First published in the Oct. 1 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The Burbank City Council approved the state-required housing element of the city’s 2035 general plan, detailing its plans for 12,000 new housing units. This venture represents a departure from the city’s slumping development patterns, signaling significant changes for Burbank’s Downtown and Golden State districts.
The housing element document represents a large undertaking by city staff in building a list of sites eligible for development to meet the state’s mandated regional housing needs assessment, or RHNA. This assessment ensures that Burbank plans to build 8,772 units through October 2029 — about half of which should be designated for low-income housing.
The Housing Element builds on the city’s existing 2014-2021 Housing Element by maintaining many of the strategies and making updates to address new state laws and city goals.
Three previous drafts of the housing element were rejected by the State Housing and Community Development department, HCD, given that very few new units were added during the last housing cycle between 2014 and 2021.
“They weren’t accepting our plan because HCD’s position was ‘you said you were going to build the housing last time, you didn’t build the housing, go back and prove to us that you’re going to meet those numbers,’” Councilman Nick Schultz said during Tuesday’s meeting.
Developers in Burbank built 700 new units between 2010 and 2020 — a 1.5% increase — while the city hopes to see 12,000 new units built by 2035. The rate of new units has continued to slow decade over decade since the 1990s.
In contrast, nearby Glendale and Pasadena have trended upward in housing unit development, by about 5% and 6% respectively.
Census data also indicates that 29% of Burbank renters set aside more than half of their income for rent payments.
If the city sticks to its goals to build 12,000 new housing units by 2035 — the vast majority of which will be built in the Downtown and Golden State districts of the city — The downtown Burbank of the future will house far more residents, who in turn will stimulate local businesses in the commerce rich district, according to staff reports.
Burbank has long been a major employment center in the region. The city’s estimate of daytime employment is more than 130,000 jobs. Compared to the city’s 45,000 housing units, the jobs-to-housing ratio is nearly 3-to-1. The council discussed a need to house those Burbank workers who live outside of city limits. Doing so could also decrease rush-hour congestion in Burbank, though planning staff says that the city is unlikely to make a dent in the 3-to-1 jobs-to-housing ratio, even if housing goals are met.
“This comes down to finding a bed for every head in our community. If we don’t do something to combat the rising cost of housing, then we will have an aging population without young families in a position to purchase a home,” Schultz told the Leader. “This will contribute to a missing middle in which young families are priced out of living in Burbank, including younger generations of families who have lived here in Burbank for years.”
Staff also made an addition to the housing element to evaluate the impacts of using the Carpenters Union for new housing developments. This could ensure that the labor force used to build the units are receiving livable wages and other benefits. Some concerns were raised by City Attorney Joe McDougall that the HCD may perceive a skilled labor requirement as an intentional roadblock to development, given that it increases the cost of development.
“I think it’s a good idea to pay a prevailing wage, and provide benefits and safe working conditions so that they could possibly afford the housing that they are building,” Councilwoman Sharon Springer said.
The housing element details more than 1,000 units that could be built at the Burbank Town Center location. A major development group, ONNI, recently acquired the Burbank Town Center for redevelopment purposes. While they are still defining the scope of their project, their goal is to develop housing in line with the City’s Housing Element goals, which would create opportunities for new housing well in excess of the 1,020 units identified in the Housing Element for this site.
To accommodate these significant housing goals, the city will develop plans specific to each area in Burbank. These district specific plans will detail how the city plans to sustainably make way for new housing, taking into consideration strains on water and power grids, rezoning, transportation and public input.
“The focus is going to be working with the community and working with the council to update the area specific plans as the next step in the process. Continuing to have the community engaged in the input is embedded and hardcoded in that process,” said Assistant Community Development Director Fred Ramirez.
BWP EASES DROUGHT CONCERNS OVER CITY’S HOUSING GOALS
Several locals spoke out at the council meeting to express concerns that increased development will increase the city’s water usage amid a historic drought.
Officials from Burbank Water and Power responded, assuring that the district accounted for development in water supply assessments.
“The Metropolitan Water District has enough water to meet our future needs,” said Richard Wilson, Assistant General Manager at BWP. “Many residents have questioned the logic behind Burbank’s development plans as it relates to the drought. Some believe that the city is asking residents to conserve so that we can build more apartments. The reasons for building new units and the need to conserve water are unrelated… that’s not to say that one is not dependent on the other. We must have water and electricity to supply new developments.”
Burbank’s projected multi-unit development will use much less water per unit than single family homes, Wilson said. Most of the water used for single family homes is outdoor irrigation. New multi-unit buildings will see reduced water usage by installing high-efficiency toilets and fixtures.
Burbank has reduced its water consumption by 30% since 2009, in response to state mandates.
“Based on the data, which includes regional population growth and specific growth due to development in each community, MWD has determined that it has the supply capabilities to meet [water] needs,” Wilson said.
MWD is investing more in regional supplies to increase reliability and reduce the need for imported water. The district has plans to increase efforts to bank water when it is plentiful, and utilize recycled water to recharge the groundwater supply.