March 30, 1990 - From the March, 1990 issue

Glendale’s Planning: City of Opportunity, Land of Moratoriums

This month, The Planning Report traveled to the City of Glendale, Los Angeles’ fast-growing neighbor currently in the throes of a moratorium on multi-family development and facing a potential moratorium on single-family hillside dwellings. John McKenna, Glendale's Planning Director, has been with the City for 15 years, 13 of those as Zoning Administrator. David Kramer, Editor of The Planning Report recently met with McKenna to discuss Glendale’s demographic changes, its land-use regulation and the latest developments in this city of 26 square miles.

How do Glendale’s residents characterize the City?

I think people in Glendale see the city as a suburban, self-sufficient community characterized by a high degree of community involvement. People here have always been involved, although their recent political activism is a novelty. I say self-sufficient because people do not view the City as a bedroom community. Glendale is the center for banking and printing; the back office banking done here is tremendous.

However, throughout the region, I think Glendale is considered a strong option for corporate relocation. We are situated within a triangle of freeways and have highly desirable access to a wide variety of locations.

How has the City changed in recent years?

We have seen changes in both the type of housing constructed and the people who live here. Our official population is 170,000 people although we have done demographic studies

which indicate that the population could be as high as 200,000. Looking at the size and style of apartments which have been built since the mid 1980’s, there has been a trend towards larger apartment units between 2,000 and 3,000 square feet. These units tend to occupied by larger family groupings.

If you look at the demographics of who was living in these apartments previously, the predominance is single resident occupancy. But the newer housing is occupied by larger family groups. Our survey has shown that the occupants range around 3 to 3.5 people per unit. Previously we thought that it was 2.4. When you multiply it out by several thousand units, it makes a big difference where to place that decimal point.

Glendale has also seen a significant influx of population from the Middle East. We have many Armenians from Iran and Iraq, some Lebanese, and recently the Russian immigration has been significant.

What development is currently occurring in Glendale?

What we are seeing is primarily single family and commercial construction. There are also some residual multi-family projects that were approved prior to the implementation of a moratorium on multi-family development.

What were the reasons for the moratorium?

Initially, the Council was concerned about the design of multi-family units. Large units were built which had an absence of architectural detail, an absence of open space on site and inadequate parking. As we provided more information on this subject, the City Council became increasingly concerned about the density of property use and requested us to provide more documentation on the density issue. This is now coming to a head at the City Council.

The question is whether the density that is allowed in the zones should be reduced. The City Council has not asked us to reconfigure the balance of the districts. They have asked us to look at population containment by changing the number of units allowable in each of the zones.

During the process, they have also considered some requests for downzoning, but the total number of net units removed form multi-family zoning is only a few hundred units of total capacity.

It’s also interesting to note that there are numerous opportunities left for multi­family development. It’s a myth that there are only a few scattered sites left for multi­family in the City. A recent report showed that 40% of the land zoned for multi­family has single family or duplexes on the site. As it is, Glendale is a very dense city.

The proportion of multi-family development to single-family is a 60-40 split. Among cities over 100,000, Glendale’s ratio is greater than any other city except San Francisco. Therefore, the City Council is interested in maintaining a balance between single and multi-family development; they don’t want to see single family areas become tremendously out-balanced.

Could you describe the legal challenges to the multi-family moratorium?

The moratorium has been subject to legal attack. The courts were critical of the fact that the moratorium did not have adequate notice before its implementation as an emergency measure. What the courts did was exempt a number of projects for which plans had already been submitted. Those plans have been processed and are proceeding under the previous regulations.

What has occurred while the moratorium has been in effect?

The City Council has already enacted new design guidelines which will provide answers to the Council’s concerns. If the Council decides to also address the density issue, it will be necessary to revisit the design ordinance for a tightening in the FAR area. In the past, the City did not have an FAR ratio for multi-family development; it just simply had a unit count. We introduced the FAR concept to the Council, and it is now part of our design guidelines.

Our recommendation is to focus attention on density or developers will simply restrict the units and just make them much larger units—3,000 square foot units, for example.

What design review already exists in the City?

The City Council initially enacted design review in 1987 after the City went through a land-use consistency program to apply only to multi-family, commercial and industrial projects. Last year, the City Council thought it was important enough to extend to single family development.

The ordinance sets forth guidelines for design review boards when looking at infill development, renovation of existing single family homes and rebuilding of homes in established neighborhoods. The new subdivisions that exist outside the parameters of existing neighborhoods have already been given design review through the subdivision process by the Council, so it chose to exempt those from the design review process.

Consequently, we have two design review boards that operate on alternate Wednesdays. The Boards include architects, developers, and other people in the real estate industry. The Boards are specifically charged not to establish any specific architectural style but to look at neighbor­hood compatibility issues—setbacks, roof treatment, and height.


This issue was precipitated by people building homes in the neighborhoods which were vastly incompatible. Many organized homeowner groups came to the city requesting a design review process to protect their investments. There is also design review for commercial projects which has been in effect for about two years, and it seems to be working very well.

How does the Southern California Association of Governments analyze your job/housing balance?

Glendale is a housing-rich community according to SCAG estimates and is therefore appropriate for continued office development. Most of the total square footage commercial development is occurring in the redevelopment project area. There is also a considerable number of commercial projects throughout the rest of the City.

How actively is planning coordinated between the Planning Department and the Redevelopment Agency?

We interface very closely with the redevelopment agency staff which is very small—about 6 or 7 people. The agency only has one project area which is also relatively small and compact. We feel that whether projects are in the redevelopment area or outside, they have an effect on each other.

Not only do they circulate plans to us but when we see projects outside the area, we bring it to their attention and get their input. For example, Glendale Fashion Square opposite City Hall is not in the redevelopment area. Our emphasis in terms of planning is to contain high rise development to the redevelopment area and not to compete with that area by building massive retail or office projects outside the area.

If the Fashion Square were to be redeveloped, we would not be looking towards a high rise office building and a hotel. We do not want to be working at cross purposes with the redevelopment agency. Because Glendale is a small enough city, it is very possible to have good interaction between the departments.

Glendale has spent little of its set-aside money from the redevelopment housing fund. Has the multi-family moratorium been a hindrance to spending the funds?

The moratorium does not apply to senior projects nor low-income housing projects. We have a number of projects I'm encouraged by which spend that set-aside money. They are not off the ground yet, but there is one project which is a joint venture between the Glendale Suroptimists Club and the Southern California Presbyterian Homes which includes Glendale set-aside and HUD financing. Another smaller senior project is with Alternative Living for the Aging where the City will be involved in a leaseback of the land. Another project in its formative stage is the renovation of a historical building, the Good House, which could become a senior center surrounded by new housing built around it.

Does Glendale have many exaction fees?

Glendale is a frugal city; we don’t have a business tax and few exaction fees. We currently have no exaction fees other than the typical sewer and street improvements. We are asking the City to consider the implementation of a parks fee because we feel there has been a decline in the development of parkland and considerable amounts of funding are necessary. So far the Council has not enacted such a fee, but they might address the question after they sort out the density issue for multi-family housing.

Is the City confronting a problem of sewage capacity?

My understanding of the position of the City of Glendale is that by contract the city has ample sewer capacity. However this issue is in a lawsuit concerning what the city is entitled to of the unused capacity from Los Angeles. Our contract says that Glendale is entitled to its capacity for all foreseeable development to its full zoning potential as currently zoned.

Some cities are beginning to assume the responsibility of hiring environmental consultants/or EIR’s.

 We have an arm’s length policy between the developer and the consultant in our CEQA process which is working quite well. The City bids out for an environmental impact report, reviews the proposals and selects the consultant, and the developer pays for the report. There is minimal contact between the developer and the consultant. As staff, we recommend that the process continue, though some developers have been asking for more contact with the consultant and want to hire their own.

How is the City handling the issue of alternative site analysis in EIR’s after the recent Goleta decisions?

We really don’t handle the volume of cases where we have to deal with that. We process maybe 10-15 cases each year for EIR’s, and most of the cases are subdivision work, where alternative sites are quite limited. In a developed community, there is not much to do for alternative sites. The redevelopment area does address the idea of alternative sites, but they are very limited.

You suggested that community activism in land-use issues is a recent phenomenon. Where is the pressure coming from to enact land-use regulation?

Glendale is experiencing far more community activism than it has in the past. Different groups are becoming more vocal. There is no one squeak, one place where voices are coming from. Single family homeowners today are more active on issues of design review in their areas and are maintaining their liaisons with City Hall on downtown growth issues. They are interested in growth management in general so that they can maintain the Glendale way of life.

What other issues of land-use regulation will emerge in the coming months?

We are just embarking on a proposal for a moratorium of single family development in the hillside areas in order to look in a comprehensive way at our subdivision practices.

We feel a moratorium is necessary to properly set regulations to handle this land sensitively because the size and terrain of these privately held parcels is a challenge to our regulatory system. There is still land in Chevy Chase Canyon and Glen Oaks Canyon, pockets of 20-30 acre sites that are ripe for development.

And people want 3,000-4,000 square foot homes. We are experiencing the same development pressure that you see in Beverly Hills. We routinely get applications for 2,000 square foot additions. That’s why we need design review guidelines for single family development. The moratorium would be in effect for one year.

We also want to revisit our commercial standards. In the next budget I’ve requested several programs such as updating our historical element which dates to 1977. The Council is also looking at a growth cap in the next several months for residential projects in the number of permits distributed. Currently we already regulate downtown growth.


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