The Burbank City Council will analyze Senate Bill 35 this Tuesday following statements from the City of Burbank regarding a housing development that has been proposed for the Pickwick Bowl and Gardens property.
As reported on Aug. 9, MW Investments plans to build 98 townhouses on the property utilizing SB 35, a Senate Bill which streamlines housing projects throughout California. Although the Pickwick property falls under Commercial Recreation zoning, the developer is attempting to bypass this by citing Burbank’s General Plan. The City previously stated the plan would allow for up to 20 units per acre to be introduced on Rancho District land.
Some locals have differing opinions on whether or not the measure would be applicable to this site of Burbank’s Rancho neighborhood, however. Emily Gabel-Luddy, who previously served as a Burbank City Council Member and Mayor of Burbank, lives in this area and says the location does not qualify to use the bill under any circumstances.
“The Pickwick site is not eligible for an SB 35 ministerial approval process,” Gabel-Luddy said. “There’s no residential [project] permitted on the Pickwick property, not in the [General] Plan or in the [zoning].”
The City’s most recent Housing Element, Gabel-Luddy states, further includes viewpoints contradictory to permitting residential housing on this land. The Housing Element, which was updated in June of 2021, consists of local housing needs, housing goals, and opportunity sites for potential future housing projects. 19 viable housing locations such as the old Kmart and IKEA sites in Downtown Burbank were incorporated in the draft, while Pickwick was not mentioned as a possible space for future housing.
“The staff gave their advice to the council after consideration and public discussion, and the council agreed just two and a half months ago with the staff recommendations for housing opportunity sites,” Gabel-Luddy said. “The staff did not include Pickwick on the basis of their objective professional criteria. Pickwick did not fit, and the council approved for submittal that draft housing element a little over two months ago.”
The next Burbank City Council meeting on Aug. 24 will involve a release of information on SB 35. This comes after council members conversed in a discussion on SB 35, as well as the Pickwick property development, at their last meeting held on Tuesday, Aug. 10.
Council Member Sharon Springer requested a report on the bill at the meeting, including how the measure can impact the City of Burbank and the Pickwick property. She also expressed her concern over the project while referencing a past unanswered inquiry posed to City staff regarding SB 35’s potential impact on Burbank neighborhoods.
“I’ve been asking for this [report] since June 22nd,” Springer said of requesting a staff report on SB 35. “Our community has been asking, has had questions since March, April, and May, and now we’re being told that it’s too late? I don’t think that’s [an] open and transparent government.”
Fellow members of the council echoed Springer’s sentiment that locals should be educated on SB 35, as all five members voted in favor of the report. Council Member Nick Schultz voiced his support of keeping the Burbank community informed on the legislation.
“I do think knowledge is power and the public has a right to know, but I don’t want to concede that the project is or is not applicable under SB 35,” Schultz said. “I think having a study session is a great first step.”
City Attorney Amy Albano explained that while presenting information on SB 35 is a request that can be fulfilled, the council addressing pending SB 35 applications like the Pickwick development is not advisable. She also stated that, while the Community Development Department has determined that this project is qualified to be submitted to them, the department has not yet concluded that the development meets all requirements of SB 35. In addition, Albano challenged Springer’s viewpoint that City staff has withheld information from the council and locals.
“The Community Development Director has given the council [a] tremendous amount of information on one of the specific projects and all of that information is public,” Albano said. “So [the] council has a great deal of information on what’s transpired and where we are in the process, and I think even the public has, whether people are listening to what’s being said [or not].”
An SB 35 staff report has since been prepared and is included in the next meeting agenda, which was released on Friday, Aug. 20. The report provides an outline of the bill, including background information, why it applies to Burbank and an overview of the approval process for a housing project under SB 35.
Burbank’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment, which evaluates the City’s housing needs and creates housing goals based on this evaluation, is detailed in the ten-page summary. The presentation explains that the California Department of Housing and Community Development analyzes the amount of progress a city has made in this regard, with a minimum of 50% RHNA allocation completion being necessary to qualify as sufficient progress. From this analysis, only 29 jurisdictions throughout California are not subject to SB 35, while a total of 510 cities must adhere to the bill.
As of 2017, the City’s RHNA position was a total of 325 housing units, which is 12% of the 2,684 total RHNA allocation goal for the 2014-2021 planning cycle. Since this number is less than the 50% requirement, a housing project in the City may qualify for SB 35 if a minimum of 10% of housing units of the proposed development are made affordable to low-income level earners. Therefore, 10 of the 98 townhouses to be built at Pickwick will be cost-effective.
The staff report was penned by Community Development Director Patrick Prescott, along with Assistant Community Development Director Fred Ramirez and Deputy City Planner Scott Plambaeck. Although the Pickwick development is not specifically referenced in the document, an explanation is provided as to how a General Plan may overrule zoning regulations to permit a project using SB 35.
“The land use designation in the General Plan supersedes the zoning designation,” the staff report reads. “SB 35 applies to sites where the zoning, the Specific Plan or General Plan allows residential. For example, if the General Plan allows a residential density per acre but the underlying zoning does not allow residential, SB 35 allows the submittal of a residential project for streamlined, ministerial approval because the City’s General Plan allows residential.”
The 2035 General Plan explains that Rancho Commercial territory permits low-intensity multi-family residential and commercial uses, with “20 units per acre with discretionary approval.” A past draft of Burbank’s General Plan Amendment No. 93-1 contradicts the possibility for housing on CR zoning territory. The 1993 document discusses what is allowed on Pickwick’s designation of Commercial Recreation zoning, stating that retail sales and administrative services are permitted on CR zoning, while “residential use” is listed under prohibited uses for this designation.
Gabel-Luddy said the City has “made an error” in granting the submittal to be presented to the Community Development Department. She believes that City staff has manipulated the “with discretionary approval” provision of the City’s General Plan to authorize the developer’s plan.
“At this point, I understand that the [City] staff has edited the General Plan to get the result the developer wants,” Gabel-Luddy said. “They have carved out the words, ‘with discretionary action’ to get the results they want.”
The City is currently awaiting the developer’s property submittal for the Pickwick site. A 90-day tribal consultation process will follow the submittal, and the developer’s application will be formally submitted after the consultation. One more 90-day design review period will next be performed by the City, and after this, construction of the housing project will be allowed to begin.
The Pickwick development is not the only present housing project which Burbank is being faced with. A seven-story multi-family residential building proposal for 2814 Empire Ave. has been submitted as of June 24 of this year, and is listed under the City’s active planning projects. In addition, a mixed-use development project at the previous Fry’s Electronics on Hollywood Way location is currently active on the City’s site. The outline of the development includes plans for 151,800 square feet of office space, 9,700 square feet for restaurant sites, and 862 housing units. This plan would use SB 330, another measure aimed at streamlining housing development approval while limiting local authority on the matter.
Housing orders like these that have been passed in recent years or are currently pending have drawn a mixed response from professionals and city residents. SB 9 and SB 10 are two pending bills that would allow for numerous lots to be constructed on land with single-family homes without local regulations and input. The Los Angeles City Council publicly opposed both bills last week. SB 35 and SB 330 have likewise been fought by locals of numerous California cities, including Santa Cruz, Palo Alto, and Berkeley. Opponents argue that, through reducing the input of local governing bodies, such statutes introduce the state’s necessary housing additions at the cost of maintaining the integrity of community neighborhoods.
“They no longer have a choice about the character of their neighborhoods,” Gabel-Luddy said of the effects the bills have on locals. “Not only does it not solve the problem of affordable housing, but it removes everybody’s right to have a say in how they want the future of their neighborhood to be.”