Editorial: Here’s a warning, Pasadena. Don’t even think about dodging SB 9


Hell has no rage like city officials who are forced to comply with state-mandated housing density increases. California’s new law, Senate Bill 9, which allows homeowners to split single-family lots in two and build two units on each, has been met with a number of local ordinances designed to thwart new developments or just make them very difficult .

A case in point is Pasadenas “Emergency Ordinance” Regulation of SB 9. The regulation makes it sound like the city is under attack, stating that there is “a current and imminent threat to the public health, safety and welfare” of “unrestricted SB 9 land divisions.”

As such, the city has tied up potential parcel divisions with regulations on landscaping, parking, tree protection, and more.

But what did Atty notice. Gen. Rob Bonta, and bringing a strong rebuke to Pasadena, was the exemption of “landmark districts” from all SB-9 property divisions. The ordinance described the boroughs as neighborhoods where 60% of the properties have a “historical, cultural, developmental, and/or architectural context.” SB 9 frees historic districts.

The city’s own broad, fuzzy description of “landmark districts” prompted a hard letter from Deputy Atty. General Matthew T. Struhar advised Mayor Victor Gordo on behalf of Bonta that these are not historic districts and therefore should not be exempted from SB 9. Also, the assistant attorney general said his office was aware of local efforts to create new landmark districts to avoid SB 9 allowing duplexes and land splits.

The letter also flagged a report to the Pasadena City Council that said the planning commission asked the city to explore the possibility of a “citywide historical overlay” to exempt all of Pasadena from SB 9, which could be an abuse of power,” Struhar wrote.

On top of that, the city did not justify why they needed an “emergency ordinance”. The attorney general’s letter called for the city to lift the ordinance in the next 30 days.

Though the city staff report suggests otherwise, Gordo insists that the Pasadena City Council not attempt to wrap the city in a giant historical blanket to thwart SB 9. He also argues that Pasadena landmarks are essentially the same as historic neighborhoods that are exempt under SB 9 – The process for submitting documentation to city and state officials for approval is the same.

If the city prevails on this argument, approximately 20% of the city’s residential properties would be closed to future semi-detached houses and land splits. (Incidentally, it is quite common to find single-family homes alongside duplex, triplex, and fourplex apartment buildings in historic neighborhoods; this practice was later outlawed by single-family zoning.)

The message behind the Attorney General’s letter is clear — there is a new residential real estate sheriff in the city, and attempts by local governments to water down or block state laws like SB 9 are under scrutiny. It’s good. For decades, California ignored or weakly enforced existing state laws to get cities to approve and build enough housing for their people. The result is that residents are now paying the price in skyrocketing rents and home prices while a humanitarian crisis of homelessness spills onto the streets.

Cities like Pasadena will find government intervention and oversight uncomfortable, but it is necessary. SB 9 is part of a larger effort to create more housing at all price points – something local cities haven’t done. Now they have to stick to it. Editorial: Here’s a warning, Pasadena. Don’t even think about dodging SB 9

Caroline Bleakley

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