The city of Pasadena opposed the most current version of Senate Bill 50, which would have completely removed density limits and increased building heights along our major corridors, while eliminating single-family zoning citywide. These changes would have amounted to a statewide rezoning without any consideration of local context, growth planning strategies, or public outreach. That is why I am thankful that state Sen. Anthony Portantino, who represents Pasadena and our neighboring cities, did the right thing by putting SB 50 on hold so work can continue to improve the bill to the point where it does not punish cities that have taken initiative to encourage housing.

To be clear, the people of Pasadena are acutely aware of the statewide housing crisis, and acknowledge that cities must take significant steps to encourage housing production and affordability. The effects of the housing crisis are felt locally, with steadily increasing rents, homes that are unaffordable to the general workforce, and a high number of people experiencing homelessness. In response, Pasadena has taken important steps to address these issues in a balanced manner.

Pasadena’s recently updated General Plan has reaffirmed our dedication to the establishment of vibrant, mixed-use “transit villages,” with allowed densities ranging up to 87 dwelling units per acre, floor area ratios up to 3.0, and heights ranging from 40 to 75 feet in areas closest to our six light-rail stations. Since January 2014, Pasadena has approved over 2,700 new residential units, and an additional 2,600 new residential units are currently under review. These projects have resulted in the issuance of permits for nearly four times Pasadena’s regional allocation for above-moderate income units, and we continue to make meaningful progress toward meeting our allocations for lower income households. Furthermore, 87 percent of the new residential units that have been approved since 2014, as well as 67 percent of the new units currently under review, are within a half mile of a transit station.

And our efforts haven’t stopped there. Less than a year ago, our City Council passed an ordinance that makes it easier for motels to be converted to permanent supportive housing. Pasadena has also had an inclusionary housing ordinance since 2001, which requires new multi-family projects to set aside 15 percent of units for low- and moderate-income households, and is currently studying ways to incentivize additional production of affordable units beyond our current requirements. Finally, the City Council recently instructed staff to take the necessary steps to approve a 70-unit, mixed use permanent supportive housing project to serve homeless seniors on city-owned land.

While Pasadena’s efforts are by no means perfect and continual evaluation and self-reflection  are always needed, it must be underscored that none of these achievements could have been possible without community consensus for these policies, achieved only after many years of analysis, environmental review, and engaging in robust dialogue with the community through countless public outreach efforts. The resulting long-term vision — and the related goals, policies, standards and guidelines — have ultimately led to the development of an unprecedented amount of new housing units within walking distance of transit stations in Pasadena, while balancing that growth with the preservation of our single-family neighborhoods.

However, the provisions of SB 50 undermine the many efforts that Pasadena and other cities have undertaken as part of a more holistic community planning strategy, rendering the local planning process meaningless. While many of the steps we have taken are generally consistent with the proposed density and height waivers in SB 50, Pasadena’s vision goes beyond simply placing housing near stations. It recognizes that quality places consist of complementary uses, including housing, jobs, retail, and other amenities, as well as thoughtful urban design and transit connectivity. That is why our high-density zones also include provisions for mixed-use, live/work, height averaging, and height transitions.

I recognize that not all cities have made the same efforts to produce affordable housing or embraced land use policies that encourage transit-oriented development. Many cities across California remain out of compliance with their housing elements and actively discourage development of new housing altogether, let alone affordable housing. Many cities have also done little to plan for and incentivize increased density near transit service, and a state-mandated measure may be needed to address these cities. A problem as complex as the housing crisis deserves an equally sophisticated solution. Any attempt to establish statewide zoning needs to be much more thoughtful than the blunt approach offered by recently proposed legislation. The city of Pasadena is thankful to Sen. Portantino for not allowing SB 50 to move forward in its current form and looks forward to working toward legislation that does not destroy community planning. 


Terry Tornek is the mayor of the city of Pasadena