More than 100 people tuned in to the Hancock Park Homeowners Association annual meeting via Zoom last Monday, October 16. During the session, they heard from City Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky and 51st Assembly District representative Rick Chavez Zbur, as well as updates on neighborhood preparedness, reports from HPHA committee chairs, and the results of this year’s HPHA board elections.
Q&A with City Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky
Yaroslavsky was first on the meeting agenda, and her introductory remarks acknowledged the recent attacks in Israel and security precautions being taken by the city, as well as her four current priorities for the district and the city: housing and homelessness, livable communities and quality of life, eliminating corruption in city government, and public safety.
But the bulk of Yaroslavsky’s time was spent answering several very specific questions that had been submitted to her in advance by the HPHA. They included:
You have pledged, on numerous occasions, to protect Los Angeles’s R1 single family and multi-family zoned neighborhoods from up-zoning that will allow large apartment buildings to be built in residential zoned neighborhoods via the Housing Element 2021-2029. Please explain your recent votes, at PLUM and also in full Council, against the advice and direction from the Mayor, City Planning, and the City Attorney to allow a “loophole” in the Mayor’s ED1 directive (which has been corrected) to permit a 7 story, 200 unit apartment building to be built in an R1 zoned residential neighborhood…and how will you ensure/reassure your constituents that you will not allow R1 single family and multi family to be up-zoned via the Housing Element 2021-2029?
Yaroslavsky began by clarifying that ED1 is the mayor’s executive directive to cut red tape for homeless housing, which lacked some important clarifying language when it was first issued. A clarification was made later that it would not apply to R1 (single-family) neighborhoods, Yaroslavsky said, but before the clarification was issued, seven projects were filed in R1 areas. All seven of those were halted when the R1 clarification was made, Yaroslavsky said, but the project referred to above had already been given the go-ahead by the city, and its developers appealed the later reversal. Yaroslavsky said she voted with other City Council members to support the appeal, for two reasons. First, she said, she wanted to support the councilmember from that district, who supported the project, and second, she said the City Attorney said the after-the-fact rejection of the project was probably a violation of state law, with the potential for huge penalties – up to $50,000 per unit – if the appeal was denied. So Yaroslavsky said her vote on that specific project was a one-time vote in a very specific situation, and that “I do NOT support up-zoning of single family neighborhoods.”
How can you reassure single family neighborhoods if the proposed new Housing Element maps show up-zoning in single family areas?
Yaroslavsky said she will do this by talking to the Planning Department “early and often” about her and her constituents’ positions against up-zoning single family neighborhoods. She also said she will do all she can to make sure all new developments are located on commercial corridors instead of in existing residential areas. That said, however, Yaroslavsky also noted that the state has taken away a lot of land use authority from local jurisdictions, so the development landscape has changed a lot in the last 12-15 years. For example, she said, there’s a density bonus project in West LA that neighbors are unhappy about, but there’s “nothing we can do about it” because of new state laws. Again, though, she said that when it comes to protecting single family neighborhoods, “I’m committed to it.”
Last winter, heavy rain caused massive, dangerous flooding on Clinton St. between Lillian Way and Rossmore Ave.. A neighborhood meeting at the site was attended by almost all concerned parties, including your office. The Department of Sanitation didn’t come, even though they are responsible for fixing the problem. Instead, they sent a series of inane questions that evaded responsibility and implied individual homeowners were at fault. How will you compel negligent city departments to address difficult, expensive, long term problems? And how will you coordinate these efforts if they require both city and county involvement?
Yaroslavsky acknowledged that coordinating efforts across several city departments to address difficult problems like this one is “incredibly frustrating.” But she said she is doing all she can to get those departments to show up and ask the right questions. “We will make sure they’re there next time,” Yaroslavsky said. She also said she and her staff are getting very good at annoying other city departments when they need to, and that they are talking to the various city departments involved in flood protection “on a regular basis.”
Back in February of this year, we had a significant power outage crisis in our area. We held a town hall meeting with your office, City Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez’s office, and DWP representatives. As chair of the Council’s Energy and Environment Committee, you said that you would stay on top of the DWP’s looking into the problems of lack of and miscommunication to consumers/residents and other internal problems associated with the 3-day outage. With El Niño storms predicted for us again this year, we are concerned about the possibility of these same problems occurring again. Do you have any updates for us on DWP’s progress and what they are doing in advance to ensure we don’t suffer the same crisis again? We have not received any updates since that time.
Yaroslavsky said there was a board meeting about the extended power outages last spring, and LADWP is now spending $12 million to upgrade its communications systems and protocols. Some of the new improvements were already in place during this year’s tropical storm, she said, and more will be coming in time for this year’s winter storm season. Also, she said, the city will be doing more proactive tree trimming and other preparation before this year’s storm season. Finally, Yaroslavsky said she has also met with DWP about upgrading the power systems that failed most significantly during last winter’s storms, especially in Hancock Park and Bel Air, and she can provide updates on that work later.
We have many dangerous sidewalks that may cause accidents and cost the city liability. We have provided your office with addresses and photos of the most extreme cases. We have also been told the city has no money for sidewalk repair other than ADA-mandated upgrades. Have you spoken to Engineering and Street departments about our urgent needs? And have you considered using some of your discretionary funds to address these dangerous, potentially expensive sidewalk issues?
Yaroslavsky said she’s very aware of the hazards, as her 8-year-old fell while riding his scooter on uneven sidewalks and had to have stitches in his chin. She said the city currently has a seven-year wait now for sidewalk repairs, which is “insane.” She said the city is now required to spend $1 billion to make its sidewalks ADA compliant, but there’s limited staff and resources for the work, especially since the pandemic. So they’re working on re-staffing now.
Can you use some of your discretionary funds for sidewalk repairs…and could some of the sidewalk work be subcontracted?
Yaroslavsky said she would be willing to use discretionary funds for sidewalk repairs, and subcontracting might also be a possibility, though some kinds of funds available to her office are more flexible than others. She said, though, that she’s happy to discuss specific priorities with individual communities…because, again, seven year waits are “insane.” (See below for more on discussion of discretionary funds.)
To provide interim housing, the city is buying the 294-room Mayfair Hotel in Westlake for $83 million. That’s $282,000 per room. Multiplied by the city’s 30,000 unsheltered population, that’s about $8.5 billion, seven times more than the HHH bonds approved by voters. Not including maintenance costs, utilities, and remedial services. All for 294 families. Why are we pursuing such expensive measures when there are cheaper, faster, much more cost-effective options available? What are better ways to address the city’s unsheltered problems, that do not involve eliminating R1 zoning?
Yaroslavsky clarified that the Mayfair Hotel will be used for interim housing, not permanent housing, so it will actually serve thousands of people over the life of the project (not just one person for each of the building’s 294 rooms) because people will always be moving in and out. She also noted that the first interim housing project in CD 5 will be a modular prefab installation, at only half the cost of the Mayfair. In other words, she said, she wants to take an “all of the above” approach to housing, with many different options in the mix, including helping people pay rent and get loans to stay in their homes.
Getting people off of the street rapidly into dignified living conditions with support services will save tremendous downstream costs, both to the unhoused (mental and physical deterioration from living on the streets and cost to mainstream) and to those bearing the collateral harm (businesses, housed residents, etc). Why isn’t the City addressing the homeless crisis by building tiny homes? Why isn’t the City using this low cost, rapid solution at scale with all of the vacant city, county, state, federal and other land?
“You’re speaking music to my ears,” said Yaroslavsky, noting that there are currently many tiny home installations across the city for use as interim housing…in every district but ours. For example, she said, City Councilmember Tim McCosker has 60-70 empty beds available on any given night in his 15th District, but CD 5 has none. And it “makes encampment resolution a lot easier,” she said, when there are beds available. So she is trying to build these kinds of facilities in CD 5. For example, she said the 33 beds currently proposed for a new interim housing installation at Pico and Midvale, in West LA, is a “really important part of how we move people off the streets.” At the same time, though, she said she’s been getting a lot of pushback from neighbors near the site (which will have on-site security and a ban on encampments nearby) because people understandably fear what they don’t know. Which means that the approval process for the facility has been “a bit of a Hurculean effort.” [Editor’s note: the Pico/Midvale project was approved by the full City Council on Friday, October 20.] Yaroslavsky said another reason she’s pushing for local interim housing sites is that a recent 9th Circuit Court ruling has been interpreted by the city as requiring each council office to make an effort to house the people in its own district. “So that’s on us,” she said. “We need these beds to get people off the streets…and we’re doing it.” Finally, in response to a follow-up question, she said there are currently “north of 1,300” people on the street in CD 5, though most council districts have “far more.”
Each council member gets access to Discretionary Funds through several sources, and the total amount available varies by district and can fluctuate. Although there are guidelines on how the funds can be spent, they can still be used in a variety of ways. Where can your constituents find a real time accounting of how your office is spending your Discretionary Funds?
Yaroslavsky said that the current CD5 has a much smaller discretionary budget than the former CD 4, especially during the time that Councilmember David Ryu maintained a community committee to help determine and oversee the district’s discretionary funds. Yaroslavsky said the biggest chunk of districts’ discretionary funds comes from the former Community Redevelopment Agency…and while the old CD 4 included Hollywood and other areas that qualified for a lot of CRA funding, the new CD 5 does not. So now, she said, there are big differences in discretionary budgets for different districts, depending on how much CRA funding they qualify for. For example, she said, Councilmember Kevin DeLeon has $14 million in CRA discretionary funds, but CD5 has only about $50 thousand. She said it would be possible to create a community-based committee to oversee discretionary spending, but it’s “not a lot of money,” and what there is is in a lot of different “pots,” many of which have very specific funding restrictions. She said she does have $128 thousand for special events, but “I don’t think it makes sense having a committee reviewing who gets block party money” and “I just don’t want to waste folks’ time” in that situation. That said, however, Yaroslavsky also mentioned that there is a Discretionary Funding or Grant Request form on the CD 5 website, and funding decisions are based on merit.
Is there other money to fix infrastructure? Seems like it’s all flowing to housing right now, but we have other needs, too, and sometimes it feels like they’re on the back burner.
Yaroslavsky said she totally agrees that other local needs are important, too, but much of the current year’s budget was done before she took office, so there’s not much she can do about funding priorities and specific allocations until the next budget cycle.
Board Member/Committee Recognition
After Yaroslavsky’s remarks, HPHA President Cindy Chvatal recognized many of the association’s board members for their work with various committees and projects. They included:
Land Use/Zoning: Mark Alpers, Susan Grossman, Cindy Chvatal
Security, Safety, Neighborhood Watch: Marty Beck, Jon Vein, Cliff Lord
Urban Canopy/Parkway Trees Planting: Deborah Trainer, Susan Grossman, Cindy Chvatal
Infrastructure Repair: Cindy Chvatal, Bill Newby
Transportation and Traffic: Cliff Lord, Greg Glasser, Cindy Chvatal
Neighborhood Filming: Debbie Alpers
Block Captains /Emergency Preparedness: Jen DeVore, Tim Paulson, Nancy Dolan
Historic Highland Median: William Newby
HPHA Membership / Dues: Jen DeVore
Neighborhood School Liaison: Benny Rosenberg
Graffiti Removal & Welcome Bags: Tim Paulson
Hancock Park HPOZ: Jen DeVore, Susan Grossman
GWNC Liaisons: Jen DeVore, Cindy Chvatal, Mark Alpers
Environment & Energy: Joel Kozberg, Mark Alpers
Conversation with Assembly Member Rick Chavez Zbur
Next on the agenda was a conversation with 51st Assembly District Representative Rick Chavez Zbur, who spoke about his work in the state legislature.
Zbur said he’s less visible than some other local officials, because he spends most of his time in Sacramento. But his district covers Los Feliz, parts of the San Fernando Valley, the Hollywood Hills, West Hollywood, Hollywood, Mid-Wilshire, Beverly Hills, Westwood, and UCLA as well as much of our general Greater Wilshire area. Zbur also said his new district office is on Sunset and Stanley, which is much more centrally located than its previous location on the west side.
As Yaroslavsky did, Zbur prefaced his remarks at the HPHA meeting by saying he, too, is “heartbroken” by the recent events in Israel, and that he stands strongly with that nation against the Hamas terror organization. (Zbur noted that he is not Jewish, but because he represents a highly Jewish district, he is a member of the Jewish Caucus in the Assembly.)
Zbur, who is also a current member of the Assembly’s Leadership Caucus, said he will soon take on additional leadership of a new committee tackling the “very quickly rising” wave of coordinated retail crimes across the state, which is hitting San Francisco and LA the hardest.
Meanwhile, in the most recent legislative cycle, Zbur said his number one priority was housing and homelessness, and trying to create more affordable housing, which is especially urgent because California has the nation’s highest rate of functional poverty. At the same time, though, Zbur said we also need to protect local neighborhoods, especially in high fire and coastal zones.
Zbur said there’s no single magic bullet for the housing crisis…but he noted that he didn’t see homeless people when traveling in Spain recently. In fact, he said, Barcelona has four million people, but only 4,700 are unhoused, and only 400 are on the streets. Which means they must be doing something differently, while we’re either not spending enough money on the problem, or not spending it in the right ways.
Zbur said we most urgently need to get people off the streets, and keep them housed. But right now, he said, while we do house 10,000 people each year, even more than that become unhoused, so we’re losing ground. One thing we are doing, he said, is that we’re currently spending $10 billion to keep people in their homes and prevent them from becoming homeless, because it’s more expensive to build new housing, and much more humane and compassionate to keep people housed instead.
Zbur said he introduced three bills to help with this. First, the Housing Security Act will provide rent subsidies to help people keep people in their homes and from becoming homeless. The second bill would provide services for former foster youth, and the third will help disabled tenants move to more accessible units at the same rent they were previously paying, to help keep them safely housed. And finally, he said, he helped secure state funding for the new Hollywood restroom facility, which will serve everyone from tourists to the homeless.
Zbur said his second big priority this year has been climate change and the environment. California needs at least five gigabytes of wind energy by 2030, and more after that, he said…but one big problem is that the turbine arms are too big for our ports. Wind energy could create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next 20 years, he said, but we do need a cost/benefit analysis for requiring local production. And elsewhere on the energy front, Zbur said he has also introduced bills to expand electric car charging networks, which we’ll need to meet our targets for electric cars.
Finally, Zbur said his third biggest legislative priority right now is civil rights. The largest communities in his district are Jewish and LGBTQ – each of which accounts for about 25% of his total constituents. So Zbur said one of his proudest moments in the legislature so far was when the governor recently signed his bill requiring that teachers take an hour of LGBTQ sensitivity training, since LGBTQ students have one of the highest school dropout rates. Also, a second education-related bill he authored this year will help school staff to become credentialed teachers.
Next, regarding business legislation, Zbur said he considers himself a “pragmatic progressive,” and that he wants to support and grow state businesses. For example, he said he especially supports increasing filming tax credits, which he said have been too small. Four of the eight major studios are in his district, he said, and we’re “competing to keep Hollywood in Hollywood.”
And finally, in response to a question from HPHA president Cindy Chvatal about why the state doesn’t require more affordable units in new housing projects (which too often displace renters from naturally affordable units and replace them with much more expensive apartments), Zbur said we need to think both about the number of affordable units included in new developments, and also which policies help to create the most affordable housing. For example, he said, while he agrees that requiring only 10% of new units to be affordable is too low, requiring 30% might not pencil out for developers. So he said there should probably be a bracketed range of percentages, with local governments allowed to set the specific targets within that range.
Neighborhood security was also a big topic of discussion at last week’s meeting, and the topic was opened by LAPD Wilshire Division Captain Sonia Monico.
Monico said that when the division sees an increase in crime, it pushes information out to the community and also works with private security companies in the area. So far this year, she said, violent crime in the division is down, but property crime (including of and from vehicles) is up. And the police chief has created a new inter-agency resources to deal with the rise of coordinated retail theft rings.
Among the property crimes, Monico said, there has also been an increase in burglaries — from 15 at this point last year to 34 in 2023. But “one burglary is too many,” she said. According to Monico, much of the burglary activity has been in the eastern part of the division, near the Olympic Division border. To help prevent break-ins, Monico recommended that people have good lighting around their homes, and alarm systems. Audible alarm systems should be loud enough for neighbors to hear, she said, and those that can record video are even better if cameras capture images of the suspects, because LAPD can then include the images on fliers distributed to the community.
Monico also recommended that neighbors look out for each other, let neighbors know when they’re going out of town, and have phone trees they can use to contact each other if anyone sees any suspicious activity. Also, she said, when people go out of town, they should have neighbors pick up their mail, and put their lights and TV on timers, to make it look and sound like someone’s home. Finally, she noted that many burglaries happen in the late afternoon or evenings, when people go out to dinner. And some burglars now use drones to look around homes and yards they might be targeting.
Monico told the meeting attendees that if you do see something suspicious, you should definitely call LAPD so they can come and check on it.
Next up, De’Antraye Dantzler, the new interim Senior Lead Officer for the Hancock Park area, introduced himself and provided his phone number – (213) 793-0708 – and his email address – [email protected]. Dantzler said that if there’s an emergency, call 911 first, and then, after a car is dispatched, reach out to to your SLO.
Ben Goldfarb, a civilian volunteer with the LA Fire Department, provided information about Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training and other emergency preparedness activities in the area, including the Neighborhood Team Program (which incorporates elements of CERT, Ready Your Los Angeles Neighborhoods (RYLAN), Neighborhood Watch, and more), and efforts to place Neighborhood Staging Kits – stocked with emergency supplies for Neighborhood Teams – in several places in the neighborhood. Goldfarb says they’re looking for locations that are both secure but potentially accessible when needed, such as houses of worship, clubs, and perhaps private backyards.
And finally in the security discussion, representatives of several private security companies that operate in the area (ADT, Magen Am, and SSA Security) provided information on their services and experiences over the last year or so.
Contact information for these companies (and a few others) was provided by HPHA after the meeting:
- Magen Am US – Security patrol services – (310) 515-5310
- SSA Security – Subscription-based private security and on-call patrol – (818) 773-5600, https://ssa-securitygroup.com/
- ADT – Security monitoring and patrol – (800) 238-4653, https://www.adt.com
- Deep Sentinel – Video surveillance systems – https://www.deepsentinel.com
- Moore Protection – Alarm monitoring/consultation – (310) 540-7229
Next, several HPHA committee chairs reported on their activities:
Land Use – Mark Alpers noted that construction is beginning on the creative office project at Melrose and Seward, and preparation for the big new mixed use development at the northwest corner of Wilshire and Highland is going slowly.
Security – Martin Beck praised the neighborhood’s private security systems, and recommended that residents have an alarm system and arm it when not home. He also reminded attendees to lock cars, update old alarm systems, and participate in the Neighborhood Watch.
Membership, Block Captains, & GWNC – Jen DeVore told residents she will be very grateful if they pay their HoA dues when the first notices go out in January. Block captains, she said, are the “heart and soul” of the association, and make residents feel like they’re part of a truly cohesive community by being vigilant and watching out for neighbors. And the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, she said, does very good work providing a voice for neighbors on important issues.
Tree Committee – Deb Trainer thanked HPHA president Chvatal for all she does for the association. She also thanked arborist Sabine Hoppner for trimming neighborhood trees before this summer’s hurricane to minimize potential damage from falling limbs. Trainer also noted that building and maintaining the neighborhood’s tree canopy is an ongoing program, with an average of 39 trees planted each fall, installation of watering bags, and removing deadwood and dead trees. Also, she said using the MyLA311 app is the fastest way to get the city to help with broken branches and other maintenance.
Hancock Park HPOZ – Susan Grossman reported on a meeting this year about frequent storm-related flooding at Clinton and Rossmore. Garages flood and people lose cars, she said, despite buildings having and maintaining pumps in those areas. Grossman said the Department of Transportation replies to complaints with questions about pumps and their maintenance, but the amount of water that flows through the area simply overwhelms the pumps. Also, Grossman noted that the Hancock Park HPOZ board just lost its architect member, who will be replaced. She said the board meets every two weeks, and if you want to do a project at your home in the HPOZ, you should check with the HPOZ board to see if the project needs to be reviewed by the board…which can be a very helpful process. “Every time,” she said, “they improve the project.”
Highland Median – Bill Newby noted that the median is a defining historic feature of the neighborhood. He said frequent issues include the accumulation of trash between bi-monthly maintenance rounds, and the presence of illegal street vendors – though it’s hard to get the city to enforce prohibitions against the activity. Newby invited neighbors to contact him if they see any maintenance issues on the median, especially irrigation problems.
In the final business of last week’s meeting, secretary DeVore reported that 85 ballots were received for this year’s board elections, with no write-in candidates, which means the nominated slate of board members was elected. She congratulated the newly elected candidates, including:
The full board list for the HPHA is now:
Cindy Chvatal-Keane, President
Susan Grossman, Vice President
Jennifer DeVore, Secretary
Nancy Dolan, Treasurer
Other Board Directors:
A full recording of the October 16 HPHA board meeting is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ublaaRQxQ04