Density Bonus to Be Preserved in Coastal Zone under New Law

Sunday, September 30, 2018

SACRAMENTO – AB 2797 was signed yesterday by Governor Jerry Brown, providing a much needed clarification to the application of State Density Bonus Law and the Mello Act in the Coastal Zone. The measure, introduced by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) clarifies that a project cannot be found inconsistent with the Coastal Act merely because it receives a density increase under state law. This long-held interpretation of Density Bonus Law had recently come under question and been litigated in Kalnel Gardens, LLC v. City of Los Angeles. 


“Density bonuses play a critical role in encouraging developers to build affordable housing,” said Assemblymember Bloom. “By undermining Density Bonus Law and the Mello Act, the Kalnel case weakened our ability to build our way out of the current affordable housing shortage. AB 2797 corrects this erroneous interpretation of statue.”


State Density Bonus Law gives cities a powerful tool to encourage the development of affordable and senior housing. Under the law, developers who include affordable units in their project can receive an increase in project density. Developers often combine density bonuses with a larger package of incentives in order to make affordable housing pencil out. The Mello Act requires the preservation and production of affordable housing within the coastal zone, including by requiring developers to replace affordable housing units in the zone when they are demolished.


A recent court case, Kalnel Gardens, LLC v. City of Los Angeles, brought State Density Bonus Law and the Mello Act into conflict with the Coastal Act, which regulates development within the state’s coastal zone. In the case, a developer proposed a small residential development in Los Angeles that complied with both the Mello Act and benefited from a density bonus. Though the project was consistent with local planning and zoning as well as State Density Bonus Law, the local government denied the project on the basis that the increased density made the project in violation of the Coastal Act. The appellate court decision to uphold this interpretation jeopardizes future application of Density Bonus Law in the coastal zone and undermines the goals of the Mello Act.


“Density bonuses directly contribute to the construction of affordable housing throughout California,” said Bloom. The Kalnel case significantly hamstrings State Density Bonus in the coastal zone and if left unchallenged, the case could limit the construction of affordable housing in the zone.”


Richard Bloom represents California’s 50th Assembly District, which comprises the communities of Agoura Hills, Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Hollywood, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, Topanga, West Hollywood, and West Los Angeles.