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GWNC Land Use Committee Considers Mid-City Greenway, Digital Sign Ordinance, Land Use Appeal Fees, and More

Members of the GWNC Land Use Committee and guest speakers at last night’s monthly committee meeting.


In a slight departure from many of its monthly meetings, the focus of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Committee last night was largely on several area and citywide proposals, with a just a couple of brief discussions of individual building projects.


Mid City Neighborhood Greenway


Map of the proposed Mid City Neighborhood Greenway project, which would create bike and pedestrian street safety improvements on Alta Vista Blvd., Formosa Ave.,  Rosewood Ave., Willoughby Ave, and Orange Dr. (The intersection at La Brea and Willoughby is the only one in GWNC territory.)


The first more macro-level issue addressed at last night’s LUC meeting was a presentation of the current Mid City Neighborhood Greenway Project, initiated by the Mid City West Community Council, and funded with a grant secured by the city’s Department of Transportation.  The goal of the project is to slow traffic and improve pedestrian and bike safety in the project area, which lies mostly within the MCWCC boundaries, but includes part of an intersection in GWNC territory, at La Brea and Willoughby.  The corridor would also help provide a link between the Metro D (Purple) and B (Red) subway lines.

According to LADOT presenters Babak Dorji and Charlie Ho, the project would use a number of new street elements to improve traffic and stakeholder safety along the route shown in the map above:



At the Willoughby/La Brea intersection, they said, this would include a green “bike box,” where cyclists could wait safely for light changes, without encroachment by cars.  The one change in traffic patterns at the intersection would be a ban on vehicles making right turns on red lights, to bikers stopped in the box area.


Sample photo of the kind of green “bike box” planned for the La Brea/Willoughby intersection under the Mid City West Neighborhood Greenway project.


Dorji and Ho said the project is currently in the planning, community feedback, and design stage, with construction planned to start sometime in 2023, and the project to be completed in 2024.

After some discussion to clarify details of the signal and traffic flow for both vehicles and bikes at the La Brea/Willoughby intersection, the committee members voted unanimously to recommend that the GWNC board support the project, subject to later approval of the actual intersection design as it evolves.


Citywide Sign Ordinance


Summary provided by presenter Patrick Frank of two versions of a new citwide sign ordinance now making their way through the city discussion and approval process.


The second, and even wider, issue considered by the LUC last night was updates to the city’s sign ordinance, particularly as they relate to new digital billboards.  According to presenter Patrick Frank, president of Scenic Los Angeles (formerly the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight ), there are currently two digital billboard proposals circulating within city government, one recommended by the City Planning Commission, and one presented by the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management committee.

Frank summarized four key differences in the two plans – as shown in the table above – and asked for the GWNC’s support in advocating for the CPC’s “Version B Plus,” saying it would result in fewer new digital signs, in fewer areas, and would not allow signs on city property, including parks.  (The PLUM proposal, in contrast, would allow more new signs with fewer older billboard takedowns, in more new commercial districts, and would require a number of those signs to be on city owned property.  Whether or not they would also be allowed on city park land is not yet clear.)

In response to committee members’ questions, Frank acknowledged that the reason the city would like to move many digital signs to property it owns is so it can share the considerable revenue sign placements bring to location owners, at a time when the city is facing a major budget crisis.  (Although, he noted, this draft of the ordinance was created before the current federal stimulus windfall was announced by the city.)  Frank also noted that residents probably won’t be able to find support for a total ban on digital signs, but said people can still work hard to limit them to certain areas and keep them away from residential districts.  (Although both he and others in the meeting noted that some of the biggest and brightest new signs, like the one on the Reef building just south of downtown LA, can be seen very clearly and brightly from many miles away.)

But there were a couple of dissenting opinions.  Committee chair Philip Farha said that while he understands residents’ dislike of digital signs, he would like to see the city share in the revenue they provide, so would support installations on at least some kinds of city property.  Also, stakeholder Jane Usher, a land use attorney and former president of the City Planning Commission, who lives in Windsor Square, cautioned that the “B Plus” plan’s 10:1 takedown ratios not be viewed too enthusiastically.  Old billboards that would be removed under that kind of agreement, Usher said, would likely be very old signs, in out of the way and largely unused locations, which the sign companies have trouble renting anyway.

In the end, however, the committee voted unanimously to recommend that the GWNC Board officially support the CPC’s “Version B Plus” language, oppose the current PLUM Committee suggestions, oppose digital billboard installations on city property, in new “Tier 3” commercial zones, and anywhere within the GWNC’s boundaries.

(Note:  it was also clarified during the discussion that digital billboards at Paramount Studios, which have been proposed in the past by the studio, would not be covered by this ordinance, which deals only with “off-site” advertising. Paramount’s digital signs would be for its own productions, and thus considered “on site” ads, governed by different rules.)


Proposed Increases in City Fees for Land Use Appeals (Council File 09-0969-S3)


Photo from Pexels


The final citywide issue discussed at last night’s meeting was the recent proposal by Los Angeles City Administrative Officer Richard Llewellyn, Jr. to significantly increase the fees for filing appeals in various kinds of city land use cases.  Historically, the city has kept such fees low for parties other than project applicants, to ensure they’re affordable for individual residents, non-profit organizations and others who don’t have developers’ deep pockets.  Those low fees have never fully covered the city’s administrative costs for processing appeals, however, so now, with the city battling a huge budget crisis, Llewellyn has proposed raising the fees – which could double or more – to help the city completely cover its costs for land use appeals.

Stakeholder Usher opened this discussion by noting that because city land use cases are largely decided outside of public view, well before public hearings and final votes, the only recourse individuals have is to appeal land use decisions after the fact, something almost no one will be able to afford if the appeal fees are raised as proposed.  Usher also noted that individuals and organizations can now sue the city over land use issues only if they have previously appealed a decision and lost the appeal…so if appeals become prohibitively expensive, the path to further legal remedies will also be cut off.

Usher said that when city officials propose a huge increase in previously low fees, like these, it’s usually based on a study that identifies some sort of misuse of the current fee structure, or a detailed analysis of problems with the fees as currently established.  But Usher said the CAO has offered neither of these here, merely an assertion that greater cost recovery would be helpful.

Finally, Usher also reminded committee members that major appeal fee increases have been proposed in the past, but the proposals have always been successfully fought by arguing the importance of protecting individuals’ rights to access the city’s appeals process, which people should do again now.

Because the issue is scheduled to be considered by the City Council’s PLUM Committee on Tuesday, April 6, the Land Use Committee does not have time to make a recommendation to the GWNC Board before its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, April 14. So committee members at last night’s meeting were urged to write their own letters to their Council Members if they have strong feelings about the issue.  The Committee also voted to file notice to the City Council of its own opposition to the fee proposal, while acknowledging that the full board has not yet weighed in.  And finally, GWNC board president Caroline Labiner Moser also noted that it might be possible to schedule a Special Meeting of the board, just to vote on this issue, either immediately before or after the GWNC’s Town Hall meeting on e-Bikes at 6 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday, March 25).  [Update on Saturday, March 27:  the special meeting of the GWNC Board – to consider the matter of lande use fee hikes – has now been scheduled for Monday, March 29, at 6 p.m., via Zoom.  See for details.]


838 N. Mansfield Ave.


Photos showing changes made to the curb and sidewalk at 838 N. Mansfield, which were not part of a variance application previously supported by the GWNC. (Photos from Philip Farha)


Among the shorter discussions last night, owners of a multi-family residential building at this address received a variance from the city in 2017 to allow the building, constructed in 1977 and now currently zoned for duplexes, to maintain the four units it currently holds, to allow conversion of its rental apartments to condominiums, and to maintain a 10-foot front yard setback, instead of the required 15 feet.  At the time, the GWNC voted to support the variance request, as long as there were no changes to the building’s square footage or setbacks.

Committee Chair Philip Farha, who represents the Melrose neighborhood (where the property is located) on the GWNC board, brought the item back to the LUC last night, however, noting that the property owners have now reconfigured the curb and sidewalk in front of the building in an odd way that neither the Land Use Committee nor the GWNC board would have been likely to support.  According to Farha, the reconfiguration was not part of the variance application, even though it was apparently signed off on later by the city’s Bureau of Engineering.  Because of this, and based on neighbors’ complaints to Farha about how the changes impede sidewalk use, Farha moved to recommend that the GWNC Board revoke its previous support for the property’s variance.  The motion was approved with seven votes in favor and one abstention.


6415 Melrose Ave.



This application was for a demolition pre-inspection application at this address on Melrose, between McCadden and Las Palmas.  No representative appeared at the meeting to provide details of the owners’ plans for the property, so – according to its policy in such situations – the committee voted unanimously to recommend that the GWNC board oppose the application as currently presented.


GWNC Town Hall on Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) Projects


Renderings of an evolving project proposed for 500 N. Larchmont Blvd., which would be built under the city’s Transit Oriented Communities guidelines.


Acknowledging that because many of the projects that come in for land use review these days are being built under the city’s Transit Oriented Communities guidelines, and many stakeholders are not well versed on the specifics of TOC rules – such as what they do and don’t allow developers to do by right, and what ability the GWNC has or doesn’t have to influence such projects – Farha proposed holding a GWNC Town Hall on the TOC program to provide more information to both board members and stakeholders.  The committee voted unanimously to recommend that the GWNC board move ahead with the idea.


Local Land Use Precedent References


At several recent meetings, LUC members have discussed the idea of creating a collection of local architectural references they could provide to developers working on projects in the area.  The goal would be to help inform conversations and provide advice in situations where architects ask the committee for specific design references or preferences, or when committee members ask architects to pay more attention to the local architectural context in their designs.

Last night, committee members further discussed this idea, but in addition to noting the positive aspects of such a reference collection (e.g. projects that would ultimately better fit and enhance their surroundings, resulting in both happier neighbors and a more lucrative bottom line for developers), others acknowledged potential problems with the idea, including whether or not the city grants Neighborhood Councils the right to act as design review bodies.  And there was further discussion about whether recommendations should be in the form of exsiting buildings (new or historic) or simply building elements, such as windows, cornices, entrances, building materials, colors, etc.

In the end, no votes were taken or recommendations made, but committee members were invited to bring some specific examples of potential items to include in such a database to the next meeting.


The next meeting of the GWNC Land Use Committee will be held on Tuesday, April 27, 6:30 p.m., via Zoom.  The next GWNC Board meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 14, 7 p.m., also via Zoom.  (The Board is currently scheduled to seat its new board members at that meeting, if unofficial election results have been certified by that date.)


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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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