DEEGAN ON LA--Developer wants to build where he is not allowed to by current zoning, so he asks his Councilmember, who gives an informal backroom nod, to change the zoning. (It is not a variance—-those are small changes that do not change the land use at all, and are unaffected by Measure S). 

  • Entire City Council then backs the local Councilman and suddenly a tower is next door to a two-story business or residence. Had the zone change been denied, this would not be allowed. 
  • The zone change is called spot zoning. 
  • Measure S asks for a two-year moratorium on spot zoning, to give the City Council a good start on its long delayed updating of the City’s General Plan. Measure S does not call for a halt to all construction, it affects only 5%—-the developer who get spot zoning fro the City Council. 
  • 95% of building permits and projects in the pipeline are not asking for spot zoning, so there will be no slowdown in growth, employment, etc. In fact, Los Angeles is less likely to be importing workers to keep up with the historic permanent transit tax construction and historic homeless construction and approved by voters in November. 
  • Developers currently hire their own consultant to conduct Environmental Impact Reports that tell the public, and the city, the environmental consequences of the building project, and what mitigation the developer is willing to make. The developer controls the content of the report, including reading any bad news first, then reshaping the conclusions, before going public. 
  • Measure S will take this power to hire environmental cops away from developers and force them to use independent environmental consultants that the city selects. Developer would pay, but city would hire from their approved consultants. 
  • Think about this, among the blizzard of rhetoric and well-financed scare tactics against Measure S that are flooding the city. 
  • Then, vote Yes on Measure S.

 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

ELECTION WATCH--Back on January 7, we wrote about Gilbert Cedillo’s alleged misuse of his City Council resources in his CD 1 reelection bid. Only a week later, we again covered Cedillo’s alleged misuse of his office resources when city-funded newsletters were displayed next to campaign collateral at his election bid event – and city employees proudly displayed the official city seal on windbreakers they chose to don at the same event. 

Activist Marc Caswell says, “Since the article detailing the issue appeared in CityWatch, the City Hall address was removed from the template of his campaign emails but now we have even more evidence that they are using the same account and template for both official City business and electioneering,” which Caswell says “proves that someone is using the same Nationbuilder account for electioneering, likely paid for by taxpayer CD 1 funds.”

And on February 8, Cedillo apparently sent a detailed four-page letter defending his suitability for endorsement to the LA Times editorial staff – using, yes, his City Council letterhead!

Below the official City Seal and his office identification – Gilbert Cedillo, First Council District, Cedillo writes: 

For the record, in your recent endorsement statement, you called for a city leader who believes wholeheartedly in a more sustainable type of growth. In terms of creating a more sustainable Council District 1, I have championed fairness of access, social equity, and environmental justices for my constituents … 

According to Caswell, ethics violation complaints have been filed.

FYI the LA Times editorial board has endorsed Cedillo’s challenger, newcomer Bray-Ali for the March 7 election.

Will Cedillo continue to temp the Ethics Violation gods? We’ll keep you posted.

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.)

-cw

NEIGHBORHOODS LA--The Beverly Wilshire Homes Association (BWHA) has been a strong supporter of Measure S, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, over the past year. These are some of our reasons: 

First, if LA voters approve Measure S on March 7, they will force the City of Los Angeles to finally update its legally required but largely outdated General Plan. The many decades of City officials “planning” Los Angeles through the gyrations of speculative real estate markets would finally end. 

Second, these General Plan updates must be based on extensive community meetings held on evening and weekends, not just comments on websites, a few public workshops, and daytime public hearings. Once the City Council adopts new General Plan Elements (chapters), future General Plan amendments can only apply to significant geographical areas, no longer to single parcels. Furthermore, these General Plan amendments must be based on a convincing case of public benefits, no longer just private gain. While the City of LA’s Charter already presents these stringent criteria for General Plan amendments, Measure S fortifies these Charter provisions to avoid any resumption of pay-to-play at City Hall. 

Third, Measure S not only promotes transparency at City Hall, but also ensures that our elected officials properly govern a city of nearly 4,000,0000 residents and work force of 2,000,000 employees through a carefully prepared, updated, and properly implemented General Plan. 

Fourth, Measure S also stops the City Council from adopting parcel level zoning and planning ordinances to feather the nest of their major campaign contributors. The L.A. Times calls this soft corruption because real estate interests engage in pay-to-play to obtain special treatment from elected officials for their properties. This is why these City Hall players have lead the charge against Measure S, including the four large real estate firms funding the no on S campaign: Westfield Shopping Centers, Palladium, Crescent Heights, and Eli Broad. 

Fifth, because this is such an important voter initiative to curtail the outsized influence of big real estate companies at City Hall, there is ample reason why so many different groups already support or should support Measure S. This not only includes neighborhood groups, like the BWHA, but also labor, environmental, and affordable housing groups. It is high time for them to take a stand with their constituents, not their donors.  

Since the anti-S campaign cannot fess-up and tell the truth “We want to stick with the status quo since it allows us to make sky-high profits through unplanned sky-high buildings.” Instead, they have resorted to a series of bogus claims that the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association wholeheartedly rejects: 

Bogus Claim 1 - Measure S will stop development in Los Angeles: Simply wrong. Measure S would not impact any public works projects and only affects a small percentage of real estate projects, mostly luxury buildings.  Each year LA’s Department of Building and Safety processes 100,000 permits. Of these, only about 600 projects involve the City Council legislative actions targeted by Measure S. 

Bogus Claim 2 - Measure S is a housing ban. Also simply wrong. Many of LADBS’s 100,000 annual permits involve housing, and they will continue to be processed by-right. This includes residential projects built on commercial lots, where LA zoning laws permit by-right construction. Furthermore, about 80 percent of the 3,000 annual building permit cases that City Planning reviews do not involve any City Council legislative actions. These cases, too, are exempt from Measure S, as are 100 percent affordable housing projects. 

Bogus Claim 3 - Measure S stops the construction of affordable housing. Totally wrong. Only 2 percent of new housing in Los Angeles is affordable, and according to the Department of City Planning’s Citywide Metric’s report, this 2 percent is built through density bonuses, not the parcel-specific City Council spot-zone change ordinances and spot-General Plan Amendments that Measure S targets. 

Bogus Claim 4 - Measure S is a job killer.   Also wrong. This claim is based on a Beacon Economics study paid for the big real estate companies funding the no on S campaign. But, it is built on a faulty assumption; if real estate firms can no longer obtain pay-to-play spot-zones for their unplanned projects in Los Angeles, they will bolt to other cities. There is no evidence for this claim. Nearby well-planned cities that do not engage in these unethical planning practices, such as Pasadena and Santa Monica, generate many construction jobs without dishing out spot-zone changes and General Plan amendments LA-style. 

Bogus Claim 5 - Measure S promotes urban sprawl. This claim, too, is bogus. Los Angeles’s adopted General Plan is anti-sprawl, and Measure S calls for these official documents to be updated and then meticulously followed, not overturned on behalf of big developers with big pockets. Sustainability policies and programs are laced through the new Mobility Element, as well as the older elements, such as the General Plan Framework, Land Use, Air Quality, Open Space, and Conservation. Anyone who claims that a voter initiative to strengthen LA’s General Plan is really a stalking horse for sprawl has clearly never bothered to read the planning documents they so glibly malign.  

Pro-S organizations, like the BWHA, now encounter newly minted bogus claims on a daily basis. We attempt to debunk them as quickly as we can. But, if you think we have missed one, send an email to rhplatkin@gmail.com, and I will get back to you directly or through this CityWatch LA column. 

 

(Dick Platkin is a former LA City Planner who reports on local planning issues for City Watch. He also serves on the board of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association.)

-cw

NEIGHBORHOODS LA--I know or have met a number of our elected officials and their staff. I have tremendous respect for some of these people. To me, YES on Measure S” is not about which elected officials have taken funds from developers. It is about our quality of life in the City of Los Angeles and protecting our Neighborhoods from over-development. That being said, I do believe that it is true, that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”, or in other words, the more that you donate or work for a campaign or support an elected official, the more likely you are to get access later.

As a former Neighborhood Council member, I have been hesitant to endorse elected officials because of my fear that if I endorse one, and someone else is elected, that I will not have access to that elected official.

The “YES on Measure S Campaign” to me focuses on one issue – the need to update our community plans. Unless you are a developer, or you have a problem in your neighborhood, it is my opinion that the vast majority of Los Angeles residents do not even know what a Neighborhood Council is, let alone what a Community Plan is.

In my community of West Hills, we fall under two Community Plans – we are in the Chatsworth - Porter Ranch Community Plan for residents / businesses north of Roscoe, and in the Canoga Park – Winnetka - Woodland Hills -West Hills Community Plan for residences and businesses south of Roscoe.

One of my first projects as a member of the West Hills Neighborhood Council (WHNC) was the development of “Corporate Pointe”. This is at the site of what was the DeVry campus at Roscoe and Fallbrook. Around 2008, I was invited to tour that property with the owner’s representatives. In the meantime, the local neighbors had become strongly organized against a project that would allow a commercial structure on this property that is surrounded on three sides by single family residences. This proposed structure could be 100 feet tall under the Chatsworth - Porter Ranch Community Plan. Since the elevation of the lot was greater than thirty feet above its local neighbors, the building would rise about 130 or more feet above those neighbors.

If this project was in West Hills south of Roscoe, the height limit would be only 45 feet!

At the time, I was not familiar with the City Planning process. I was not told the date of the City’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee – PLUM. So my Neighborhood Council colleagues and I went to the City Hall meeting where this project was on the agenda. We filled out the required speaker cards. And this is when I learned that if a project has already been approved in PLUM, and by the Councilmember, that the City Council would vote on this item with a bunch of agenda items in an automatic fashion. The Councilmember did not even have to be in their chair for an affirmative vote to count.

Since that time, I have learned a great deal about City Planning issues. I have the greatest respect for the City Planning staff members that I have worked with on many projects. However, I have seen their recommendations overridden by members of the local Planning Commissioners or the City Planning Commission.

Why do we need a moratorium on the Community Plans for two years? It is because our community plans are old and inaccurate. In the Canoga Park – Winnetka - Woodland Hills - West Hills Community Plan, it places the West Hills boundaries as:  

West Hills--This primarily single-family neighborhood is bound by Roscoe Boulevard to the north, Topanga Canyon Boulevard on the east, the Ventura Freeway to the South, and the Simi Hills on the South and Southwest.” 

In other words, this plan was written prior to the development of the Neighborhood Council system where the Neighborhood Council boundaries vary greatly from this definition.

Then let’s look at the same Community Plan for Woodland Hills:

Woodland Hills--This subarea lies in the southern portion of the Community Plan Area. The boundaries run generally along Victory Avenue from Corbin Street to Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Topanga Canyon Boulevard to US 101, US 101 Freeway west to the City limits, and the Santa Monica Mountains on the south. This subarea contains a variety of predominantly single family homes and is home to Pierce College and Warner Center.” 

If you notice, the Community Plan places the southern boundary for West Hills at the Ventura Freeway, while at the same time placing the Woodland Hills northern boundary at Victory Blvd. Why wasn’t this corrected decades ago?

The reality is that neither of these boundary descriptions for West Hills or Woodland Hills is accurate. The southern boundary of West Hills is the middle of Victory Blvd. The eastern boundary follows Shoup from Victory to Roscoe, turns east on Roscoe, where it goes north on Topanga Blvd to Nordhoff Street.

Then we have several properties in West Hills that have been Zoned “A” for Agricultural. Owners and developers are forced to go to the City to rezone these properties. However, because the Community Plans are outdated, these developers take advantage of our outdated community plans and their zones, and they often get approval to build more dense projects than the surrounding single family neighborhoods.

The “NO on Measure S Campaign” states that we have a housing shortage, and that a YES on S will block a lot of low income projects. This is actually not true – there are numerous areas where low income projects can be legally built. The “NO on S” campaign emphasizes the need for housing for the homeless. One caller from this campaign complained that Measure S would not allow the city to rezone Industrial areas for the homeless. My question is this – why would we want to place the homeless, some of our most vulnerable residents, in an industrial area that could potentially have ground water or soil contamination, or probably has some of the worst air quality in the City? Please do not fall for this argument by the “No on Measure S” campaign.

As a senior citizen, what I see in development is a lack of affordable housing for not only the homeless but for the middle class. In the Canoga Park – Winnetka - Woodland Hills - West Hills Community Plan, it states that there is a: “Need to preserve existing single family neighborhoods.” And yet, because of other ill approved projects, instead of building projects on small lots which are consistent with the surrounding neighborhood, developers are coming in with multi – family projects that are like condos, or Small Lot Subdivisions, that have a much greater density than the surrounding parcels.

Developers do not want to build single family one story homes according to one architect that I spoke with. One story homes take more land, and they require more materials for their foundations and roofs than the two story homes. So there is not as much profit in one story homes for them. I think our elected officials need to look at our real needs – not the number of units, but what kinds of units and where? “One size does not fit all” in developing communities.

When I attended a meeting with City Planning on Small Lot Subdivisions, residents of Van Nuys complained that their affordable housing units were being demolished to put in Small Lot Subdivision homes that none of them could afford. This placed these people at risk of becoming dependent on relatives or they risk becoming homeless.

In West Hills, we have an area that is currently being developed as a Small Lot Subdivision which we call the Lederer property. As a former member of the West Hills Neighborhood Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee, and as their former Environmental Committee Chair, I used a map on one of our City’s tools called ZIMAS. I estimated the number of single family home parcels that would fit on this property if they were roughly 7000 – 8000 square foot lots like those of the three surrounding neighbors. I found that only 17 homes would fit on this property, but I believe, that about 51 Small Lot Subdivision homes have been approved.

If the West Hills Neighborhood Council had updated their Community Plan years ago, as one of their former Committee Chairs was trying to do, or if their Board members had voted to take the community plans of West Hills to their Councilmember and asked to have an Interim Control Ordinance for our Community, we could have requested that the few remaining areas of developable land be zoned consistent with those adjacent single family homes. But the West Hills Community Plan has been on the back burner because, frankly, Neighborhood Council members are volunteers. Some of these volunteers have paying jobs while others take on many projects. And updating our Community Plan has not become a priority.

Our Mayor has stated that he will fund, I believe, additional staffing for City Planning to allow all of the Community Plans to be updated in about ten years. By that time, we will no longer have any buildable land, and our open space will be developed with dense projects and McMansions.

We need a “Yes on Measure S” vote to provide funding to the City Planning department to expedite the updating of these Community Plans in two years; to make zoning standards the same throughout communities that are divided into more than one community plan like West Hills; to find parcels that are appropriate for the homeless and for low income housing; and to require developers to create the much needed one story homes for the disabled and seniors who wish to age in place.

If our middle class had access to more affordable housing, if there were more single story homes, then people who own two story homes could downsize, which would allow for younger families to purchase existing homes in established single family neighborhoods.

(Christine L. Rowe is a Former West Hills Neighborhood Councilmember and a Public Health and Environmental Health Advocate.)

-cw