First published in the July 7 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
The city of La Cañada Flintridge presented a summary of the much-anticipated findings of a consulting firm regarding densities and the economic feasibility of development in the town and it affirmed what the state had previously advised city staff: the minimum number of dwelling units per acre will need to be increased in certain zones.
Susan Koleda, the city’s director of community development, said during a City Council meeting on Tuesday that the consultant from Michael Baker International, or MBI, identified a minimum of 26 dwelling units per acre for housing projects — whether they include moderate-income housing or units for lower income residents — is likely required for developers to benefit from housing projects on their property.
MBI used the recent sale of a furniture store on Foothill Boulevard that is being converted into a medical office as the base for the economic study, as well as most recent land values and current development costs. The purpose of the study was to determine a minimum density that would give a better return to property owners and encourage development in a city that hasn’t had much of it in the past decade when it comes to housing.
“I will stress that this minimum density of 26 units to the acre is draft,” Koleda said. “It may be modified, it may be increased, depending on what other things like the development standards that the community find acceptable and that the City Council approve for the site.”
City staff received the findings last Monday and provided a summary of the report to three members of the City Council Tuesday, Koleda explained. Mayor Terry Walker and Councilman Jonathan Curtis recused themselves from the discussion because the former owns a business on a site that may be considered by staff for possible development and the latter is part of a group that owns a 1.29-acre parcel at 600 Foothill Blvd.
Koleda was seeking direction from the council on how to move forward with the information provided by MBI because the minimum density will determine the number of sites that will need to be identified in the city’s sites inventory list, which is a list given to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, or HCD, that shows potential development sites.
La Cañada Flintridge is in the process of updating the sixth cycle of its housing element and must show that it can accommodate the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, which projects how many dwelling units are needed in each city. The city was tasked with showing that it can allow for the development of 612 residential units. LCF previously submitted a draft of the housing element to HCD and received feedback from the state, which informed city staff current standards and density constrain development.
Koleda reiterated that the state identified a minimum of 20 dwelling units per acre for each site listed is not acceptable, and that a midpoint of 25 units to the acre cannot be used because “we do not have any approved projects that show development can occur at a higher density.”
City staff plans on reaching out to the owners of potential sites again with the higher density figure to determine whether there is interest in possible development.
“What we believe is this economic analysis has shown that a higher density is probably appropriate and hopefully, when we go back to those property owners, we now have very solid evidence that this density is feasible and it will actually work for them,” Koleda said.
Councilman Rick Gunter, who is on the committee working on the city’s housing element, was content with MBI’s analysis.
“I’m good with 26 myself with the understanding that it’s slightly above the minimum that HCD is going to want to see, which means it’s more likely to be approved,” Gunter said. “But it’s not a big number that is problematic, [it’s not] going to [affect] the lifestyle that we’ve come to appreciate here.”
Mayor Pro Tem Keith Eich did express some concern when hearing from Koleda about the low number of accessory dwelling units developed so far this year. Staff had previously projected dozens of ADU permits being granted in the next year or so, but Koleda said that number has gone down “significantly,” possibly due to high construction costs and difficulty of finding labor.
Koleda added that four years into the new housing cycle, the city will have to audit ADUs, and she doesn’t believe the city can verify that 46% of them are being rented to lower-income residents.
“We cannot solve the problem just by ADUs,” she told Eich.
The council acknowledged that the city is being put in a difficult situation with the state’s housing demands, and Councilman Mike Davitt reminded stakeholders that the city does not have to build 612 dwelling units but show that they can be developed.
“We’re all in a difficult situation, and we’re trying to make this work,” Davitt said. “Whatever comes out of this process, it’s not requiring any individual or corporate property owner or commercial property to do anything different than what they’re doing now.”
Alexandra Hack, who is part of the group that owns 600 Foothill Blvd. and whose proposed three-story mixed-use structure was denied by the council last year, was one of several community members expressing their disappointment in the city not providing stakeholders with a copy of MBI’s detailed report. She added that city will need to make the minimum 30 dwelling units per acre to get property owners interested in housing development.
“The discussion should be starting with 30 dwelling units,” Hack told the Outlook Valley Sun Wednesday. “HCD has explicitly stated that 20-30 dwelling units per acre will not be acceptable for lower income housing. Hopefully the city does what they need to do and zone at a feasible density throughout the city.”
City staff is working around the clock to have a housing element draft within the next three weeks so that it can be viewed by the public and submitted to the state for review. HCD will send a response within 60 days, and the city must adopt a housing element by Oct. 15.
The next discussion between city officials and stakeholders will likely center around development standards such as height, setbacks and parking at a future meeting.
EDISON ADDRESSES RECENT OUTAGES
Nearly 400 Southern California Edison customers in La Cañada Flintridge went without power last week with unplanned outages at two of the city’s circuits.
All but one of 209 customers on the Berskshire 4kV circuit were without power for nearly seven hours on June 27 and four hours the following day.
Coincidentally, more than 160 homes under the Flintridge 4kv circuit experienced an even lengthier outage. Edison said that 166 customers were without power for about 11 hours on June 27 and 14 hours the next day. Technicians managed to install fusing devices to mitigate the outages and limit the number of homes affected to 28 on June 28.
“We apologize for the hardships that La Cañada Flintridge residents have experienced due to these outages,” said Marissa Castro-Silvati, government relations manager for Edison.
District Manager Albert Diaz informed the council that the reason for the Berkshire outage was due to increased use of power. Technicians installed a new safety device and does not see “a further issue happening on the same circuit for the same reasons.” He added that there is a scheduled project to take load off of that circuit to another one that can handle increased usage.
The Flintridge circuit is more complicated, and Edison is working to install an early fault detection system that can help determine the cause of the outage.
Castro-Silvati said Edison officials will return to provide an update to the City Council during a meeting Aug. 2.