SCAG Update | South Pasadena Appeal of Housing Allocation Denied

Six Southern California counties in SCAG’s jurisdiction must plan for the construction of 1.34 million new housing units

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South Pasadena’s appeal for a 41 percent reduction in the 2,062 housing units it must plan for by 2029 under the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) was unanimously rejected Jan 11 by the six-member RHNA Appeals Board of the Southern California Association of Governments.

The city’s appeal went down during the same day-long hearing as those of six other San Gabriel Valley cities including Pasadena, Alhambra, San Gabriel, Temple, El Monte and San Dimas. Appeals from another 25 cities have already been denied and 14 more others are expected to be rejected this week. The one appeal granted got only a 0.06 percent reduction.

Most of the San Gabriel and South Bay municipal appellants complained, among other things, they are “built out” and do not have sufficient vacant land to add large amounts of new housing. Under the standard response, SCAG staff states that being built out is not a legal justification for a reduction. Rather, these cities must consider options such as increased density or demolition of existing structures to make way for new housing.

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Joanna Hankamer, South Pasadena’s director of Planning and Community Development said, “While we are disappointed in the result and the mischaracterization of how they used local input (they didn’t), we are optimistic about the RHNA Appeal Board’s responsiveness to the argument made by the City of South Pasadena and numerous other cities that the State has miscalculated the southern region’s housing need. In appeal after appeal,” she noted, “the Board apologized for having to vote in favor of denial and said their hands were tied by State law.”

One such comment came from Board member Margaret Finlay, a Duarte City Council member. “It is disturbing because there are so many compelling reasons to uphold these appeals.” The city appellants “are trying to make determinations about the future of their cities and yet their hands are tied by the state, as our hands are tied. I am very distraught that we keep on having to [deny appeals], but we just aren’t given many choices.”

Another came from RHNA Appeals Board chair Peggy Huang, the Mayor of Yorba Linda, who in denying one appellant said, “it’s not that we don’t understand your pain. We just haven’t figured out how to navigate it given the lack of logic and reasoning that exists” in the state Capitol.  Of “the knuckleheads in Sacramento,” she said she thinks that when it came to RHNA, “their brain power left the building.”

Hankamer and South Pasadenans Mark Gallatin and Janet Braun made the city’s case during the hearing. Gallatin, a retired city planner, noted SCAG’s model did not have the benefit of an input layer for historical resources, and so broadly overestimated the area available in South Pasadena for new housing.

“More importantly” he added, in an allusion to the city’s epic battle over the Highway 710-extension, “history shows us that the regulatory agency that fails to consider the impact of its mandates on South Pasadena’s historic resources does so at its own peril.”

SCAG faulted the city for failing to timely respond to a “local input” survey that might have reduced its allocation. The city acknowledges the omission, but argues the information was ultimately provided.

Going forward Hankamer said the city will work with “our State representatives to challenge the State Housing and Community Development Department (HCD) to correct the regional allocation, provide a feasible target, and restore utility to our efforts to increase housing and affordable housing production. In the meantime, we will continue to progress the City’s Housing Element by identifying suitable sites for affordable housing and proposing policy alternatives for the community, Planning Commission and City Council to consider.”

In 2019, the HCD determined that the six Southern California counties in SCAG’s jurisdiction must plan for the construction of 1.34 million new housing units by October 2029.

In a related development Jan. 6, SCAG President Rex Richardson, a Long Beach city council member, told his executive board he has decided to grant a request by over a third of SCAG’s 191 municipal members to hold a closed meeting of 86-member Regional Council to discuss the arguments for and against launching a lawsuit against HCD 1.3 million housing unit “regional determination.” He has not yet set a date for the session.



Ben Tansey is a journalist and author. He grew up in the South Bay and is a graduate of Evergreen State College. He worked in Washington State as a reporter in a rural timber community and for many years as an editor for a Western electric energy policy publication based in Seattle.