In a move to align with shifting state housing laws, the Los Angeles Department of City Planning will begin processing certain density bonuses cases ministerially, thereby exempting them review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The policy shift, announced on January 25 via a memo from Planning Director Vince Bertoni, will apply to all future applications requesting on-menu density bonus incentives, as well as qualifying projects currently in the pipeline.  The City's eight on-menu incentives, as enumerated in the Los Angeles Municipal Code, allow multifamily housing projects that include a requisite percentage of deed-restricted affordable units relief from certain zoning requirements relative to building height, setbacks, floor area, on-site open space, and parking.

Density bonus projects requesting off-menu incentives, or other discretionary entitlements such as a conditional use permit, will remain subject to CEQA and the review of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission. 

Likewise, projects requesting only on-menu incentives are still subject to an appeal process, and may still be required t undergo discretionary review if located in a plan overlay area.

The new ministerial process for projects requesting on-menu incentives is described by Bertoni's memo as being consistent with state housing and environmental legislation, which blocks jurisdictions from denying density bonus projects except in circumstances public health or safety may be impacted.

Although it has been eclipsed in some ways by the Transit Oriented Communities guidelines, density bonus projects remain a popular tool for developers in the City of Los Angeles - particular for sites without easy access to high-frequency bus service.  According to the Planning Department's Housing Progress Dashboard, density bonus projects accounted for approximately 26,700 proposed residential units between 2016 and 2020 - more than 17 percent of the roughly 152,000 units planned during that time period.