Planning Commission Approves Latest Housing Element in Special Meeting

In a special Feb. 29 morning meeting, members of the Planning Commission unanimously approved what they and city staff hope will be the final version of Beverly Hills’ Housing Element. 

The plan will now proceed to the City Council for formal adoption in a March 18 meeting.

“This is an incredible document that has covered a tremendous amount of detail and I am proud to support the recommendation to send it on to City Council,” said Planning Commissioner Myra Demeter during the meeting. 

Obtaining state certification of the Housing Element—a document outlining how Beverly Hills will create capacity for 3,100 state-mandated new housing units by 2029—is essential in order for the city to retain control over local zoning. 

The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) has rejected four versions of the city’s Housing Element between January 2022 and December 2023. 

The latest version, submitted to HCD on Feb. 14, was crafted in close consultation with HCD and is substantially different from prior versions. Staff, therefore, believe it is well positioned to receive the long sought after state stamp of approval. 

“It is expected that HCD will provide a letter indicating that no further revisions are required, and that the version formally submitted to HCD on February 14, 2024, can be certified by the state once the city has adopted the amended Housing Element,” states City Planner Masa Alkire in the staff report for Planning Commission’s Thursday meeting. 

HCD is legally required to approve or deny the Housing Element within 45 days of the Feb. 14 submission, but in Thursday’s meeting Alkire expressed optimism that the city could get a quicker response.

“We are hoping that since we’ve already had extensive review from HCD, they would not need the full 45 days to review this version of the document,” he said.

Some major changes include adding city owned or controlled sites that can accommodate 557 low-income housing units, increasing the number of Accessory Dwelling Units allowed on large properties, incorporating accountability measures if the city falls behind on housing goals, and lowering fees and regulatory barriers to construct new housing.

“I think, personally, it’s all good and I think HCD is happier because we are looking to make it easier for people of all income levels, all educational levels, all races and ethnicities to come here and have a fair chance at getting some affordable housing,” Demeter told the Courier. “So I look at this as a very positive thing.”

Demeter also said she is optimistic about receiving HCD’s signoff, because unlike during previous drafting phases, this time around HCD staff made themselves available to discuss the fine points of the plan with planning staff. 

“All the previous Housing Elements or drafts that were submitted were based on initial conversations with HCD,” she said. “Now they (planning staff) were able to develop a relationship with HCD to have somebody actually respond as they were putting this together and say ‘here, you need to do X Y, Z’ and they could check off each of the punch list items.”

During the meeting, Commission Chair Gary Ross thanked the planning staff for the immense time and care they put into refining the document.

“This is an extraordinary effort that has been years in the making and especially impressive during the crunch time over the last six weeks,” he said. “Your efforts on behalf of the city engaging with the state of California, collaborating with the state, and working with the state to get us all to this point is commendable.”

“Ultimately those efforts are for the common goal that the state has and that we have locally: fair housing,” he added. 

The stakes for getting the Housing Element quickly approved are high.

Without a compliant Housing Element, the city is subject to a law known as the builder’s remedy. The builder’s remedy allows developers to push through housing projects that vastly exceed the city’s zoning requirements so long as they contain a certain number of affordable units.

The city has already received 13 builder’s remedy project applications that contain over 1,000 units in total. 

In addition, the city is currently appealing a Superior Court lawsuit ruling that would suspend its ability to issue new building permits—except for those that add to the city’s overall housing stocks—until HCD certifies its Housing Element. 

The hope is that a compliant Housing Element will resolve all of these concerns and put the city back in good standing with the state. 

“There are ramifications for not having an adopted and certified Housing Element, which are colloquially referred to as the builder’s remedy… There are other potential ramifications as a result of litigation,” said Assistant City Attorney Daniel Snow during the meeting. “The focus from the staff perspective is to get that (Housing Element) adopted as quickly as possible, so that we can get back to the normal implementation of land use practices.”