California Court Upholds Density Bonus Law

In a rebuff to proponents of local control, a California state appeals court upheld a 1979 law that allows developers to bypass local zoning regulations when including affordable housing in their projects.

1 minute read

February 8, 2022, 8:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


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In a 3-0 ruling, a state appeals court in California upheld a 1979 density bonus law that allows developers who include affordable housing in their projects to claim exemption from local zoning rules and restrictions. As Bob Egelko reports, the court affirmed the goals of the law, which is designed to incentivize affordable housing construction.

According to the court, "Once the developer commits to making a specified portion of the project affordable to lower-income households, 'local government must allow increased building density, grant permits, and waive any conflicting local development standards unless certain limited exceptions apply,' Justice Judith Haller said in the 3-0 ruling."

Opponents of the decision such as Everett DeLano, lawyer for the Bankers Hill/Park West Community Association, say the ruling "seems be saying that if you have a density-bonus project, you can do whatever you want," removing local control.

The development at the heart of this case is a 20-story, 204-unit building under construction at the edge of San Diego's Balboa Park, in which the developer plans to include 18 affordable units. Local opponents expressed concern about views, shade, and potential interference with airport flight paths. The court's decision to uphold the state law could mark a shift toward less local control and stricter enforcement of the state's affordable housing mandates.

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