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View Point: A Proven Tool for Building Successful California Cities – Inclusionary Zoning


ON THE GOVERNOR’S DESK-What makes a city a success? It’s a lot of different things but in our experience economic vitality, livable neighborhoods, environmental sustainability and opportunity for all residents are critical elements. Coming up with strategies that accomplish all these goals is a tall order, but that’s the job of city leaders. 

In Pasadena and Santa Monica we pride ourselves on community engagement and effective planning that achieves results, such as revitalization of the 3rd Street Promenade and Old Pasadena while protecting our single family neighborhoods. We’ve crafted successful polices to direct new development to our downtown areas with the best transit. We’ve created opportunities for people who live and work locally by requiring all new apartment buildings to include some homes with affordable rents -- which is called inclusionary zoning.

Along with 140 California cities and suburbs, we’ve found the sweet spot with locally crafted inclusionary policies. We get some new affordable apartments-- which are in short supply--without undermining new private investment.  More than 80,000 Californians live in homes created by inclusionary policies providing lower income and working people access to neighborhoods with good schools, jobs, and other opportunity-drivers. 

Pasadena adopted inclusionary zoning in 2001 when the Metro Gold Line was under construction. Pasadena identified areas around downtown and three of the new stations for new infill development with goals of revitalization and making transit a feasible choice. This policy created 280 affordable apartments in 19 developments that also have about 1,380 market-rate apartments. 

Santa Monica also has policies to encourage new infill development in and around downtown.   An inclusionary policy was put in place in the early 1990’s when the community voiced concerns about rents being unaffordable to long-time residents and employees. This has resulted in 1,360 affordable apartments built alongside 2,400 market-rate apartments and condominiums. 

In both cities, inclusionary developments are close to public transit, shopping and schools. Thanks to this policy, low-wage employees live close to their jobs and avoid long commutes, reducing pollution and traffic gridlock. 

But all that has been threatened since 2009 when a developer successfully sued the city of Los Angeles (in Palmer v Los Angeles) claiming that the local policy violated the state’s Costa-Hawkins Act.  

Now the state legislature has given inclusionary zoning a second chance by passing AB 1229 (Atkins) that would reverse the Palmer decision. The bill now on Governor Brown’s desk does not require cities to adopt inclusionary policies or alter the state’s rent-control laws. It simply restores to cities the ability to continue using this local tool without fear of litigation. 

We urge Governor Jerry Brown to sign AB 1229 and give back to localities this valuable tool for responding to our residents struggling with modest wages and high housing costs. 

California has a severe shortage of affordable housing for its workforce. Most of the housing built in the state during the past decade has been for the very top of the market, luxury units affordable to only the most affluent people. 

Meanwhile, the middle class, and working families -- secretaries, bus drivers, nurses, school teachers, computer programmers, waiters, cashiers, garment workers, police officers, and others -- are suffering from the lack of reasonably-priced housing. Worst of all, our poorest residents are forced to double-up and triple-up in overcrowded apartments, pay almost all their meager incomes for rent, or wind up on the street and in shelters. 

One developer lobby group has claimed that inclusionary laws force developers to increase the price of their market-rate units to accommodate below-market apartments, claiming it’s a “tax” on the middle class. But the private for-profit developers we’ve dealt with don’t agree.  

They recognize that their developments benefit from public investments – parks, schools, public transit -- that make cities livable. These developers recognize that local governments must find a balance between the public good and private gain that benefits everyone. That is the essence of local inclusionary housing laws. 

Under the AB 1229, no city is required to adopt an inclusionary housing policy. Many cities have considered and rejected inclusionary policies.  But we know it’s the right policy for Pasadena and Santa Monica, and we don’t believe state law was ever intended to keep us from implementing our locally crafted policies.   

By signing AB 1229, Governor Brown will restore to cities the clear authority to implement inclusionary policies when and where local leaders decide it could benefit their communities.


(Bill Bogaard is the Mayor of Pasadena. Pam O’Conner is the Mayor of Santa Monica.)




Vol 11 Issue 77

Pub: Sept 24, 2013



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