Ballot Measure Information

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Ballot Measure Study Session

The South Pasadena City Council is hosting a special study session on the proposed ballot measure related to the height limit on Wednesday, July 17 at 6:00 p.m. in the Council Chambers, 1424 Mission Street. State mandates have required South Pasadena to plan for more housing. New height districts will be needed in the Downtown, Ostrich Farm, and Huntington Driveto support the new housing units. Join us for this important policy discussion. 

 

Virtual Town Hall 

On Wednesday, June 12, 2024, City staff hosted a town hall discussing the City's Housing Element, efforts to retain local control and options for a ballot measure during the November 2024 election. There was also a time at the end of the presentation for Q&A. Please click the link below to access the recordings of the Town Hall:

 

Town Hall Recording with both Spanish and Chinese Captions

Background on the Housing Element

South Pasadena residents have an active voice in the future of housing in our community. With our wonderful neighborhoods, quaint downtown experience and community assets, South Pasadena is a treasured experience that the City has spent decades curating and supporting.

State housing mandates are requiring South Pasadena to do its part to create more housing in California. The City, like all other cities in California, is required to plan for new housing and facilitate private development activities. Through the recent Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) for Southern California, the City was required to plan for an additional   2067 units of housing across a range of income levels through 2029. The City’s adopted Housing Element for the current planning cycle (2021-2029) includes a number of programs that address this mandate. The City has implemented several of these programs through the recent update to the City’s General Plan, as well as several city-wide rezoning projects.  For more information on RHNA, visit https://scag.ca.gov/rhna.

 

To be clear, the City is not in the business of constructing housing units. Rather, the City controls land use restrictions and is mandated by State law to adjust our land use restrictions to accommodate housing construction as part of a Statewide push to increase housing supply and address the housing crisis in California. In other words, the City is required to plan for the anticipated development, in an effort to support market production of the allocated units.

The City launched its Housing Element process in 2019 and held many community meetings and provided the public with information about the process and the plans for meeting our State mandate. Based on the public engagement process and on guidance from the City Council, the Housing Element was created based on these principles:

  • Introduction of new higher-density housing will be located in the downtown area, near existing higher-density housing and along major corridors in the City.

  • Zoning that allows for taller building heights in limited areas would avoid tall building that are near single-family residential neighborhoods.

  • New density near our downtown core encourages an even more robust downtown experience, creates more walkable spaces and takes advantage of transit opportunities.

  • Adoption of a Certified Housing Element is important for the City to retain local control on zoning and land use planning and for certain state funding sources.

The City completed five drafts of the Housing Element. Each version was reviewed by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) and refined to meet the various requirements for Housing Element policy and program development. The City Council adopted the 5th draft on May 30, 2023 and began to implement the required re-zoning programs. Ultimately, the State must certify that the Housing Element is compliant with State mandates.

The Housing Element presumes that some level of increased building height in excess of the City's current height limit will be needed to achieve the minimum densities allowed in our new plans and zoning ordinances.

Retaining Local Control on Housing Plans

Adoption of a Housing Element is a critical step to retaining local control of our land use planning in the City. Without a Certified Housing Element, the City could be at risk of developers having wide latitude to build housing that dramatically exceeds zoning and design standards through a legal tool called Builder’s Remedy. Cities like La Cañada Flintridge are already facing Builder’s Remedy applications that bypass local zoning rules.

Additionally, without a certified Housing Element, the City is at risk of losing access to certain grant funds and could see its permitting activity for simple things like home improvements grind to a halt if the State feels the need to intervene on the City’s operations - similar to what Beverly Hills experienced in late 2023.

Building Height Concerns and Plans

The voters of South Pasadena adopted a 45-foot height restriction on buildings in 1983. The current citywide height limit is 45 feet or about 4 stories for a building. State policy trends and mandates do not favor height limits. State policy is encouraging more density in construction which often means more building height. As a result, the State policy mandates and the City’s height restriction ordinance are increasingly in conflict.

Consistent with the planning principles noted above, the City Council has supported the general idea of increasing height limits along certain corridors and areas in the City, all of which already have multi-story buildings. Maps about where these are available below. Any change in height limit restriction will require a vote of South Pasadena voters.

Adjusting height restrictions is essential to prevent increased density from encroaching on South Pasadena’s single-family residential areas. In essence, if housing units aren’t built taller in the identified corridors, they’ll expand horizontally, dispersing throughout neighborhoods citywide. Residents of South Pasadena will ultimately decide the direction of this expansion. Will it be upward or outward?

Frequently Asked Questions 

Does the City have to have a Certified Housing Element?

The City has an adopted Housing Element that is currently under review for State certification.  State policy has aggressively introduced consequences to cities that do not achieve certification. The consequences include fines up to $600,000 a month, loss of access to grant funding (for programs like homeless services and street repairs), loss of local permitting control (Beverly Hills recently suspended issuing bathroom renovation permits) and opening the City up to Builder’s Remedy Applications. Builder’s Remedy Applications enable a developer to bypass local rules, including the height limits in the City so long as the building has 20% affordable units or 100% moderate-income units.


Wasn’t the City in a lawsuit over this?

In late 2021 the City was sued by a non-profit legal advocacy firm, Californians for Homeownership, for failure to adopt a Housing Element on time. The City settled the lawsuit in April 2022 and agreed to adopt the Housing Element by May 31, 2023 and bring a ballot measure to the voters to increase the height limit in the City. Violation of the settlement terms will reopen this litigation.


What happens if voters reject any changes to the height limit restriction in South Pasadena?

If voters do not support putting more height along major corridors, the City will have to identify additional residential neighborhoods for rezoning to achieve the capacity required by the State. If the City fails to do that, it risks losing certification for the Housing Element, which will trigger several negative impacts on the City and community.


Can’t the City sue the State to fight back?

Several lawsuits have already been filed by cities attempting to fight back to retain local control and rules regarding housing development. In nearly all cases, the Courts have sided with the State and arguments by cities have generally failed. Legal counsel has advised the City Council that legal pathways to fighting the state are expensive and highly unlikely to succeed given the body of law in this area and similar recent court decisions. Additionally, the City has already settled a lawsuit with Californians for Homeownership and part of the settlement was to adopt a Housing Element by May 31, 2023 and present a ballot measure to increase the City’s height limit to the voters by November 2024.



Is the plan to eliminate the height limit everywhere?

No. The goal is to target and limit height, at a higher level, in certain zones within the city. These maps below show where those zones are being considered for height.

 

Official Zoning Map

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Ostrich Farm Mixed Use Area

Ostrich-Farm-HO-Overlay-Map-Adopted-on-3-20-24.jpg(JPG, 175KB)

Huntington Drive Mixed Use Area

Huntington-Drive-HO-Overlay-Map-Adopted-3-20-24.jpg(JPG, 201KB)

 

Critical Documents

 

The following links provide extensive background and information on State Housing Policy, the community engagement efforts related to the Housing Element plan and other important details related to the Housing Element.

 

 

Contact Community Development staff at housingelement@southpasadenaca.gov with any questions you may have regarding the upcoming ballot measure.