Community may get a chance to vote on raising building height maximums to create mandated affordable housing

Story by Zoe Schlaak
Staff Writer

Photo by Katelyn Hernandez
Staff Photographer

The city council will decide whether to put a proposal raising the city’s 45-foot building height limit on the November ballot, at its meeting on Wednesday Aug. 5. The South Pasadena Planning Commission did not recommend that the height maximum increase be placed on the ballot, although some community members urged the city council to approve an increase of the limit.

The state of California is mandating that South Pasadena builds 2,062 new affordable housing units, 1,151 of which need to be designated low-income units, within the next Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) cycle — 2021 to 2029. 

As highlighted in past struggles with the local renting community, this required level of affordable housing is much greater than the city has executed before, prompting some people to oppose the mandate. Some have argued that there would not be room in local schools to accommodate the influx in residents, and that larger apartments would ruin South Pasadena’s small-town character. However, city officials have decided the best course of action is to abide by the mandate — since the state will construct the units anyway.

“South Pasadena has built five total affordable units in its entire history,” South Pasadena resident Josh Albrektson said. “The fact South Pasadena and cities like it have blocked housing is the reason we have a housing crisis. I believe that South Pasadena should zone for the affordable housing the state is requiring it to provide, and that means raising the height limits. Other homeowners think having four story buildings instead of five is more important than people having affordable places to live.” 

Residents Bill Kelly and Ella Hushagen have circulated a letter to gain community support for increasing the height limit to 52 or 60 feet. As the citywide 45-foot height maximum was voted into place nearly 40 years ago in 1983, Kelly and Hushagen are advocating for the city to instead listen to the concerns of the  current community — which is now larger and more diverse.

The proponents of the height limit increase have emphasized that they only want it if the city denotes in an ordinance that the new space will be dedicated to affordable housing units. Community members explained that adding new, cheaper units will lead to increased diversity as well as more city revenue from property taxes. 

“South Pasadena needs affordable housing so young people can live here without paying rent that’s economically oppressive and so that the community can renew itself and remain a place of social and economic diversity where there’s a middle class,” Kelly said. “I’d like to see that my daughters, who went through SPUSD [schools], can afford to live here some day.”

However, the planning commission unanimously decided against recommending the city council put the height limit increase before voters, reasoning that more details and data should be collected before coming to a decision. The commissioners’ alternative plan includes redeveloping single-family neighborhoods and non-residential lots, including Vons and vacant lots in the historic Ostrich Farm area, into higher-density affordable housing. 

Community members can submit public comments by 12 p.m. on Aug. 5 to be read at the upcoming city council meeting.

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