codes are consistent with state legislation and the approval process for eligible projects is streamlined.
A draft of the housing element will be available for public view at the end of the month.
“I would encourage council to look at the draft that’s being released very closely. I would encourage staff to ask questions,” said City Manager Arminé Chaparyan. “This is an important process. Especially now where cities are being put in a position where the need is there, we’re being asked to identify solutions, but the solutions are very challenging.”

The City Council tabled the discussion on the future of the Animal Commission at its Sept. 15 meeting, leaving the commission in limbo for the time being.
The commission, which advises the council on all policy matters concerning animals, could possibly be maintained, disbanded completely or turned into an ad hoc advisory body.
“I don’t think the question is ‘Is the work important?’” Primuth said. “The question is ‘Where should the work be done?’ and it’s really an allocation of work and it’s under the process where we have to allocate resources.”
The commission was founded in 1983 and last met in March 2020, with meetings put on hold since then due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are two members on the commission and no applications are on file at the city clerk’s office for the commission.
A handful of former commissioners came to voice support of the panel. They noted previous work the commission had done, such as halting a proposal for a fee for stray animal pickup and creating disaster care for pets so that animals aren’t left behind in the event of a natural disaster.
“Tough decisions here,” said Mayor Pro Tem Michael Cacciotti. “I feel like this is one of the big events in the nation where all the former presidents come.”
With the council torn on direction for the Animal Commission, it voted unanimously to examine the issue at a future meeting and for staff to bring back another report with more options.