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Sunday, Jun 26, 2022

Calabasas: NIMBYs Versus Affordable Housing

Head-to-head confrontation between Calabasas’ NIMBY contingent and a developer seeking to help the city meet its minimum affordable housing requirement came to a tense pause last month. In a 3-2 vote at its Nov. 21 meeting, the Calabasas City Council decided to forward the proposal of adding 11 more buildings with 161 additional affordable units at the Avalon Communities’ existing Avalon Bay apartments to the ballot box in March for a public vote. The decision risks allowing 80 existing affordable apartment units at the Meadow Creek Lane project revert back to market-value apartments in June after public funding runs out to support it – a move which may imperil the city of Calabasas’s standing with the state. The City Council vote broke with Calabasas Mayor David Shapiro and Councilmember Fred Gaines, who favored approving construction of the new units. Councilmembers Alicia Weintraub, Mary Sue Maurer and James Bozajian vehemently opposed the development. Bozajian said the vote was not about addressing the affordable housing crisis but rather taking advantage of a rushed process, in which the developer bypassed the normal rounds of committee and public meetings. Those opposed to the project said approval would send a bad message to other developers looking to exploit a loophole in Calabasas. Complex issue If approved, the Avalon Bay complex would total 721 apartments total, and those 80 units would be re-established as affordable units for 55 years. However, Calabasas has garnered some unwanted attention from both Los Angeles County and the state of California for its inability to meet minimum affordable housing goals.  The 2014-22 Regional Housing Needs Assessment required Calabasas to construct 330 new units, 199 of which would be rent-restricted affordable housing. But since 2014, Calabasas has lost a net 146 affordable housing units. The city has approved only nine affordable units since 2014 and it remains unclear if those units will ever be built. If the development fails to happen and Calabasas falls short of its affordable housing obligation, it could subject the city to a list of penalties, including limits on funding and lawsuits from the state. “They’re already suing cities for non-compliance,” said Shapiro, who at one point asked his city staff whether they would recommend the development. City Planner Tom Bartlett and Senior City Planner Michael Klein said that they felt the project should be approved. Community discord During the meeting’s public comment portion, proponents and opponents virtually broke along generational lines, with senior residents fearing the new development would increase danger in the wildfire zone. But younger locals, many of them residents at the Avalon Bay complex, wanted to see the 80 households in the affordable units stay put. Unprotected rent increases would price them out of living in Calabasas. Mary Hubbard, president of Malibu Canyon Community Association, told the Council that she was “very much offended by the presentation” and that she resented the “scare tactics” from Avalon Bay. “We need to come up with a different system of this expiring housing system,” she said. “The city has got to come up with a way that doesn’t put the burden on the west side of the city.” Attorney Edgar Khalatian, partner at Mayer Brown’s Los Angeles office, spoke on behalf of Avalon Bay. “Given the hand we’ve been dealt, this is the best route to meet the (housing) requirements,” Khalatian said. “We did everything we could to follow the city’s plans. We are trying to find a balance that works for everybody.” “We are not pursuing the maximum density,” Khalatian continued. “We ask that you not let perfect be the enemy of great and adopt this ordinance.” Also supporting the development was L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, represented at the meeting by Molly Reisman; Valley Industry & Commerce Association, represented by Legislative Affairs Manager Armando Flores; and United Way of Greater Los Angeles, which sent field officer Corinne Ho. “We are facing a housing crisis,” said VICA’s Flores. “We urge you to support the project.” The majority of the councilmembers was adamant against the project. “Avalon has created a phony crisis (to bypass) the years-long process,” said Bozajian. Weintraub felt “troubled” by the developer’s approach and suggested the immediate formation of a task force. Maurer agreed with Bozajian and Weintraub’s take on the issue that there must be other ways to address the housing shortage. Gaines, on the other hand, made a plea to push the project through, noting that this was not a ground-up project but an extension of the existing property. “It’s not some gigantic project,” he said. “There’s virtually no grading (and) it preserves the 80 affordable units.”

Michael Aushenker
Michael Aushenker
A graduate of Cornell University, Michael covers commercial real estate for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. Prior to the Business Journal, Michael covered the community and entertainment beats as a staff writer for various newspapers, including the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, The Palisadian-Post, The Argonaut and Acorn Newspapers. He has also freelanced for the Santa Barbara Independent, VC Reporter, Malibu Times and Los Feliz Ledger.

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