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The Real Deal Los Angeles

See ya, CEQA? It could soon get easier for multifamily developers to build in LA

By Cathaleen Chen | June 28, 2017 02:30PM

Gil Cedillo and renderings of the Highland Park Transit Village project

Multifamily developers could soon get some relief from the city’s tedious planning process, thanks to a new piece of legislation in the works in City Council.

Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to look into speeding up the entitlement process for developers by updating a 1990 ordinance. The law in question requires developers with proposals that include 50 or more units to go through a site plan review, which necessitates review under the California Environmental Quality Act. All in all, the process can take years, city planners told The Real Deal — sometimes many years, if lawsuits related to the CEQA review are filed.

The proposed update would increase the 50-unit threshold and ultimately streamline the approval process for developers. Council member Gil Cedillo filed the original motion for the update in 2015.

“The City should consider increasing the site plan review threshold from 50 units to a higher threshold so that only the largest projects are subject to the review,” he said.

The increase would prevent smaller projects from getting stuck in the process.

“Currently, even if a project conforms to zoning and other city codes, if it calls for 50 or more units, it must go through site plan and CEQA review,” principal city planner Ken Bernstein told TRD.

Council members cited the city’s goals to ramp up housing production in light of L.A.’s affordability crises as the impetus for the move. At a hearing Tuesday, Cedillo also vocalized concern about CEQA abuse within the planning process, citing an 80-unit affordable project in Highland Park. That development, dubbed the Highland Park Transit Village, has been stalled for nearly four years due to CEQA litigation.

It’s unclear whether the soon-to-be-drafted policy will apply only to projects with affordable units or to all multifamily developments.

If it passes, developers would save up to two years of time in planning process, in addition to the $50,000 to $500,000 they typically spend on preparing a review, said land use attorney Edgar Khalatian.

“The city is flustered right now because of the housing shortage, so this would allow for more projects that are theoretically by-right and not subject to CEQA review,” he said.

But not everyone is eager for a more streamlined entitlement process. An overwhelming majority of public comments submitted in regard to the policy are in opposition to it.