Mayor Villaraigosa's affordable housing plan could be in for some trouble. The California Supreme Court has struck down the city's plea that a developer be forced to include low-income units in his project.
Yesterday's ruling, the latest and perhaps final chapter in a two-year legal battle between L.A. city and downtown developer Geoff Palmer, could set a precedent that would curb attempts to mandate affordable housing citywide.
The decision carries a particular sting for city officials and low-income housing advocates, since Palmer — a prolific developer of so-called luxury apartments on the western edge of downtown — has for years made it his personal mission to fight affordable housing requirements and write his own rules. Consider the time his construction crew “accidentally” leveled a historic Bunker Hill home to make way for his new housing project.
The 1887 Victorian, considered the last historic home on Bunker Hill, was razed one Saturday morning several years ago by Palmer's construction crews. A spokesperson for the developer claimed it was an “accident” but also referred to the property, which had fallen prey to graffiti damage, as “a piece of crap.” Palmer was barrred from building on the property for five years.
But that didn't stop him from suing the city for enacting what he said was an illegal affordable housing law. The neighborhood-specific ordinance would have forced him to price 15% of the units in his Piero II rental project below market rate. A judge sided with Palmer in '07, and the city's subsequent appeals were shot down, culminating in yesterday's decision.
Meanwhile, the empty lot where the Piero II will be built was cited for ugliness by city inspectors this summer. Palmer is known for his string of faux-Tuscan complexes, whose garishness has earned the bullish developer plenty of aesthetic critics.