Because of the population growth in California, most notably in the Los Angeles area, the State Legislature has determined that more affordable mixed-use, multi-family, transit station-oriented and homeless housing must be created, and is implementing changes through the California State Housing Element law.

New statutes for affordable-housing density bonuses and land-use elements are making it easier for these types of new development to aid the goals of state and local government.

The State Housing Element law requires each California city and county to adopt a general plan containing at least seven elements, including housing, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

Unlike the other mandatory general plan elements, the housing element is required to be updated every five years and is subject to detailed statutory requirements and mandatory review by the Department of Housing and Community Development.

The Los Angeles Department of City Planning met with the Los Angeles Neighborhood Councils Coalition (LANCC) Saturday, May 3rd, in downtown Los Angeles at the coalition’s regular meeting to discuss questionnaires previously sent to coalition Neighborhood Council members, asking what problems they have experienced with the city’s current zoning code and what processes and procedures of the code are confusing and need clarification or if new provisions should be added.

According to the coalition Web site, the planning department is initiating a two-year effort to amend the zoning code.

In March, the Department of City Planning released the Housing Element draft for 2006-2014 for public workshops and comment.

A flyer from the planning department announced community workshops for the housing element, referring to it as the “blueprint for meeting the city’s housing needs.”

A series of seven workshops, held in seven areas of Los Angeles — Central, South Valley, East, Harbor, North Valley, South Los Angeles and West Los Angeles — began April 12th and ended April 24th in West Los Angeles.

At the bottom of the flyer, it stated, “Comments are welcome until April 30th, 2008.”

Currently on the planning department Web site is a housing element timeline stating that the review period for comments to be accepted is March to July, 2008.

The timeline also states that a date in June is to be determined for the City Planning Commission to review the draft and the Los Angeles City Council will receive it on a date to be determined in July.

Local residents have expressed a number of concerns in this housing element draft as well as uncertainty over the identification of non-vacant properties, particularly in the Westchester and Playa del Rey communities.

Residents said they are fearful that identifying a property with existing retail, churches, schools or other development could result in it being targeted by developers attempting to purchase those parcels from existing owners and destroying accessible businesses in these communities, or that zoning changes by the city could impact these properties.

Goals identified in the previous housing element plan for 1998-2005 that were not met will be added to the existing housing element requirements.

At a Westchester/Playa del Rey Neighborhood Council meeting Tuesday, May 6th, Los Angeles primary planner Jane Blumenfeld presented key parts of the housing element to the council’s members and a large audience.

Eleventh District Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s field deputy Jim Kennedy and chief planning deputy Grieg Asher attended, with Kennedy telling the audience that Blumenfeld was there to address the concerns of local constituents about the housing element plan.

Asher said the community could respond to the housing element through public comment to the Department of City Planning.

Asher said that a “mansionization” ordinance had been approved the same day by the Los Angeles City Council, which limits the size of new single-family residences to one-third greater than smaller existing neighborhood homes. “Oversized” houses have been referred to as “McMansions.”

He said that Rosendahl has requested that all of the Neighborhood Councils and residents of his district read the housing element draft and then “get back to him with their positions on it.”

Asher also told the audience that Rosendahl was opposed to State Senate Bill (SB) 1818, a density bonus amendment law stating that effective January 1st, 2005, applicants are eligible for a range of density bonuses up to 35 percent, based on the percentage of affordable housing units in a development.

SB 1818 creates a range of density bonuses by decreasing the percentage of affordable units needed to obtain a reduced density bonus, and by increasing the maximum density bonus to 35 percent, according to documentation from the California Housing Law Project, which states, “Applicants are also eligible for an innovative new land donation density bonus. Localities are required to offer at least one to three incentives (reductions in parking, for example) rather than one, based on the percentage of affordable units in a development. SB 1818 also limits parking requirements that localities may impose.”

BLUMENFELD PRESENTATION — Blumenfeld said that the required housing element needs are for 112,876 units under this draft (the goal of the 1998-2005 housing element review was 60,280 new housing units), to show that there is a capacity to meet state law regarding affordable housing, and to show the location of the parcels zoned for those units, but it doesn’t mean that it definitely will happen.

Stephen Bentley, a Westchester/ Playa del Rey Neighborhood Council member and chair of the Lincoln Boulevard Streetscape Committee, asked if the Community Plan for Westchester-Playa del Rey protects “valued resources.” Blumenfeld confirmed that it does.

“Without doubt, the housing element is a critical component of the city’s General Plan,” Bentley said. “We must plan for future housing needs within all of Los Angeles’s communities; it’s essential that we do so.

“However, future housing needs must be balanced by other critical elements of the General Plan. Those other elements include transportation, safety, open space, public facilities, noise, infrastructure, air quality, historic preservation, conservation and, not to forget, our own Community Plan.”

David Coffin, chair of the Neighborhood Council’s Communications Committee, pointed out to Blumenfeld that the city has completely ignored the most critical component of housing — water and how it relates to new housing units.

Coffin said that the entire section of the draft devoted to the Los Angeles water supply is just four paragraphs and two bullet-points long, while elsewhere, the document devoted a dozen pages to other forms of non-potable water such as gray water, storm water and waste water.

Coffin said the draft makes no policy attempt to safeguard the supply for the current level of housing units by withholding new building permits or providing for a building moratorium when the city’s water supply falls below adequate levels.

Coffin said he saw no connection between the housing element draft and the real world, most notably in regard to water supply.

In 225 pages of the report, water was addressed in a brief paragraph, specifically in Chapter 4, page 127: “Water Conservation Methods — Approximately 75 percent of the water provided to customers in the City of Los Angeles is imported from 300 miles away, therefore water conservation and efficiencies are very important to the region.”

Coffin said we are in at least the second year of a drought, if not longer, and that the state water program has been cut back by 30 percent.

He said water needs to be addressed much more than references to gray water, rain water and waste water, and that the entire subject of water is being glossed over, with the report stating that the water supply for new projects is generally adequate, which he said is not true.

Westchester/Playa del Rey Neighborhood Council member Judith Ciancimino said the transportation element was not being addressed, with new developments continuing to be built without addressing traffic congestion.

Denny Schneider, also a council member and president of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion (ARSAC), said that a lot of residents participated in the last Community Plan update for Westchester-Playa del Rey and were disappointed.

The EIR (environmental impact report) identified shortages in infrastructure such as traffic, police, fire stations to meet current needs, and they were totally ignored, said Schneider.

“Anything can happen, we may lose things in the Community Plan,” said Schneider.

Playa del Rey resident Karen Kanter said, “Forty percent of people who live in the city of Los Angeles own their own homes; yet they were not represented on the planning department’s task force that created the housing element draft. This draft contains 87 pages of policies associated with four housing goals.

“Not one goal speaks of maintaining ‘quality of life’,” she said. “Indeed, that phrase ‘quality of life’ that has long been a part of various housing element plans for the City of Los Angeles has been dropped from the current draft. My concern is for the sustainability and livability of our neighborhoods.”

Blumenfeld pointed out that the new director of planning, Gail Goldberg, has a different vision than the previous director and the Community Plan Schneider was referring to was worked on at the end just before the new planner came on board. (Goldberg became director in February.) Blumenfeld, said that the next Community Plan update would be very different.

Schneider responded that the community has been systematically torn apart and the Community Plan changed, “with LAX’s [Los Angeles International Airport’s] plan now having precedence over our plan.”

“There are more parking lots than transit corridors, and if the airport gets their way, you don’t have to worry, we won’t be here,” Schneider told Blumenfeld.

Neighborhood Council member Pat Lyon asked Asher if Rosendahl was concerned about the housing element draft.

Asher responded that Rosendahl said the housing element draft is a work in progress.

Asked about zoning changes, Blumenfeld told the audience that this housing element draft doesn’t deal with zoning issues, that it’s a citywide goals and objectives draft for the City of Los Angeles, and not neighborhood-specific.

GENERAL HOUSING ELEMENT INFORMATION — A map of California on the California Department of Housing and Community Development Web site shows that today’s population is at 37 million and will reach 44 million by 2020, with documentation stating that the population will “predictably grow about 500,000 per year.”

Effective January 1st, 2003, State Senate Bill 619, the Land Use Amendment, became law and included a number of measures to increase affordable housing in California, according to the California Housing Law Project.

A summary of the bill includes streamlining the housing approval process; allow non-profits to receive attorney fees in frivolous lawsuits to stop affordable housing, clarification of prohibited grounds for denying housing proposals, increasing housing opportunities on the coast by removing Coastal Act language and limiting localities from turning down mixed-use residential projects, according to documentation from the California Housing Law Project.

The regulation of the housing supply through planning and zoning powers affects the state’s ability to achieve its housing goal of “decent housing and a suitable living environment for every California family” and is critical to the state’s long-term economic competitiveness as well as being the primary market-based strategy to increase housing supply and choice, the California Department of Housing and Community Development documentation asserts.

In a memorandum to planning directors dated June 20th, 2007, Cathy Creswell, the deputy director of housing policy development of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, pointed out that an amended state housing element law — Assembly Bill (AB) 1233, (Jones, 2005) “promotes effective and timely implementation of local housing elements. This bill requires sites to be rezoned by prescribed deadlines when a jurisdiction fails to adopt an adequate housing element or fails to timely implement programs in its housing element to identify adequate sites pursuant to government code.

“Government code, which took effect on January 1st, 2006, requires local governments to zone or rezone adequate sites within the first year of the new planning period, to address any portion of the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) for which the jurisdiction failed to identify or make available sites in the prior planning period.”

Creswell told The Argonaut that the California Department of Housing and Community Development is not an enforcement agency but that the California Attorney General’s Office can enforce compliance with the state’s housing element law, and that there is a legal risk of cities being sued if they are out of compliance and fail to adhere to the law.

The housing element process is to include public vetting and the city participates by providing an inventory of sites to identify possible redevelopment to meet the requirements of the housing element, said Creswell.

The housing element process is the only part of local general plans that is subject to substantial oversight by the state, and the requirement is often called “fair-share” housing law, referring to a regional process where each local community works to accommodate a fair proportion of the region’s housing needs, states the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG).

The association works with the Department of Housing and Community Development to “determine a growth projection for the SCAG region, which is then translated into a housing need assessment (RHNA), and then parcels out this assessment, broken down by income category, to its member municipalities according to the projected growth for each RHNA allocation,” states the City of Los Angeles Planning Department documentation.

The Los Angeles Department of City Planning Department works on the housing element process with other city departments such as the Housing Department, the Community Redevelopment Agency, the Housing Authority and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

After the City of Los Angeles has completed the draft for the housing element and all public workshops and comments have been received, the draft is sent to the Department of Housing and Community Development for review.

Based on its findings, the Department of Housing and Community Development will then notify the city if the draft is in or out of compliance, and if out of compliance, it is returned to that city with recommended revisions to meet the requirements.