Pasadena moves to eliminate planned development zoning

“The projects were essentially writing their own rules,” says city planning director

City of Pasadena Acting Director of Planning Jennifer Paige (Getty, City of Pasadena)
City of Pasadena Acting Director of Planning Jennifer Paige (Getty, City of Pasadena)

The City of Pasadena moved on Monday to eliminate its planned development zoning designation, effectively nixing an avenue that was designed to expedite major project approvals in the affluent city.  

The Pasadena City Council made the decision at a public hearing, the Southern California News Group reported, and directed staff to prepare an ordinance within 60 days that would remove the category from the city’s zoning code.

“There were concerns raised that the projects were essentially writing their own rules,” Jennifer Paige, the city’s acting planning director, told the news group, “and that they weren’t conforming with the rules we have in place now.” 

Planned development zoning applies to sites that are 2 acres or larger and developed for mixed-use, the newspaper group reported. In theory, the option affords developers a faster approval process compared to piecemeal requirements, but for months Pasadena officials have argued the option benefited no one, because large projects were still subject to major opposition, which led to uncertainty, and the PD zoning was undercutting the city’s more specific zoning codes.  

“The community has spent an inordinate amount of voluntary time working on specific plans,” Julianna Delgado, a Pasadena planning commissioner, told Pasadena Now last March, “and what the PD process has done is to essentially eliminate all that work and say that it doesn’t really matter.” 

The city’s zoning reform comes amid a period that may rank as one of the most consequential — and contentious — in California history for development and zoning law, as a generally pro-housing growth state government has worked to pass dozens of new laws that are in many cases opposed by local governments. 

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Last year, after the rollout of SB 9, the state housing law that effectively eliminated single-family zoning by allowing property owners to split their lots and build duplexes, Pasadena fought the state for months over a local historical neighborhood exemption the city sought to enact. The battle ranked among the highest profile in the new SB 9 era, and ultimately ended when the city issued a minor language change, prompting both sides claiming victory.

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 “The attorney general simply got it wrong,” the city’s mayor said at the time

This year, another statewide battle is escalating over builder’s remedy, the decades-old legal provision that allows developers to bypass local zoning in cities — such as Pasadena — that are failing to meet their state-mandated housing goals.  

Trevor Bach