TODAY—I’m at @ucimurp delivering the Medina Family ADU Story in Prof. Lynda Hikichi’s class UPPP 275: Site Development. This is the 9th rendition of this public talk and the 2nd time UCI Urban Planning & Public Policy hosts it, thank you! If you’re on campus or nearby, come through: Room 3240 in the SBSG-Social & Behavioral Sciences Gateway building, 11:30am—12:30pm.
ABSTRACT: This presentation puts a human face on California’s housing crisis. Through storytelling, reflection and #EmbeddedPlanning praxis, presenter Jonathan Pacheco Bell @c1typlann3r, a zoning enforcement planner in South Central #LosAngeles, presents the story of the Medina Family from the #SouthCentralLA community of @FlorenceFirestone, who built an informal backyard Accessory Dwelling Unit #ADU for extra income after the sudden passing of their head of household. An anonymous complaint triggered inspection and eventual demolition of the dwelling for code violations. Jonathan himself ordered its removal. Attendees will understand the emotional roller coaster the family endured while embroiled in this regulatory process, and Jonathan’s inner conflict with the outcome. To help himself cope emotionally and to spotlight this family’s housing struggle, Jonathan has turned the experience into a speaking tour offering takeaways for planning policy, practice, and pedagogy. Jonathan will explain the @EmbeddedPlanning approach at the story’s core. This talk will inspire emerging planners to adapt and respond to the problem of housing insecurity with empathetic, activist, street-level planning #praxis.
If you’ve been to my Medina Family ADU Story, or plan to attend an upcoming talk, you’ll see I get choked up. Happens every time. I don’t even try to suppress it anymore. This was a harrowing experience for the Medinas, and for me. My #EmbeddedPlanning praxis rejects the technocratic detachment of Rational Planning orthodoxy. When we shed tears, those tears are earned.
For the Medinas, removing the backyard dwelling built to generate income after the passing of their head of household worsened the stress that started it all. Ordering the removal after knowing the Medinas’ story made me question strict enforcement of #InformalHousing. The dwelling was not substandard—it was simply out of zoning compliance. All of this predated California’s relaxed State ADU Laws, so the only option was to demolish it. This was in 2016. After 10 years on the job, I’d finally realized that “Penalties or Demolition” was a false dilemma fallacy in #ADU enforcement. We’re trying to change this outcome for other folx.
The ending part is emotional for me. I conclude with slides featuring each member of the Medina Fam. I wanted audience members to understand the impact of rigid zoning on real people. I wanted to evoke an emotional response. And every time it works . . . on ME.
The final slide is of little Janelle. Janelle represents the future of #LosAngeles.
SUMMARY: This presentation puts a human face on California’s housing crisis. Jonathan Pacheco Bell, a zoning enforcement planner in Los Angeles County, will tell the story of the Medina Family from the South Central L.A. community of Florence-Firestone, who built an informal backyard dwelling for extra income after the sudden passing of their head of household. An anonymous complaint triggered an inspection & eventual demolition of the dwelling for code violations. It was Jonathan himself who ordered its removal. Audience members will understand the emotional roller coaster the family endured while embroiled in this regulatory process, & Jonathan’s inner conflict with the outcome. Key takeaways for planning policy, practice & pedagogy will be offered. This talk demonstrates that the rules we enforce can have unintended consequences, especially in working class communities of color.
BIO: Jonathan Pacheco Bell (@c1typlann3r) is a public sector Urban Planner in Los Angeles County with over 12 years of experience in zoning enforcement. He is a fierce advocate for the unincorporated areas of South Central Los Angeles. On any given day you will find him in the unincorporated community of Florence-Firestone partnering with stakeholders to improve quality of life.
A field-based planner, Bell researches, writes, & speaks about informal housing, unorthodox community outreach, and South Central L.A. history from his unique, on the ground perspective. He calls his praxis Embedded Planning.
A product of the California public school system from kindergarten to graduate school, Bell holds an MAUP from UCLA Luskin & an MLIS from SJSU iSchool.
My position hasn’t changed from June 19, 2017, when Pasadena City Council voted againsta comprehensive ADU ordinance update advanced by our housing coalition.
As it stands today, Pasadena’s ADU ordinance remains broken. But we can fix it. The Pasadena City Council must drop its excessively-cautious, comfy-centrist, shortsighted, nostalgic, legally dubious, “I only wanna maintain votes in my SFR zones” mentality, and instead adopt a comprehensive ADU ordinance update that provides a safe and legal pathway for ADUs for working folks.
Abstract:More and better engagement with working class neighborhoods and communities of color are urgent imperatives for the planning profession as the United States transitions to a “majority minority” population. Code enforcement personnel are already doing much of this work, normally in a much more collaborative and less heavy-handed manner than the name of their profession would suggest. However, at present the planning profession largely holds code enforcement at arms’ length. Using the example of the informal housing market in Southern California—managed on a daily basis by code enforcement officers, yet largely unaddressed by planners—we draw on survey and interview data and our own professional experiences to make four propositions about code enforcement work. These are that code enforcement work is unusually cumbersome; it is chronically understaffed; its personnel cope by working reactively rather than proactively; and the profession suffers low prestige as a result. We argue that ending the estrangement between code enforcement and planning would offer numerous benefits to the latter, including inculcating cultural competence in planners through “learning by doing” and working at street level, and injecting sorely needed “community data” into efforts to address vexing issues such as housing unaffordability.
Read my “Open Letter to the Pasadena City Council Urging a Comprehensive Overhaul of the Second Dwelling Unit Ordinance,” published on UrbDeZine.
The Pasadena City Council will consider an amended ordinance tomorrow, Monday, Jan 30th at a 7pm public hearing. The amendment does the bare minimum to comply with the state’s relaxed standards for building an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) in your backyard. While the Pasadena Planning Commission removed some of the problematic standards, many “poison pills,” as I call them, remain in place.
Among the many ridiculous hurdles codified into the ordinance is a minimum lot size of 15,000 square feet to build an ADU in a backyard. So unless you’re a wealthy estate owner, no granny flats here. The inequality is real af.
The original Second Dwelling Unit Ordinance was broken from the start. The amended ordinance remains unfair and unfeasible. There’s no date for the “anticipated comprehensive review” of the ordinance as part of Pasadena’s Housing Element Implementation Program. So my call for a comprehensive overhaul of the ADU ordinance remains unfulfilled.