Large numbers of in-person attendees are not a given at local Neighborhood Council meetings, but when a particular issue galvanizes a neighborhood, residents can turn out in force, as they did at Wednesday night’s monthly meeting of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. The issue in question this month was the property at 200-202 S. Orange Dr., a duplex remodeled into single unit, which is now apparently being used as the place of worship for the Beis Medrash congregation in the residential-zoned Citrus Square neighborhood.
When the issue was previously discussed at last month’s meeting of the GWNC’s Land Use Committee, 21 neighbors attended to complain about the non-residential activity at the property, which they say has plagued the neighborhood with traffic, parking, noise, and safety issues for the last several years. And closer to 30 neighbors attended this week’s meeting.
Speaking for the neighborhood group on Wednesday, Citrus Square resident Bennett Wolk read a statement contending the owners of the property are violating the residential zoning of the property by holding daily prayer and worship services attended by large numbers of people, especially on Fridays, Saturdays, and religious holidays. The neighbors also submitted photos, audio and video recordings documenting the activity, including a time-lapse video showing dozens of people leaving a Friday night service at the property in September.
At the October Land Use committee meeting, members recommended that the GWNC board request that City Council District 5, the City Attorney, the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, and the Department of City Planning compel the property owner to at least apply for a Change of Use permit, which – if approved – could legalize the activity but also require the facility to comply with all fire and safety codes required for an institutional use of the property. And it would also require the owners to obtain a Conditional Use Permit to set further conditions for its operation.
At this week’s meeting, however, members of the resident group objected to the wording of the recommended motion, saying it made it sound like the GWNC would support the institutional use of the property if the owners acquire the official Change of Use and Conditional Use Permit.
Board members explained that their power lies mostly in urging city officials to ensure code compliance at the location, which would start with making sure it has or at least applies for the permits needed to conduct the kinds of activities the property is being used for. And forcing that process to begin, they said, would accelerate the city process of verification, enforcement, and possible penalties or shutdowns for non-compliance. Also, urging the property owners to apply for permits, they said, does not mean that the GWNC would actually support those applications once submitted.
The debate continued, though, and after several versions of a motion were proposed, one was finally crafted that both board members and the Citrus Square neighbors seemed to find acceptable:
“The GWNC recommends to Councilmember Yaroslavsky and LADBS, the Planning Department, and the City Attorney that the synagogue located at 200 – 202 S. Orange Drive and 5566 W. 2nd Street be required, at a minimum, to apply for the requisite CUP to operate as an institutional use. GWNC’s recommendation does not equal support for the CUP application, and in fact the GWNC opposes the institutional use under these circumstances.”
The motion passed by a margin of 16 votes in favor, zero opposed, and two abstentions.
In other business on Wednesday night, the Board voted by a margin of 10 votes in favor, 7 opposed, and three abstentions to oppose, as also recommended by the GWNC Land Use Committee, a proposed new 5-story, 31-unit apartment building at 4820 W. Oakwood Ave. The committee had based its recommendation on the fact that only three of the 31 units would be reserved for low-income tenants. That number is the minimum required by the city’s Transit Oriented Communities guidelines, but several committee members said they felt the developers should provide more than the bare minimum required, since that neighborhood has lost so much of its original historic character to new development in the last few years.
And finally in major decisions this week, now that the LA City Council has voted in concert with the new state law SB 411 to allow neighborhood councils and their committees to resume virtual meetings if and when they choose to do so, the GWNC board voted to hold the first meeting of each quarter in person (beginning in January, 2024), and the following two meetings each quarter virtually. And a second vote was taken to also allow GWNC committees to hold virtual meetings “as they see fit.”
The next meeting of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council will be held (in person) on Wednesday, December 13, at 7:00 p.m., at the Ebell of Los Angeles, 743 S. Lucerne Blvd.