Attorney General Bonta Puts City of Pasadena on Notice for Violating State Housing Laws

Tuesday, March 15, 2022
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today notified the City of Pasadena that its urgency ordinance restricting implementation of Senate Bill (SB) 9 violates state law. SB 9 is critical to combat California's statewide housing crisis by promoting supply and affordability. The law, which went into effect on January 1, 2022, allows homeowners to build up to four residential units on a single-family lot. On December 6, 2021, Pasadena adopted Urgency Ordinance No. 7384, which among other things, would allow the City to broadly exempt existing areas from SB 9 requirements by declaring the areas “landmark districts.”  Pasadena extended the ordinance on January 10, 2022. In today's letter, Attorney General Bonta warns the City that the ordinance is invalid and must be repealed.

“Pasadena's urgency ordinance undermines SB 9 and denies residents the opportunity to create sorely needed additional housing, under the guise of protecting 'landmark districts.' This is disappointing and, more importantly, violates state law,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Right now, California is facing a housing crisis of epic proportions, and it's going to take all of us, doing our part, to alleviate its worst effects. At the California Department of Justice, we’re in this fight for the long haul. I urge cities to take seriously their obligations under state housing laws. If you don't, we will hold you accountable.”

In the letter, Attorney General Bonta warns Pasadena that its effort to sidestep SB 9 and restrict housing production violates the law. Specifically, the letter highlights that:

  • The ordinance attempts to broadly exempt from SB 9 compliance any areas that the City chooses to designate as “landmark districts” despite no such exemption existing within SB 9. To qualify for an SB 9 exemption, an individual site must be part of a (1) landmark, (2) historic property, or (3) historic district. Such designations cannot be arbitrary or capricious, and they must be supported by substantial evidence. While individual properties may be landmarks exempt from SB 9, the phrase “landmark district” does not appear in SB 9, and Pasadena’s criteria for designating areas “landmark districts” are extremely broad and untethered to historic resources so as to potentially encompass large swaths of the City. To the extent that there is any ambiguity around the exemption for "historic districts," it must be read narrowly so as to not undermine the objectives of SB 9; and 
  • The ordinance does not include the requisite findings to justify adopting new SB 9 development standards by an urgency ordinance. Pasadena provides no evidence that SB 9 projects would have a significant adverse impact on public health or safety, let alone the substantial evidence of a significant, quantifiable, direct, and unavoidable impact that is required to adopt new standards.

Last month, Attorney General Bonta notified the Town of Woodside that its memorandum declaring the entire town a mountain lion sanctuary violated SB 9. The town subsequently revoked the memorandum.

Attorney General Bonta is committed to advancing housing access, affordability, and equity in California. In November, Attorney General Bonta announced the creation of a Housing Strike Force within the California Department of Justice and launched a Housing Portal on DOJ’s website with resources and information for California homeowners and tenants. The Housing Strike Force encourages Californians to send complaints or tips related to housing to Information on legal aid in your area is available at

A copy of the letter can be found here

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