Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Initial Reactions to New Baseline Mansionization Ordinance Draft

Baseline Mansionization Ordinance would control the size of replacement homes in older neighborhoods
A new home next to a modest bungalow in the La Brea – Hancock area.

As we noted yesterday, the City of Los Angeles has released a second draft of its proposed revisions to the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance, the law that governs the size and massing of single-family homes on residential lots.  The revisions, which have been in the works for almost two years (a first draft was released last fall) are intended to close loopholes in the original ordinance, which proved to encourage, rather than discourage (as originally intended), the construction of “McMansions” in smaller-scale, established neighborhoods.

A series of public meetings on the latest revised draft of the BMO begins on May 4 (7 p.m. at the Ronald F. Deaton Civic Auditorium, 100 W. 1st St./corner of 1st and Main), but local residents and neighborhood activists are already poring over the text of the new document.

Adding Complexity?

Shelley Wagers, head of No More McMansions in Los Angeles, a group that has pushed hard for revisions to the BMO, told the Buzz yesterday that she has looked at the new draft, but hasn’t fully digested it yet.  “Getting a grip on the latest draft will take time,” she said, “because it’s pretty complicated.”

Wagers did say, however, that the second draft of the proposed revisions seems (at least at first glance) to be complicating some of the issues involved, instead of simplifying them, as neighborhood activists had hoped.

“Instead of just fixing the existing mansionization ordinances, it’s starting to look like the Planning Department is turning this into a dress rehearsal for Re:Code LA,” said Wagers. “The City Council Motion [a May, 2014 motion by Council Member Paul Koretz to revise the BMO] was simple and direct and effective, and this draft seems to go in the wrong direction,” she said.

More specifically,  said Wagers, the new draft of the proposed ordinance adds “new elements like “encroachment planes” and requirements for side wall articulation,” which are “legitimate, useful zoning tools. But they make the ordinance harder to understand and harder to enforce. The assignment was to clean up an existing ordinance by closing loopholes and to get it done quickly. We’re just not seeing that here.”

Loosening, instead of tightening, restrictions

Wagers also said, disappointedly, that the new draft of the revised BMO seems to be “keeping some of the loopholes that ruined the Mansionization Ordinance the first time around.”

“The new draft did pare down the exemption for covered patios, balconies, etc. from 250 sq ft to 150 sq ft. (Good idea.) But it left untouched the exemption for unlimited square footage for patios, balconies, etc. with ‘lattice roofs,'” she said.

The consequence of this exemption is that “We could be seeing unlimited expanses of balconies and roof decks,” which add visual bulk to the appearance of homes.

In addition, said Wagers, citing one issue that has been particularly important to local neighborhoods such as Miracle Mile and La Brea-Hancock, “The first draft of amendments, put out late last year, kept the exemption for attached garage space on hillside lots…but it eliminated the exemption for non-hillside lots.” (This means that it discouraged, rather than encouraged, construction of attached garages on the front facades of homes in older neighborhoods, where established architectural patterns tend to feature unattached garages at the rear of residential lots.)

But the new draft, said Wagers, eliminates the exemption for non-hillside lots…which means there won’t be any incentives for builders to favor detached over attached garages in older neighborhoods.

“This exemption is especially damaging,” said Wagers, “because attached garages add 400 square feet of uncounted bloat to houses and eliminate the buffer between houses provided by a driveway. Attached garages are common in some neighborhoods, and we never asked the city to prohibit them – just to count the space as part of the square footage of the structure.”

Additionally, she said, “The new draft also reinstated “articulation” bonuses for all zones except R-1″ (meaning builders can add extra square footage if they break up wall surfaces in certain ways), and it appears to have “loosened the requirements for the bonus for using a smaller footprint for the second floor.” (Limiting the size of second floors to a certain percentage of first-floor space – called “proportional stories” – can help reduce the overall size and bulky appearance of two-story homes.)

Wagers said the new draft of the BMO also “leaves in place the authority of Zoning Administrators to grant 10 percent ‘adjustments’ with no public notification or input,” something activists have said is not necessary with an already-established system for variances and other kinds of entitlement applications already in place in the city.

Finally, said Wagers, “the new draft also doubles the allowances for maximum grading – a real hot button issue for hillside residents.”

Neighborhood response

Locally, other neighborhood activists are beginning to weigh in as well.  Ken Hixon, Vice President and Director of Communications for the Miracle Mile Residential Association (which, like No More McMansions, had supported last fall’s apparently more restrictive first draft of the proposed revisions…and encouraged the city to go even further with certain kinds of limits), agreed with Wagers on a number of fronts.

“The Planning Department is playing games with communities throughout L.A. that are sick and tired of mansionization,” said Hixon. “We will be satisfied only if vigorous reforms are enacted. But, so far, the Planning Department seems addicted to preserving loopholes. It is indicative of the ever-growing divide between the department and the people of L.A. — whether it be mansionization, spot zoning, or mega-development. It appears that the only ‘reform’ the Planning Department is committed to is one that advances the cause of pro-density urban planners and the profits of real estate speculators.”

To learn more about the newly-proposed draft of the BMO, and hear from more members of the community, plan to attend at least one of the scheduled community meetings on the proposed new BMO revisions over the next couple of weeks.


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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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  1. I enjoyed reading this article and learning about people’s reactions on this hot topic. What I learned was completely one sides. A good article should present both points of view.

    What happened to fair and balanced journalism?

  2. This was just one of many stories we have done and plan to do about this important topic. We will definitely cover all sides to the arguments as the draft moves toward adoption by the city.


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