Council OKs Greater Oversight on Housing

First published in the Jan. 8 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

The Burbank City Council adopted a policy that gives itself a supervisory role over residential projects that are potentially eligible for a streamlined process.
The council’s 3-2 decision Tuesday comes after months of discussions regarding the body’s potential review authority over housing proposals submitted through California Senate Bill 35. The law prevents cities and other jurisdictions from denying certain residential applications as long as they comply with objective municipal development standards, such as density limits.
After the ordinance goes into effect in early February, the City Council will receive notices from developers intending to apply for a housing project under SB 35’s provisions. The council will then be able to decide whether the project appears eligible for the streamlined process. If the proposal moves forward to a complete application, the council will also determine whether the development should be approved under the law.
Community Development Department officials — and some council members — tried to dissuade the council majority from requiring an initial consultation, arguing that it would make meeting state deadlines for the review process very difficult. But proponents on the council contended it would allow the public to better understand what makes a site eligible for SB 35’s guidelines.
SB 35 only applies to cities that haven’t met their state-mandated share of housing creation — that is, the vast majority of municipalities in California. While only a few projects have been submitted to the city under its provisions, the law has attracted intense scrutiny because of a SB 35 development that would replace the historic Pickwick Bowl with nearly 100 townhome units.
A group of residents of the Rancho neighborhood, where Pickwick Bowl is located, has expressed outrage over the proposal, saying the multi-family housing will bring too much traffic to the equestrian community. Some, including Councilwoman Sharon Springer and former Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy, have also opined that the project is ineligible under SB 35 because the property is not zoned for residential units in Burbank’s land use table. But CDD officials have insisted that the city’s General Plan, its guiding development document, technically allows for some residential construction there.
The state Department of Housing and Community Development has also opined that the Pickwick project is eligible for SB 35, CDD officials have said. Simone McFarland, city spokeswoman and CDD assistant director, told the Leader in an email that the City Council will provide final review over the Pickwick project as detailed in the approved ordinance.
Other SB 35 proposals in Burbank include a development that would replace the defunct Games & Thrones amusement center at 2814 W. Empire Ave. with 148 housing units, all designated as affordable. The city has also received notices regarding potential projects at 3000 Empire Ave. and the intersection of North Ontario Street and West Empire Avenue, McFarland said, though information regarding those projects will not be on the Burbank website until mid-January.
Developers and advocacy groups can sue cities that deny SB 35 projects if they believe the development should have been approved under the law.
The City Council held little discussion about the approved ordinance on Tuesday. Only Councilman Nick Schultz gave remarks on the item.
”I don’t believe it’s the most efficient option before the council,” he said. “Consequently, I have concerns that it could lead to redundancies in staff time and, ultimately, costs that would be borne by the taxpayers.”
Schultz and fellow Councilman Konstantine Anthony, both of whom voted against the ordinance this week, have concurred with the rest of the council that the panel should have review authority at the end of the application process.