With a 3-2 vote Monday night, West Hollywood’s City Council voted to appeal a regional report requiring that the city create almost 4,000 new housing units by the year 2029.
The Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) makes recommendations for housing to help cities amend their zoning laws and land-use policies. Cities are expected to adopt the RHNA recommendations into the Housing Element of their General Plan, which guides development in the city.
The final RHNA numbers, released earlier this month, would require West Hollywood to create 3,924 housing units over the next eight-year cycle, which runs June 2021 to October 2029. That number is up 5,100% over the 77 new units the city was required to produce in the current eight-year cycle, a number the city has far exceeded.
Those 3,924 units are broken down in the RHNA report to 1,063 units for very-low-income residents, 687 units for low-income residents, 681 units for moderate-income residents, and 1,493 units for above-moderate-income residents (aka market-rate units.)
RHNA numbers come from calculations by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and are based, in part, on access to transit corridors and access to jobs as well as projected future housing needs.
California is in the midst of a housing crisis, so RHNA numbers have increased substantially for every city. Beverly Hills is expected to create 3,096 new units. Culver City’s RHNA number is 3,333 new units, while Santa Monica’s is 8,873 new units. Meanwhile, the city of Los Angeles is listed as needing to create 455,577 new units.
West Hollywood will base its appeal on the fact that it exceeded the 77 units it was required to create in the current cycle (2013-2021). So far, the city has already built or issued building permits for 2,259 new units. West Hollywood is one of the few cities in the state to meet its RHNA number in the current cycle, although the requirement to huild only 77 units is low.
During the previous cycle (2005-2013), the city was required to create 584 new units but missed that goal slightly, producing only 566 new units.
That 77 units for the current cycle was low because the calculation was determined during the housing crash of the late 2000s/early 2010s. Other cities in the region also had low numbers in the current eight-year cycle but still failed to produce the required number of new units.
“We’re one of the few cities to actually meet our RHNA numbers and we should be rewarded for that,” Councilmember John Duran said, explaining his support of the appeal.
Councilmember John Heilman felt the 2,182 units the city created in excess of the 77 required in the current cycle should be taken into account in calculating the city’s RHNA numbers for the next cycle.
“As much as I am an advocate for housing and the construction of new housing, our success for the [current] period, we should be given credit for that,” said Heilman. “I do think appealing solely on that ground that some credit should be given to us for our overproduction in the past.”
Councilmember Lauren Meister concurred, feeling it is important to get an appeal on the record. She questioned how Culver City and Beverly Hills could have similar RHNA numbers as West Hollywood when both cities have more land on which to construct apartment buildings.
Councilmember John D’Amico voted again the appeal feeling it was a waste of staff’s time. He saw no reason for the city to change its zoning laws to allow for 10-story buildings just to reach an impossibly high number. He noted there is no penalty for failure to meet the number, suggesting that’s why other cities failed to meet their RHNA numbers.
Mayor Lindsey Horvath also voted against the appeal but nothing in her comments hinted at why she voted against it. WEHOville texted her after the meeting inquiring why she voted no, but did not receive a reply.
Preparing for New Housing Element
In other housing-related actions, the Council voted unanimously to create a task force to get input about policies and goals for an updated Housing Element for the city’s General Plan.
That task force will meet over the next six months and will likely have 15 to 20 members. Ten of the members will be appointed by the five councilmembers (two for each councilmember), while the rest will be other stakeholders including real estate agents who know the West Hollywood market, people currently living in affordable units, people on the wait list for affordable units and people with backgrounds in housing and/or design.
The city will also hold visioning workshops and focus groups to get further community input. By Spring 2021, the Planning Commission and the City Council will begin holding public hearings on the Housing Element. State law requires the city submit its updated Housing Element to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development for state certification by Oct. 15, 2021.
The Council also unanimously approved having staff study various housing-related policies such as density bonuses for “mixed-use” (retail and residential in the same building) developments and incentives that target development of housing on underused commercial lots
Meister suggested that rather than reward property owners for developing their lots, the city might consider penalizing them for not developing it.
City staff will also examine ways to encourage more housing for middle-income residents, something currently lacking in the city. They will also study allowing “micro-units” (units of less than about 300 square feet) in the city.
Heilman said he was opposed to the idea of having entire buildings of micro-units, describing it as something akin to a dormitory. He felt that would create a building of such high density that it would be an undesirable place to live. However, he did think allowing one or two micro-units in an apartment building might be a good bonus for developers.
D’Amico agreed, saying that micro-units “promise a lot more than they deliver” and require precise planning to get them done right. He said he would be opposed to a “Single Room Occupancy” model of having a building composed entirely of micro-units, but would support the idea of having a few micro-units as bonus units in buildings.
The findings of this report will also be included in the updated Housing Element submitted to the state.