The La Cañada Flintridge City Council on Monday rejected the appeal for an application connected to a newer and larger proposed mixed-use project at 600 Foothill Boulevard.
The meeting was called to resolve a dispute between the city and property owners that would allow the developers, under a legal mechanism called “builder’s remedy,” to go ahead with a project that would provide housing units that are mandated by Senate Bill 330, the Housing Crisis Act of 2019.
The site’s previous proposal was first denied by City Council in 2021 after months of — sometimes contentious — discourse and deliberation among residents and LCF officials. The current owner of 600 Foothill Blvd., Cedar Street Partners, includes three LCF community members: Alexandra Hack, Garret Weyand and former Mayor Jonathan Curtis.
Cedar Street Partners returned to City Council in November of 2022 to push for an even larger development proposal than the one initially rejected, this time under a builder’s remedy. The new proposal outlined a five-story building with 80 residential mixed-income units, 12 hotel rooms, almost 7,800 square feet of office space and two levels of underground parking.
But the meeting on Monday was not about the development plans or look of the property itself. Council outlined the terms under which it was simply rejecting the application for being “incomplete” and its use of builder’s remedy.
“I just want to provide a general overview of what’s going to be discussed today and what is not going to be discussed today,” said Mayor Keith Eich. “I’m hoping this will allow for our counsel, the applicant and the public to focus on the issue in front of us and not get sidetracked into other unrelated issues. The issue before us involves a proposed development project at 600 Foothill Boulevard. This project is still in the application stage, where the application has not yet been deemed complete by the city.”
The staff report, read by Director of Community Development Susan Koleda, stated when Cedar Street Partners had submitted a SB 330 application, the incompleteness of the project and the adoption of the LCF housing element.
“This hearing is very narrowly focused on the March 1, 2023, incompleteness determination by staff. The second point of the appeal is whether the 600 Foothill mixed-use project is or is not a builder’s remedy under the Housing Accountability Act,” said Koleda.
A builder’s remedy is a way to expedite the construction of low- or middle-income housing when a municipality fails to comply with laws related to housing development.
“We would like to say that the decision on the appeal is not a decision on the merits of the project, but only on whether the project is entitled to be processed as a builder’s remedy project,” said Koleda.
The big argument was whether the city’s housing element was in compliance and adopted on Oct. 4, 2022, or not. When Cedar Street Partners submitted the SB 330 preliminary application on Nov 14, 2022, the team used the logic that the housing element was not compliant.
A SB 330 preliminary application makes changes to land use and zoning law to remove barriers and impediments to building new housing in urban areas of the state.
“So, there were very limited revisions to the housing element between the second and the third version. So again, the second version was adopted in October 2022, [and] the third version [on] February of 2023,” said Koleda. “And this supports the council’s position that the city’s housing was substantially compliant prior to the submittal of the applicant or the appellants, SB 330 application on November 14 of 2022.”
Koleda continued to explain how the project itself and the requirements did not allow for a builder’s remedy.
“So, just in summary, staff does not believe that the appeal on the grounds is valid and recommends that the city council deny this portion of the appeal,” said Koleda. “Affirming that the builder’s remedy project is not available to the mixed-use project as 600 Foothill, since the city’s housing element adopted October 4, 2022, meets the statutory requirements of state housing element law.”
Ryan Leaderman, who is representing the 600 Foothill Boulevard owner, kicked off his argument by discussing the lack of housing for those who are teachers, staff or cleaners in the LCF community.
“You have a wonderful institution, JPL, here. Where do the cleaners live? Where does the staff live? Where do your teachers live? Where? They’re not allowed to live in this city. And guess what? In the fifth housing element, the city produced zero low-income units. In the current sixth cycle arena, [there’s] no housing production for low-income people,” said Leaderman.
Leaderman told the Council and community members the opposite of what was in the staff report.
“When this project submitted its SB 330 preliminary application, there just wasn’t [a housing element in compliance],” said Leaderman. “Susan just mentioned that HCD says that there still isn’t a housing element that’s in compliance because the required rezoning has not occurred. It’s a matter of fact of law. And at the time the preliminary application was submitted, the city did not have a housing element that was in compliance with the law. What that means is the city must process this builder’s remedy project.”
Leaderman claimed that the team met with some city staff to discuss the project and the possibility of a builder’s remedy and, “there was never a moment during that meeting, where [they said] ‘no, you can’t file builder’s remedy because the one that we approved in October is completely valid and in substantial compliance’ … there was an acknowledgement then that builder’s remedy was the appropriate mechanism.”
It was a back-and-forth conversation between the city and the 600 Foothill Boulevard team.
“We’re not making this up, and we wish that your staff report would be more balanced and give the facts,” said Leaderman.
Most of the public comments were in favor of the project, speaking about the lack of affordable housing in the city.
“My kids have moved out; they can’t necessarily afford to live here. I think that’s true of many, many of our children, and I can’t really afford to move, not that I would want to. So, the whole idea of what can we, in La Cañada, do to help this housing crisis? It doesn’t just affect the new families who would like to live here because there are very few houses on the market. It affects those of us who would love to live here. So, think about the long term and you have a real opportunity here to make a difference. Young families can’t even afford to live here,” said city resident Anne Tryba.
City Attorney Adrian Guerra stepped into the conversation to address the things he was hearing from the 600 Foothill Boulevard team.
“I heard that a decision to deny a builder’s remedy appeal today would be a denial of the project. I would disagree,” said Guerra. “We don’t know what the actual project is going to look like on the merits, and that is not before you today. The only issue today is an administrative decision on how the project will be processed.”
“The issues that are before us are narrowly tailored, as the mayor had said in the beginning to address these procedural questions … that’s what I will be speaking about today,” said Councilman Kim Bowman. “I do believe that the housing element, the various elements that are required to meet government code section 65580-88, are met by the submission that was put forward in October. I also acknowledge that that is not something that is universally agreed to in this room. That we have different views. That HCD in its letters has disagreed to that position as well, full acknowledgement.”
Because there was a compliant housing element, Bowman continued, a builder’s remedy is not applicable and “this project should be reviewed as any submitted project. So, I do not see this as a denial. I see this as an opportunity for the project to be reviewed under what was adopted [in] that October 2022 housing element.”
Council members thanked city staff for the work that went into the meeting and concurred with what Bowman said.
“I agree with my council here, completely … and just to reiterate, if we deny the appeal, we are not denying the project,” said Eich.
Leaderman, expressing his displeasure with the decision, told the Outlook Valley Sun: “We’re just surprised that the city would so clearly violate the law. They know that they do not have a substantially compliant housing element, and they have not done the rezoning. So, it’s brazen, their unlawfulness.”
First published in the May 4 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.