Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass signed into law on Thursday, July 6, an ordinance updating the city’s zoning code to exempt all affordable units from the time-consuming Site Plan Review process that often delays final approval of much-needed housing projects.
The city’s existing building code required all housing developments of more than 49 units to undergo Site Plan Review, which can add months to the completion of a project and increase expenses. Many developers avoid the process by limiting housing projects to 49 units in an attempt to avoid the review — reducing affordable housing units when the project could support far more.
Bass signed the new ordinance into law alongside Council President Paul Krekorian and Council President Pro Tempore Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who both co-authored the legislation. Bass said the ordinance is part of an effort that was already long underway by the time she was sworn in as mayor in December.
“I’m grateful to each of you and your colleagues for your tireless work to get us to this point,” Bass said.
The mayor emphasized the urgency to move unhoused Angelenos inside, underscoring last week’s release of the results from Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2023 point-in-time homeless count.
“My first executive directive focused on dramatically accelerating and lowering the cost of affordable housing,” Bass said. “By cutting through red tape at City Hall, we have shortened the process in time from a matter of months to a matter of days.”
Within the six months that Bass issued her executive directive (ED), the city approved 22 housing projects — representing approximately 1,600 units of affordable housing, according to the mayor’s office.
“Today, I will sign an ordinance that takes a major step in codifying ED by exempting affordable housing and qualifying mixed-use, mixed-income projects from the process of Site Plan Review,” Bass said.
Krekorian said that in his first decade serving on the City Council, the city’s population grew by almost 200,000 people. But, in that time, the city only added 84,000 units of housing.
He noted that 60% of renters in the city are cost-burdened, paying more than 30% of their income on rent. About one-third of Angelenos are “severely cost-burdened,” Krekorian added.
“What that also means is for those Angelenos, many of them are a paycheck away from ending up on the streets,” Krekorian said. “They lose their job, they have a medical crisis or for whatever other reason, if you (are) severely rent burdened, you’re at risk of becoming homeless.”
The councilman said the ordinance would encourage mixed-use development by waiving 150,000 square feet of commercial development, so long as at least 50% of the floor area ratio is used for affordable housing.
A recent study by the Los Angeles Business Council quantified the thousands of units of potential housing lost to plan-review delays. In addition, the report found that expanding mixed-income projects leads to a greater increase in affordable housing than 100% affordable developments.
Harris-Dawson, who chairs the council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee, said “it feels like a breath of fresh air and a new energy in our city with regards to tackling the biggest challenge of our time.”
He noted that plan review is a process the state and cities use as a “guardrail” to protect from overdevelopment, citing a time when overdevelopment was a serious challenge.
Krekorian said plan review will be evaluated to examine whether it is “serving a function that really matters in ensuring the best decisions around land use.”
Bass added: “I think one of the worst things that we could do would be to frighten neighborhoods that now we’re going to (approve) anything and everything. We want Angelenos to support the idea that housing needs to be built everywhere, but that doesn’t mean that we’re trying to say people in their neighborhoods no longer have a voice, and are just going to put up with anything that happens.
“We have to strike a balance where Angelenos support the development of housing, but we also want to do it in an inclusive way,” she said.