South Pasadena Housing | General Plan Update, Housing Element Approved, Errors & Confusing Data to be Amended

The South Pasadena City Council on Sept. 27 approved major changes to its 25-year-old General Plan, along with a bevy of related zoning ordinances and an environmental document. The changes will put the city back in compliance with state regulations aimed at easing the ongoing state-wide housing crisis.

But Council excised portions of the critical Housing Element that it said contain confusing and erroneous information, directing staff to work with relevant parties to draft formal amendments that will be subject to a future public comment process.

The changes are slated for a second and final reading under a consent item on the Council’s agenda on the Oct. 4 meeting, which started at 7:00.  It can be viewed online: CLICK HERE

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Under the new revisions, the city commits to enable construction of up to 2,867 new housing units over the next 20 years–a dramatic addition to the city’s existing 11,050 units, as well as very large increases in retail and office square-footage. In addition to ordinances on affordable housing incentives, state density bonus projects, employee (aka special-needs) housing, and inclusionary housing requirements, the package requires the city to place an initiative before voters next year to raise the city’s 45-foot building height limit.

The vote comes despite concerns about how the changes may effect the “small town” character of South Pasadena, though “established single-family neighborhoods would be preserved to the greatest extent possible,” according to a staff report, and growth “is focused on commercial areas.”

“We have got to embrace the fact that there is going to be more housing built in South Pasadena,” said District 5 Council Member Janet Braun. “We should be happy that we’re going to help Californians suffering with high rents and high housing costs. Even if you don’t want to rejoice in that, frankly, we don’t have a choice” she added, noting the city agreed to a number of the measures as part of a settlement with Californians for Homeownership (CAR), which sued the city for its failure to comply with state housing laws. “It’s time for us to demonstrate to everyone that we actually are moving forward.”

Ongoing concerns over certain tables in the Housing Element were the focus of much of the Council’s discussion before the vote.

Mayor John Primuth bore down on Table B.3.2 in the General Plan, which indicates a “realistic capacity” for nearly 6,000 units in the so-called “mixed core” and “Fair Oaks Corridor” areas–more than double the 2,867 units the revised chart sets as the total city-wide target.

It turned out this was simply one of two methods planners used to describe the information. Consultant Keizer Rangwala pointed to another table, B.3.3, listing the same areas, though with different names, showing different figures which did add up to the stated target. He indicated the two tables simply take different approaches to the same data, but agreed the latter table offered the more “realistic” estimate. Community Development Deputy Director Alison Becker said planners don’t actually think the two areas, both of which are largely commercial, will see meaningful residential development, but nonetheless have the capacity to do so.

The Mayor said B.3.2 ought to show the number of existing units in each area. “I’m pretty confused here. I do think the methodology might need to be changed.”

Primuth’s examination of Rangwala also elicited the consultant’s disclosure that planners do not actually know the exact number of existing dwelling units in any of the planning designation areas, but only the city-wide figure.

These and other problems led District 1 Council Member Evelyn Zneimer to vote against the General Plan revision, environmental document and to abstain on the rezoning ordinances. All other Council Members voted yes on all five of the relevant resolutions and ordinance revision motions, though they elected to remove Table B.3.2 from the General Plan and to eliminate another table from the Housing Element due to problems identified during the public review process concerning the density figures. Staff will work with CAR and the state Housing and Community Development agency to draft amendments addressing these problems and take them through a future public comment process.


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.