Judge tosses out portions of L.A. housing density law

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Tuesday tossed out portions of a city law approved last year that allows developers to build taller buildings in exchange for setting aside some units for affordable housing.

Judge Thomas McKnew’s ruling throws scores of proposed developments into doubt because it prohibits the Planning Department from processing any project applications in which density would be greater than what is authorized by state law.

The ruling also might affect projects that already have been approved and are under construction, said Jan Chatten-Brown, a lawyer for the Environment and Housing Coalition, which brought suit against the city. “This ruling will force the developers and the city to go back to the drawing board,” she said.


City officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Los Angeles ordinance was passed in 2008 following approval of state Senate Bill 1818, which required local governments to allow developers to build denser projects if they include affordable housing. But the lawsuit said that the city’s law went far beyond the state mandate, in some cases allowing three times more density than what was intended.

A group of Los Angeles homeowners associations and other residents filed suit over the ordinance last year after the president of the city’s Planning Commission sent them an e-mail informing them it would be vulnerable to a legal challenge. The opponents of the law claimed that it was hurting local communities by increasing traffic and creating parking shortages.

They also claimed that far from leading to more affordable housing, the law paradoxically was reducing the supply because developers would raze existing apartments for low- and moderate-income residents and replace them with condos, mostly selling at market prices.

McKnew’s ruling can be appealed.