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Saturday, March 2, 2024 | Back issues
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Los Angeles Density Ordinance Illegally Favors Developers, Housing Group Says

LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles' "Densification Ordinance" favors developers at the expense of affordable housing, the environment and zoning law, the Environment and Housing Coalition claims in Superior Court. The coalition says the ordinance violates the California Environmental Quality Act, and wants it enjoined until the city conducts a proper environmental impact study.

The Densification Ordinance is the city's version of state Senate Bill 1818, which directs California cities and counties to promote "smart planning" by rewarding developers that build high-density developments with a certain percentage of housing units dedicated to low income housing.

But the coalition claims the city's implementation "goes far beyond" SB 1818, by giving unnecessary benefits to developers. They claims that the ordinance will result in a net loss of low-income housing and allow developers to ignore environmental guidelines.

"Smart growth" is an increasingly popular, though often controversial, planning principal that suggests, among other things, that cities allow denser development downtown to reduce urban sprawl, and mixed-use zoning at city peripheries, to reduce shopping-generated traffic.

The coalition claims the Densification Ordinance "provides an economic incentive to demolish buildings currently containing affordable housing units and replace them with residential or mixed use projects containing market rate units and fewer affordable units than are demolished, with no provision to guarantee against a net loss of affordable housing units."

The ordinance awards "density bonuses" to developers for including a certain number of affordable units in new developments.

The complaint states that as long as developers include the required affordable units, new buildings may be bigger and taller than area zoning allows. The coalition calls that "an inapplicable exemption from the CEQA."

In most cases, the ordinance awards a bigger bonus to developers than the state law requires, the coalition says.

For instance, state law requires a 5 percent density bonus for developers that designate 10 percent of a development as affordable housing. But the ordinance gives developers a 15 percent bonus for a building with 10 percent affordable housing.

For a development in which 30 percent of its units are affordable, the ordinance increases a developer's bonus from the state guideline of 25 percent to 35 percent.

The lawsuit cites a hearing where city residents voiced safety concerns about implementing density requirements in flood zones, hillside areas, and high fire hazard zones.

The Coalition also says the city violated the CEQA by failing to do an environmental review before enacting the ordinance.

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