At last night’s monthly meeting of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Committee, the changing face of the city’s land use policies was on full display, and committee members spent the bulk of the evening discussing the statewide SB 50 housing bill, and wrestling with two projects being built under the still-fairly-new Transit Oriented Communities guidelines. (TOC projects can be significantly denser than existing buildings in a neighborhood, and they go through a much different approval process than projects under traditional, pre-TOC guidelines, with much less room for local review and influence.)
Legislative View on SB 50
First, near the top of the meeting, guest speaker Steve Veres, representing California State Senator Maria Elena Durazo (who represents the portion of the GWNC area east of Plymouth Blvd.), explained that the controversial bill, which was held in the Suspense File in the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this month, will not make it out of that committee before the legislature’s “House of Origin” deadline (the date a bill must pass out of the house where it originated for it to move forward in the current session), this coming Friday. Veres said there would have to be some official plan to schedule the bill for action before that date, for it to come back to life in the current session, and there are currently no such plans, so there is no technical way to get it out of committee by Friday. So the bill will not move forward this year — though it will almost certainly come back to life when the legislature reconvenes in January. (SB 50 is a “two-year” bill, which means legislators have two years to try to pass it before it dies.)
Also, explaining Senator Durazo’s position on the bill, Veres said Durazo voted for SB 50 in committee, but only as a preliminary step to keep it moving. He said that she is not yet ready to support it in a decisive final vote, thoug, unless certain concerns are addressed first. Chief among those concerns, according to Veres, is that it guarantee more affordable housing than it does in its current form. Veres said that while Los Angeles currently has rules from Measure JJJ and the Transit Oriented Communities program mandating certain numbers of affordable units in new developments, SB 50, as currently written, does not…so it would actually represent a step backward for Los Angeles on that issue. Senator Durazo, Veres said, wants to make sure SB 50 would not overtake effective local planning efforts before declaring her support of the bill.
Regarding the scores of other housing bills currently moving their way through the state legislature, Veres said Durazo’s office has not yet looked at the recent flood of such bills from the State Assembly, which probably won’t be delivered to the Senate offices for another couple of weeks. At that point, however, he said Durazo will review them, and her major focus at the moment is how they would deal with the issues of affordability and homelessness. “That’s the real conversation in Sacramento right now,” said Veres.
Local Land Use Projects
After the discussion of the statewide issue, the committee moved on to much more local business, including the following projects:
Application for a Conditional Use Permit to operate a new, “dry” 7-Eleven store at 5786 1/2 Melrose Ave.
The Committee has discussed this project several times over the last few months, and after developers negotiated with neighbors and agreed to several conditions (no alcohol sales, no public restroom, security cameras at both the front and rear of the building, and removing a large sign from the rear of the building), as well as secured formal support from the Hancock Park Homeowners’ Association, the Larchmont Village Neighborhood Association, the nearby St. James Church, and the LAPD, committee members agreed at last month’s meeting that the applicants had indeed fulfilled the committee’s requests. An administrative glitch kept the item from being voted on last month, however, so the committee re-agendized it this month, and voted unanimously to recommend that the GWNC board support the application.
Application to renew the Conditional Use Permit to sell a full line of alcoholic beverages at the Cat & Fiddle Pub and Restaurant, 742 N. Highland Ave., with extended hours for alcohol sales
The Cat and Fiddle applicants did not attend last night’s meeting, because it is still early in their application process and their recently-submitted application has not yet received a case number. Several of the business’s residential neighbors were at the meeting, however, to advocate both for and against the application’s extended hours provision. Speaking in opposition to the extension were Vina Chin, Sylvie Chin and Ann Martines, who said they live directly behind the restaurant on McCadden Ave., and worry that allowing the business to stay open and serve alcohol until 2 a.m. would increase late-night noise and disruptions in the neighborhood. On the other hand, Marian Mintz, who lives a bit further away, spoke in favor of the application, saying extended hours would allow soccer fans to attend more international game broadcasts at the pub, which is a neighborhood favorite. Philip Farha, the GWNC board member who represents the neighborhood, offered to coordinate a meeting of the business owners and neighbors on both sides of the issue, as discussions move forward.
Application to build a 6-story, 10 unit apartment building, under TOC guidelines, at 607 N. Manhattan Pl.
This project has also been on the agenda at several previous LUC meetings, and during the month since the last meeting, GWNC committee members coordinated a meeting earlier this month with both neighbors and the developers, at the development site, to discuss the neighbors’ concerns, including the height, size, style and character of the proposed building…and how it does (or doesn’t) fit in with the neighborhood context. At last night’s meeting, project representative Matthew Hayden and architect Graham Ferrier presented some modifications they’ve made in the project design in response to the concerns the neighbors have previously expressed. Several neighbors at the meeting, however, said they still do not support the project, and particularly the applicants’ requests for three additional incentives (exceptions to underlying zoning, available under TOC rules when including a certain number of affordable units). Those three items include additional height for the building, reduced side yards, and a reduced front yard setback. Several of the neighbors said they had specifically moved to the neighborhood, and purchased homes there, because of the character of the block and the views it afforded…both of which would be forever altered or eliminated if the height increase, in particular, is granted.
LUC members debated the issue, and also expressed concerns about a couple of the project’s other design elements (including a roll-up door on the building’s front facade, and the mechanical “puzzle parking” system the building would include)…but seemed most divided on how to handle their own input and recommendations. With more traditional project applications, when developers seek special entitlements not allowed under current zoning, the project goes through an extensive public review and hearing process, with a Zoning Administrator evaluating public feedback and making a final determination. With Transit Oriented Communities projects, however, which were specifically created to streamline the approval process and get more housing units into production faster near major transit lines, approval is much more administrative. Zoning administrators are not involved, and while Planning Department staff do have some discretion in approving or denying additional incentives requested in exchange for including of affordable units, there is no official public input, hearing or review process…making it harder for groups such as Neighborhood Councils to weigh in in any substantial way.
In the end, after listening to the neighbors’ continuing concerns, which have not changed after many discussions with the developers, Land Use Committee member Mike Genewick moved that the committee recommend that the GWNC board oppose the developers’ request for the three additional incentives. When the motion was voted on, however, the tally was four in favor of the motion, 1 opposed and four abstentions, so it did not pass. In the end, however, a second motion – to recommend that the GWNC board simply oppose the project as presented – passed by a vote of 7 in favor, two opposed and one abstention.
Application to build a 5-story, 14-unit apartment building, under TOC guidelines, at 611 N. Manhattan Pl.
This project, just next door to the north of the previous one, was also represented by Matthew Hayden, has also been reviewed several times by the Land Use Committee, and – although its details are different – has also met with strong opposition from the neighbors, who say it, too, is too tall, and its design and materials do not fit the neighborhood context. Hayden explained that the architect, who couldn’t be at last night’s meeting, has changed some of the building materials to address neighbors’ previous design concerns, but as with the project next door, neighbors still objected, for the same reasons they opposed the other one.
While committee member Farha said he preferred the design of this project to the one at 607, other committee members sided with the residents, and in the end voted to recommend that the GWNC board oppose the project as presented, by a margin of 9 in favor and 1 abstention.
Small Lot Subdivision at 117 N. Manhattan Pl.
This project went through lengthy discussions at LUC meetings a few years ago, and both the committee and the full GWNC board eventually voted to support the project, with modifications the developers agreed to during those discussions. Later, however, neighbors noticed that the building, after it was constructed, did not include the agreed-upon modifications…and committee members have been waiting for answers from City Council David Ryu’s office about what might have happened during the rest of the approval and building process. Last night, committee secretary Max Kirkham reported that he had heard back from CD 4 field deputy Rob Fisher, who found out that this particular project was not subject to the city’s current, revised version of the Small Lot Subdivision ordinance, which has stricter rules about design standards and community review than the original version. Because of this, the developers were not bound to abide by the agreements they worked out with the community and the Neighborhood Council, and were free to build the project as they originally envisioned it.
Remodel and Addition at 547 N. Cahuenga Blvd.
This project is actually within the jurisdiction of the Hancock Park HPOZ board, which has already voted to support the project, and the GWNC Land Use Committee generally defers to other such local bodies that have jurisdiction. Because the applicant, Dafane Abergel, took the time to attend last night’s meeting, however, the committee took time for a vote, and voted unanimously to recommend that the GWNC board also support the application.
The next GWNC Land Use Committee meeting will be held on Tuesday, June 26, 6:30 p.m. at Marlborough School, 260 S. Rossmore Ave.
The next meeting of the GWNC board will be held on Wednesday, June 12, 7 p.m. at the Ebell of Los Angeles, 743 S. Lucerne Blvd.