L.A. faces massive rezoning challenge to accommodate 250,000 new homes by mid October, state regulators say

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Los Angeles has been delivered a daunting challenge: It must rezone to accommodate an additional quarter-million new homes by mid-October after state housing regulators rejected the city’s long-term plan for growth, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The consequence if the city fails to meet an October deadline for a process that usually takes years to complete: The California Department of Housing and Community Development wrote in a February letter the city could lose access to billions of dollars in affordable housing grants.

Gustavo Velasquez, director of the state housing department, praised the city’s efforts to develop a plan that welcomes new housing, promotes the construction of low-income apartments and ensures protections against displacement of residents, the published report says.

“But he said the city hasn’t done enough to comply with new, stricter state laws designed to promote greater development across California.”

Los Angeles isn’t alone in facing compliance challenges with state-approved housing plans.  Some 190 Southern California local governments face the same issues including funding and rezoning restrictions. Currently only seven are in compliance.

“This is the most densely populated city in the state,” Velasquez said. “It’s a lot of work. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know how anybody could think that the rezoning could be done between now and October.”

“Our housing element is the most ambitious and aggressive in the state, as part of a new regulatory process with unprecedented housing goals, and the mayor is proud of the work city staff have done to bring it to this point,” Alex Comisar, a spokesman for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, said in a statement.

If the state doesn’t approve the city’s housing plan, it is no longer eligible for funding from several affordable housing programs.

The Times reports that both state and city officials said that the city should be able to make changes to its housing plan by May, when the next round of state housing funding becomes available, so they don’t expect the city to lose out on money in the short term.

However the rezoning deadline poses a far more difficult challenge.

L.A. must complete efforts to rezone for 255,000 new homes by mid-October — rather than the three years it would have otherwise had to do it.

“City and state leaders say that doesn’t seem remotely possible. The process ordinarily requires lengthy environmental reviews and the L.A. City Council would have to approve the rezoning plan, after all of that, in just eight months. This would all happen amidst a mayoral election — as well as City Council races.”

“Rezoning the entire city in one year is infeasible, and we don’t believe that penalty was meant to apply to jurisdictions pursuing compliance in good faith,” Comisar said, adding that the mayor planned to work with Newsom and state legislators to address the issue.

Chris Elmendorf, a UC Davis law professor who has been following the housing element process, said the state’s rejection of L.A.’s housing plan could backfire.

Courts could allow local governments to ignore the rezoning deadlines if they are determined to be impossible to meet. “This is politically bonkers,” the law professor said.

Velasquez said the state’s aggressiveness in pushing cities to comply with their deadlines shows that, after decades, California is taking the planning process as seriously as its housing problems require.

“It’s showtime,” he said. “We just want to make sure that people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing and taking this crisis that we’re facing really seriously.”

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