The City of Los Angeles's closely watched density bonus ordinance has been struck down because the city did not subject the ordinance to California Environmental Quality Act  (CEQA) review.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Thomas McKnew Jr. ruled that a fair argument could be made "that portions of the ordinance which go beyond the minimum standards set by state law" may have a significant adverse impact and, therefore, must undergo environmental review.

The city ordinance adopted in early 2008 was based on SB 1818 from 2004, a measure that modified the density bonus law to increase bonuses and require local governments to grant development concessions if a project contains a certain percentage of affordable housing (see CP&DR, September 2004). While the state law permits density bonuses of up to 35%, the Los Angeles ordinance allows bonuses of up to 300% in some instances.

At the behest of Jane Usher, who until last fall chaired the city's Planning Commission, a group called Environmental And Housing Coalition Los Angeles sued the city. The group contended the ordinance would encourage developers to demolish existing affordable units and replace them with much denser, market-rate projects that contain fewer affordable units than existed before. The group argued in court the city violated CEQA by declaring the ordinance exempt from environmental review. McKnew agreed and threw out the portions of the ordinance exceeding SB 1818 mandates, as well as any project approvals based on the invalidated portions of the ordinance.

The case is Environmental and Housing Coalition Los Angeles v. City of Los Angeles, No. BS114338.