“Cities Balance Planning Elements” for Beacon Media Newspapers

February 2008

Every five years or so regional housing needs allocation plans are updated for various cities, leaving some trying to appeal the proposed number of houses to zone for and begging the question: what effect do the plans have on each city’s open space element?

Arcadia was recently allocated 2150 homes that it must zone for by 2014, but the homes do not need to be built by that time.

“They have to be able to be in a stage where you could pull the permits by the end of the planning period,” said assistant deputy director for the division of housing policy development at the California Department of Housing and Community Development Linda M. Wheaton.

The state Department of Housing and Community Development developed the plans and the Southern California Association of Governments approved them for each city within a six county region.

Arcadia tried unsuccessfully to appeal their allocation to a smaller amount.

“We haven’t seen 2000 units built in Arcadia in 20 years let alone eight years,” said Arcadia city manager Don Penman. “I think they are looking for a city to make its best efforts but realistically I think it’s hard for a city to achieve those.”

As far as building, Arcadia did not reach the 500 home goal laid out in the last regional housing needs allocation plan, though SCAG does not set a deadline for when houses need to be built and there is no direct penalty for not reaching a goal.

“The impact might vary depending on the specific context,” said Wheaton. “For example, if a local government doesn’t do that then there’s another section of law that requires that for the subsequent planning period they plan capacity not only for their subsequent regional housing need allocation but for the [amount] that they didn’t accommodate in the prior planning period.”

Regional housing needs allocations vary for each city based on factors like “the job housing balance, development restrictions such as federal habitat land or restricted land not available for development” said Wheaton, as well as allocating homes for people at various income levels.

“When you have land prices in cities like Arcadia that are very high even with the real estate economy it makes it very difficult to facilitate development of low and very low income units,” said Penman. “They often require very significant subsidies.”

Open space and green space are elements that every city must address and when a city’s general plan is updated due to RHNA or other factors an environmental impact report is done.

“Sometimes there is friction in that process because there are certain standards cities try to achieve for open space and recreational activity and at the same time we have a housing element that we’re updating that will attempt to show how we’re going to facilitate this number of units,” said Penman, who also expressed that Arcadia is a built out city but that they will make their best effort.

Pasadena is in the process of forming an open space committee comprised of members from other city groups as well as citizens.

“Green space is parks and recreation and the open space element will look at more natural open space like the Arroyo, Eaton Canyon and undeveloped hillside areas,” said Pasadena green space project manager Laura Dahl. “The concern about open space came through the Edison Company planning to put public storage on their land in Eaton Canyon.”

The Edison Company will not be building storage on that land now, but there are still concerns about other land since little of what people consider natural open space is not owned by the city so it is not completely in Pasadena’s control, said Dahl.

“Getting allocation money on the city budget where there are lots of other priorities will be a challenge,” said Dahl.

Regarding housing, Dahl said, “A lot of privately owned areas of the hillside that have been zoned for single family homes and were subdivided dozens of years ago is always a concern…although they haven’t been developed because they are hard to get to hillside areas, those could be developed.”

Those zoned hillsides are not necessarily from regional housing needs allocation and do not contribute greatly toward the allocation goals since one house tends to be built on a large lot compared with more urban parts of the city where the city can do much denser development.

Pasadena was allocated 2869 homes to include in their general plan, whereas a smaller city like Monrovia was allocated 567 and Sierra Madre only 139 homes.

“We should be able to easily accommodate our recent land use update number and more just with the increased density for the transit village,” said Monrovia principal planner Craig Jimenez.

The transit village will add a maximum of 2000 housing units and even without it Jimenez said Monrovia’s existing zoning could probably achieve their RHNA goal.

Monrovia community services will be updating the open space element relating to trails and hillside land and Jimenez said there is not much of a connection between their RHNA numbers and open space as much as land use.

Sierra Madre’s city council will address their RHNA numbers at the meeting after next and give direction regarding how to achieve their goal, said city manager Elaine Aguilar.

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