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

United Neighbors Group Suggests Alternative to City’s Re-Zoning Proposal

Examples of low-density commercial corridors the United Neighbors advocacy group says could be used to fully meet Los Angeles’ state-mandated target for new housing units, without re-zoning any low-density residential areas.

By now, most of us are probably aware that the State of California has required Los Angeles to add more than 450,000 new housing units by 2029, to help address the current housing crisis.  But as we’ve also reported, the city’s zoning does not currently allow for that many new units, so it will have to re-zone at least some parts of the city to allow more housing in more places, to meet the state-mandated targets.

Toward that end, the city released a plan in March that addressed the issue in two ways – first, by promoting a number of new housing development strategies (such as adaptive reuse of existing buildings, expanding developer incentive programs such as Transit Oriented Communities, designating Opportunity Corridors where more housing could be allowed than it is now, and Streamlining Approval Processes, especially for affordable housing)…and then re-zoning various parts of the city to allow all the new and/or denser housing the various strategies would create.

In general, the city’s Plan to House LA strives to add “gentle density” of various types in many different kind of neighborhoods. But neighbors in some of the city’s single-family and lower density multi-family neighborhoods are now questioning whether or not zoning changes in those areas – which provide the city with its distinctive historic character, denser tree canopies, wide variety of housing types and sizes, and large swaths of naturally-occurring affordable housing, often in older buildings – are necessary.

In fact, one particular activist group, United Neighbors, “a coalition of renters, homeowners, and community organizations” working with neighborhoods across California, including several in our general Greater Wilshire area, says the city is needlessly over-shooting its state-mandated housing targets, and that by its calculations, Los Angeles could easily meet and exceed those targets for the next eight years without rezoning or densifying any of the city’s low-density residential areas.


United Neighbors is a statewide coalition of neighborhood groups launched by Sherman Oaks residents Maria and Jeffrey Kalban, and Hancock Park resident Cindy Chvatal Keane, in 2021, during the state government’s consideration of SB 9 and SB 10, two bills signed into law last year that legalized lot splits and duplexes in single family neighborhoods, and developments of up to 10 units on parcels in certain transit-rich areas.  United Neighbors opposed those bills, but once they passed, the group turned its attention to helping individual neighborhoods across the state – including several in our general Greater Wilshire area – engage with city governments to craft new area-specific suggestions for meeting housing targets rather than accepting top-down, one-size-fits-all solutions.

Jeff Kalban told the Buzz last week that the efforts are aimed at preserving not only single-family residences, but also smaller multi-family buildings, courtyard housing, and “missing middle” options in older, more established neighborhoods, many of which are more naturally affordable than new developments.

United Neighbors’ Position on Re-Zoning Low Density Neighborhoods

According to the city’s own calculations, presented by United Neighbors to Greater Wilshire-area residents in a June 23 meeting, Los Angeles’ target number for new housing units by 2029 is 486,379 (which includes a 7% pad over the number set by the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA).  Also according to the City, current zoning would allow construction of 230,947 units, which means it needs to up-zone various parts of the city to allow for construction of an additional 255,432 housing units by 2029.

As currently proposed, however, the Department of City Planning’s new re-zoning plan would allow more than 1,400,000 new housing units.

According to the city’s plan, this new housing capacity would be created through a number of different strategies.  For example, in our Greater Wilshire area, shown in the map below, dark blue areas would be designated as Opportunity Corridors (commercial and residential areas that can be rezoned and/or redeveloped to add additional housing and density). Light blue areas are where Transit Oriented Communities incentives could be extended (offering builders the option of taller buildings, with greater density, in exchange for including a certain percentage of affordable units). Dark pink areas are those where new laws such as SB9 and 10 may allow additional density in the form of new duplexes and/or lot splits. Light pink areas are where ADUs can be encouraged. And dark gold areas are areas where Density Bonuses (similar to TOC incentives, but with rules established at the state instead of local level) could be offered to developers. (Note that the lighter gold blocks on the map are school properties, not new zoning indicators.)

Click on the map to see a fully interactive version, where you can toggle the various layers on and off.

As you can see in the color-coded map, many of these densification strategies are being proposed for current single-family and low-density multi-family neighborhoods, including Sycamore Square, La Brea Hancock, Brookside, Larchmont Village, and Ridgewood-Wilton/St. Andrews Square. (As you can also see on the map, Historic Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZs) – such as Hancock Park, Windsor Square, Windsor Village, and Wilshire Park are currently exempt from the re-zoning proposals, which don’t extend to those areas.  But Chvatal Keane told the Buzz that “for now” should be added to that sentence, and that even neighborhoods with official historic designations could become vulnerable to re-zoning, too, at some point in the future.)

Questioning the City’s Approach

But United Neighbors is taking issue with the city’s target here, and asking why it needs to up-zone for 1.4 million housing units, which is more than five times the 255,000 required by the state in the current eight-year planning cycle.

The city’s explanation, enshrined in the text of the Housing Element itself, is that, “It is important to note that the Inventory of Candidate Sites for Rezoning lists many more sites and potential units than are necessary to satisfy the RHNA requirements.  This expansive approach is purposeful to allow the flexibility for future refinement of the rezoning strategies and sites.”

But in United Neighbors says that even if the city plans for flexibility and additional future capacity, “You don’t have to rezone for more than a million units to get to 250,000.” Further, the group says, there is “no justification to up-zone single-family and multi-family neighborhoods to meet the RHNA mandate” and extending up-zoning proposals to low-density areas “doesn’t offer long term economic benefits to communities and can destabilize neighborhoods.” And Chvatal Keane further says these kinds of potentially unnecessary zoning changes in established neighborhoods could hurt the kinds of communities their residents have spent many years building. “If you start to pull the threads in a neighborhood, you ruin the neighborhood,” she said.

Instead, United Neighbors says the city can easily exceed its housing targets, with lots of room for flexibility, by maximizing the current development opportunities on city-owned properties, and along various kinds of currently underdeveloped commercial corridors (many of which are already within areas allowing TOC and Density Bonus developments).  And nearby neighbors would be more likely to support new housing development in those areas, the United Neighbors representatives said, especially if it means adjacent lower-density areas would not have to be up-zoned.

In fact, they say, the city could eliminate several entire categories of suggested up-zoning, including Opportunity Corridors, TOC expansion areas, Density Bonus expansion areas, and Affordable Housing Overlay zones…and still have plenty of housing capacity (760,000 units) above and beyond its mandated target of 255,000 new units.

Also, more specifically, nearly all of that additional capacity, says United Neighbors, could be accommodated along currently underdeveloped commercial corridors (including many where developments under TOC guidelines are already allowed)…without changing the zoning in established low-density neighborhoods.

So United Neighbors’ position is that, “The city must be razor focused on properly zoning commercial corridors where there is the capacity, infrastructure, transit, economy of scale, and community support to build the needed housing.” Also, “By rezoning commercial corridors,” the group says, “developers save time and money not needing to entitle their properties, and therefore, can be required to build at least 30% affordable units.”

Translating this to our Greater Wilshire area, the Kalbans and Chvatal Keane suggested in their local presentation that large stretches of streets such as Melrose and La Brea Avenues, as shown below, are very appropriate for new development, and could be also re-zoned as Opportunity Corridors to provide both retail spaces and new, denser housing…even though those streets weren’t called out for this kind of up-zoning in the city’s map.

New housing along these corridors, said the Kalbans, could also be layered and stepped back, so the sides adjacent to lower-density areas could provide a gentler transition to the older neighborhoods while keeping most of the new density on the sides facing the commercial streets.

And fully developing the housing potential along these busier commercial corridors, they said, would definitely be preferable to many of the suggestions in the city’s current map, such as designating the northern part of Larchmont Blvd. and the north side of Beverly Blvd. in the Larchmont area as Opportunity Corridors, allowing new 6-7-story apartment buildings in those areas.

Also, if Larchmont’s existing zoning (which does allow new 4-story buildings) is retained, the group said the city could further help to preserve the overall neighborhood character by adopting new design guidelines that would steer developer choices for things like appropriate building forms, setbacks, pedestrian infrastructure, landscaping and more. (This is something a working group from the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council is also currently exploring.)

How to Further Identify Additional Density Opportunities

In general, United Neighbors says it supports the city’s new housing goals, but it also agrees with Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, who has said, “I would not, and I do not believe you force things on people.  But you do involve people and let them come up with their own solutions.  The attitude has to be, we all have skin in the game, and given that…how do you deal with it in your neighborhood.”

“The communities know” where the best places to put new housing would be, said Jeff Kalban, so United Neighbors is are now urging neighborhoods throughout the city to study the city’s suggested re-zoning map, identify the areas in their own neighborhoods – such as low-density commercial (C2 zone) corridors along streets like La Brea, Melrose, and Western Avenues – where new housing development would be most appropriate, and then bring those proposals to their city councilmembers, urging them to remove unnecessary residential neighborhoods from the re-zoning plan before it’s adopted by the city.

Chvatal Keane said this is what she has been doing for several months now, talking to and working to build a coalitions of many different neighborhoods, City Council representatives, and Planning Department officials about the new recommendations.  Chvatal Keane said she has talked to people in more than 25 other neighborhoods across the city, and most of them agree that the city’s current proposal “destroys neighborhoods and what we’ve built over the years.”

Maria Kalban said, though, that while the city officials they’ve spoken to so have also been “very positive” about working with neighborhood suggestions and focusing on maximizing commercial corridors, no one has yet provided a firm commitment or public support for the specific proposals.

And time may be running out.

An Urgent Ask

In the city’s presentations on the Plan to House LA last spring, Planning Department representatives designated this spring and summer as a listening period for the re-zoning proposals, with a new draft of the plan scheduled to be released in the fall. Hearings on the revised plan would follow this winter, with adoption of the final plan early next year.

That means suggestions for changes to the current proposal would have to be made in the next few weeks this summer, to give the city time to consider and incorporate them into the next draft, and to have the changes included in an environmental impact study, which will begin soon.

So United Neighbors is urging local residents to get the word out about the potential re-zoning planned for their neighborhoods, meet with their neighbors, and develop recommendations (and maps) for new housing locations that would make the most sense for their specific neighborhoods. Individual neighborhoods will also need to communicate these suggestions to their City Council representatives and the Planning Department as soon as possible, and urge the officials to publicly support the proposals. In other words, said Maria Kalban, people at the grass roots level need to tell city officials, “Wait, wait, wait – we don’t have the right solutions yet”…and then help the city create better proposals.

It may sound challenging, but both Chvatal Keane and the Kalbans said they are optimistic that neighbors uniting in this cause can be successful.

“People are banging the drum,” Chvatal Keane said, “but we need to get louder.”

And “The data shows we can do this,” said Maria Kalban.  Also, if Los Angeles can lead the charge with community-based planning for additional density, she said, she believes it can become a model for cities throughout the state – and beyond. “We just want to help,” she said.

Getting Involved

Neighbors who would like to learn more about the United Neighbors approach to meeting the city’s housing targets, or who get involved in helping the city plan for new housing development in their own neighborhoods, can reach out to United Neighbors through Maria Kalban at [email protected].

Also, the Department of City Planning is offering a series of public “virtual office hours” via Google Meet to solicit public input on the new Housing Element and its various proposals. To reserve a 20-minute spot on July 10-11, 14, 17-18, or 21, sign up here. You can also email comments and suggestions to [email protected].

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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. When I got involved with Neighborhood work almost 30 years ago there was a respect for City planners. They were professionals and they went by the book. There was also an institutional memory that was passed onto new planners and sometimes those of us in the various neighborhoods that bothered to ask questions. That respect is totally gone today. The brain drain that went on after the financial collapse of 2008 hit many departments but especially planning. This update to the Housing Element combined with the recent release of the Hollywood Community Plan Update reveals there are no more brains to drain. Planning under Vince Bertoni is a department with little to no working knowledge of the Community plans or the Framework Element. It also appears to be totally under the influence of the developer class.

  2. Mr. Sullivan’s comment captures part of the problem. Related may be the disconnect between what candidates say during an election cycle and what they allow once elected.

    Mayor Bass’s comments on local control are captured in Liz Fuller’s excellent article. Then candidate, now CD 13 Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez said at a pre-election Town Hall, organized by Windsor Square, Larchmont and other GWNC communities in CD13, that he was cognizant and respected the unique characters of the neighborhoods in our area (not a direct quote). It remains to be seen whether either will stand by their words.

    Another part of the problem is the Housing Element itself. As proposed it defies common sense, logic, thoughtful planning and an appreciation that part of the beauty of Los Angeles is its fabric of diverse communities. This plan seeks only to add numbers in the easiest least sensible way to achieve a total rather than a reasoned result.

    In what distant crevasse of some planner’s mind did it seem appropriate to rezone the northern side of Beverly Boulevard from Bronson to Arden, the southern boundary to a unique charming single family home part of Larchmont, into fodder for developers to build 6 story multi-family homes? All to achieve, by the use of the Realistic Capacity notes in the plan a potential gain housing for 317.64 individuals.

    Proper planning doesn’t destroy long-standing stable neighbors for almost anything, let alone a number like that.

    Upper Larchmont Boulevard presents a rare opportunity in a city over-run with cookie cutter colored boxes masquerading as architecture. Here is an opportunity for community led development with sensible neighborhood character sensitive design guidelines, appropriate height restrictions, ground floor retail, a live work environment, walkability, and new approaches to parking, The result could be the extension of the wonderful charm of lower Larchmont Boulevard all the way up to Melrose.

    In the Housing Element, this common sense, neighborhood reinforcing plan is sacrificed to an Opportunity Corridor (replacing the preposterous TOC corridor designation) that again using the Realistic Capacity figures from the plan show potential housing for 621.05 individuals, a number far lower than a well thought out community plan would probably achieve. How is that an appropriate trade-off?

    Why don’t our City Planners focus on city-owned land and underutilized commercial corridors to create new neighborhoods with their own characters and amenities? Create and plan constructively, not destructively?

    When did the necessity to add several hundred thousand units of housing become a mandate to up zone the city to achieve five to six times that number?

    The Housing Element is a land grab by bureaucrats who seek to reshape the city to their distorted agenda whose goal is the destruction of the character of a once great city of diverse neighborhoods. All they offer in return is density. They don’t even offer affordability.

    Let’s hope Councilmembers Soto-Martinez and Mayor Bass are true to their word.


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