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Inclusionary zoning officially coming back to part of Westlake

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The city is trying to clear up some confusion about affordable housing requirements in the neighborhood

A row of low-rise apartments on a street with a few trees and cars parked at the curb.
A street of apartments in Westlake.
Liz Kuball

The city is making moves to officially reinstate zoning rules that require developers to put some affordable units in their new projects.

It’s something Los Angeles used to do in Westlake, until a court ruling invalidated the policy.

The city had begun to enforce the rules again in Westlake last year, when a state law passed that gave cities the power to require that developers include affordable housing in new apartment projects. But it had never formally announced that the regulation was back in effect there.

A motion by Councilmember Gil Cedillo set to go before the planning and land use management committee Tuesday would aim to clear up any confusion between developers and the city. Cedillo’s plan calls for the city to draft an ordinance to add clarifications to the planning guidelines that cover the part of Westlake that borders Downtown, sometimes called Central City West.

“To ensure the fair and equitable imposition of the Specific Plan’s inclusionary housing requirements, which have not been enforced since 2009, on proposed rental housing projects currently in the planning stages,” Cedillo says, it’s important to use a phased approach to the affordable housing requirements “to protect the reasonable expectations of entitlement applicants with planned residential and mixed-use projects in the land development pipeline.”

That ordinance would create a 120-day window between when it is adopted and when new projects would have to comply with the rules, as well as staggered deadlines by which to provide either the affordable units or the in-lieu fee.

The enforcement of the affordable housing requirement already caught at least one developer by surprise. Last year, Jade Enterprises, the developer of a planned 369-unit apartment complex, was alerted by city planning that it could either include 15 percent affordable units or pay an “in lieu” fee to the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

The developer had been working on the project for two years, and expressed concern that changing the make-up of the building at that point would make it financially impossible to build. Jade ultimately appealed the decision to the City Council, which granted its appeal requesting to remove the affordable units from their project. (Representatives for Jade Enterprises declined to comment on the project.)

The zoning rules that mandate that developers put affordable units in their buildings, called “inclusionary zoning,” dates to 1991. By including it in a plan for this portion of Westlake across the freeway from Downtown, the city required developers to set aside a percentage of newly constructed apartments for low-income tenants.

That policy remained in effect until the city lost a court battle in 2009 with developer Geoff Palmer, who did not want to put affordable units in his Piero II apartment complex.

Palmer’s lawyers argued that requiring developers to include affordable housing in their projects violated the state’s Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which bars cities from imposing rent control requirements on newly built properties. A state appeals court agreed, leaving the city unable to enforce its inclusionary zoning requirements.

Though the rules were not being applied to new projects, they weren’t scrubbed from the books. A state bill signed into law in September 2017 tweaked the language of Costa Hawkins to once again give cities the ability to require developers to set aside a portion of new apartments for lower income residents.