Kuehl and city tussle over affordable housing

Supervisor wants builder to bypass city planning by Ian Bradley.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl weighed in this week in the debate over affordable housing in Calabasas, and she’s urging one developer to expand their commercial footprint in a deal that would keep 80 affordable apartments intact.

In exchange for letting low- and moderate-income families remain in their homes, owner AvalonBay would be allowed to build 160 new apartments at the Avalon Calabasas complex between Las Virgenes and Lost Hills roads on Meadow Creek Lane, a deal Kuehl supports.

Calabasas officials are saying not so fast.

The proposal has drawn sharp criticism from the city because the developer wants to bypass the standard municipal planning process and instead put the project to a vote by the public.

“I thought it was responsible of me to step up and say this is how we put our money where our mouth is,” Kuehl said.

“The county is putting in money in order to keep those families (in affordable units) where they are,” Kuehl said. “We’re paying the difference between the affordable rents and the market rents. We’re paying out of the homeless initiative prevention fund. It is homelessness prevention if you think about it.” The supervisor said under a deal extension with AvalonBay, 60 of the 80 units would be for moderate income residents and 20 for low incomes.

AFFORDABLE TO SOME—The Avalon apartments in Calabasas. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

AFFORDABLE TO SOME—The Avalon apartments in Calabasas. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

The current market rate for a two-bedroom is about $2,800. The affordable rate is $1,620. Kuehl said in 2016 the affordable housing program at the Malibu Canyon Apartments, which is also on Las Virgenes Road, expired and there was no effort to keep it going.

“Hundreds of longtime Calabasas residents” were displaced, Kuehl said. She hopes the same thing doesn’t happen to the Avalon residents.

The 600-unit Avalon Calabasas complex was built in 1988.

In a deal with the county, the developer set aside 80 rent-restricted units for the next 30 years. That deal expired in 2018, and Virginia-based AvalonBay, which later bought the property from the original builder, is proposing to keep the units priced affordably for the next 55 years on the condition that 160 new units be constructed. No new affordable units would be added. Critics of the deal say in 55 years AvalonBay will have the option to leverage the same 80 units for even more new ones, but Kuehl’s not looking at it that way.

“People thinking that way aren’t the families getting to live there for another 55 years. We’re talking essentially three generations that could stay in their apartments in completely unaffordable Calabasas, and have the Las Virgenes school district to boot,” Kuehl said. “It’s fine for them to say the city’s not getting anything out of it, but we are because we’re getting affordable housing.”

Unlike other development proposals, which must be approved by the city and meet certain conditions, AvalonBay wants different treatment. They propose letting voters decide on the November 2020 ballot if the additional units on the site should be allowed and the affordable units preserved. If residents approve the initiative, expansion of the Avalon complex could proceed without input from the city.

Calabasas City Councilmember James Bozajian said Avalon’s bid to build more market-rate units is tantamount to extortion.

“The developers and property owners have already had the benefit of building out a very large project with the proviso that they set aside units for affordable housing,” Bozajian said. “They could, of their own volition, keep the affordable housing units in place as is. They’ve agreed to maintain the status quo only if they’re allowed to build more.”

He said he worries the initiative will set a “horrible precedent” whereby other developers could leverage the promise to keep affordable housing in exchange for more market-rate units.

AvalonBay filed its initiative proposal with the city on July 10 and has 180 days to collect the approximate 1,500 signatures needed to put the matter to a vote.

If the effort is successful, the City Council will have to decide whether to approve the new construction along with the affordable rate extension, or allow the voters to have their say at next year’s election. The council could also call for its own special election before the November 2020 ballot.


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