City council postpones height limit increase and creation of more bike lanes

Story by Sofia Alva
Staff Writer

Photo by Ella Jayasekera
Photography Editor

The city council voted to not allocate Measure M funds, despite a heavy push by residents for money to be used for more bike lanes, at its meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 5. Council members also unanimously voted to keep the building height limit increase off the November ballot. 

Measure M, also known as the Multi Sub-regional Program, provides funds for cities to implement new forms of transportation. A student petition to the city council supporting more bike lanes on Monterey Road, Pasadena Avenue, and Huntington Drive garnered over 500 signatures. 

“We should do everything we can to promote this form of transportation. Bikes are low cost, they don’t pollute, and they’re fun,” resident Juliana Fong said in a public comment. “We’re fortunate to have wide streets in our City so bike lanes can be easily added while still leaving plenty of room for cars. Not every city has this kind of opportunity. Please don’t let it pass us by.”

However, council members decided to delay distributing Measure M funds, citing that they have approximately one year to do so, and are currently focused on remaking the budget that was previously voted down

The council also considered three potential ballot measures for the November 2020 municipal election. Council members approved the addition of a renewal of the User Utility Tax (UUT) on the November ballot, but voted against including the Transient Occupancy Tax, which taxes guests staying in hotels, motels, or short term rentals in South Pasadena. Despite not putting the building height increase measure before voters in November, the council was receptive of community members’ calls for more affordable housing developments in South Pasadena.

“Right now, there are essential workers literally risking their lives to serve our community, and many of them are suffering because we have failed to create enough housing for them,” resident Rachel Orfila said in a public comment. “Our elected representatives should be seeking creative ways to support the development of affordable housing in South Pasadena. We could begin by passing an inclusionary zoning ordinance.”

The building height limit measure will now be delayed until a special election in March 2021, costing the city between $100,000 and $200,000, according to the South Pasadena Planning and Building Director Joanna Hankamer.

If approved, the measure would allow new housing developments to be built with heights ranging from 52 to 60 feet rather than the current 45-foot limit to accommodate 2,602 new, state-mandated affordable housing units by 2029. Community members voiced their support of the increase and encouraged the council to make South Pasadena more affordable with new high-density housing developments on main streets. 

“Removing the de facto height limit will allow for context-sensitive approaches to meeting the City’s housing needs,” residents Erin Coleman and John Guevarra wrote in a public comment. “Appropriate height limits can still be implemented through specific zones, without applying a blanket rule across the whole City. Only by increasing the supply of new and affordable units will we be able to address the region’s dire housing shortage, and provide more housing opportunity.”

Ultimately, the council followed the planning commission’s recommendation in voting against adding the height increase measure to the ballot because city officials would not have sufficient time to inform residents about its effect.

The city council meets again on Wednesday, Aug. 19.

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