THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--The rumble between pro-development interests and those who support neighborhood integrity takes a possible new turn with members of the Coalition to Preserve LA stating although they have enough signatures to qualify for the March 2017 ballot, they’d be willing to withdraw the initiative if Mayor Garcetti would agree to an alternative plan. As written, the measure would place a temporary ban on projects outside the existing zoning and land use rules for the area. If Garcetti does not agree with the group’s terms, it’s All Systems Go for the petition, per Jill Stewart, the Coalition’s campaign director.
Most of you probably know the scenario; developers who often have a cozy relationship with City Council members typically plead their case for general plan amendments from the city to move these mammoth projects forward.
“That’s a wake-up call for the City Council,” Stewart told reporters. “No more mischief, no more backroom meetings with developers during a two-year period. Take all that wasted time you’ve spent creating a luxury housing glut in Los Angeles and instead, do your job, create a plan for LA that involves the public.”
The Coalition sent a letter to Garcetti, signed by several dozen reps of grassroots groups, businesses, HOA’s, and celebs including Leonardo DiCaprio, Kirsten Dunst, Chris Pine, Joaquin Phoenix, Chloe Sevigny, and Garrett Hedlund. The new proposal in front of Garcetti would ban “ex parte” meetings between council members and developers, would make the process of updating the General Plan move more transparent and would reduce “spot zoning,” now standard practice. Developers and lobbyists would also be banned from hand-selecting the consultants responsible for Environmental Impact Reports (EIR’s.)
Arguments in favor of streamlining development point to “affordable housing” but more typically, the projects maximize profits for developers, setting aside the minimal required affordable units. Existing tenants are often tossed aside to make room for shiny new development projects and that include small lot subdivisions in areas throughout the city.
One area particularly hit by the rush to develop has been in Council District 2, represented by Council Member Paul Krekorian. The activists of Save Valley Village are frustrated with Krekorian who they say consistently ignores their interests.
Case in point, a duplex on Tujunga that houses section 8 and HUD tenants --developer Apik Minnossian is seeking approval of eight units in three-story terraced buildings, along with 16 parking spaces. Neighbors say the building does not fit the criteria for a “small lot subdivision and is not in keeping with the integrity of the neighborhood.”
“We’re seeing a disturbing trend of deep complicity from Councilman Krekorian’s office and his Planning and Land Use Commissioner Karo Torossian who signed off on it in direct opposition to the Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Commission recommendations,” said an activist.
I’ve been in talks with the Save Valley Village activists and other concerned with development in their neighborhood for several months, sitting in on living room meetings and engaging in phone conversations. Hearing the personal stories of those impacted by the takeover of their streets has been compelling, taking the issue to a new level.
The proposed Tujunga project would impact the tenants of the existing building. The aunt of an existing tenant wrote this email:
“My nephew lives in the triplex at 4531 Tujunga. He is on social security disability income. If these triplexes get demolished there is nothing comparable in the whole LA County for him to go. There is no affordable housing available. I have been researching and I don’t see any affordable housing available. I am very much afraid my nephew will be homeless not to mention the other tenants.
The city keeps letting the developers demolish all the affordable housing without replacing comparable units. It’s creating our homeless epidemic. I don’t know where my nephew will live. HUD and Housing nonprofits have 4 year waiting lists. It’s insane. Please, please reconsider and not allow more people to become homeless.”
Activists say they want Krekorian to put a “Q” provision on the Tujunga block that would limit buildings to 31 feet and to match the architectural integrity or look of the neighborhood. “General and community plans are very specific about new construction conforming to height, aesthetics, and density of the neighborhoods,” said a spokesperson for the neighborhood, which is 95 percent single-story. Instead of serving the interests of developers, the group is asking Krekorian to take into account property values, privacy, environmental impact, and other issues that impact neighbors.
It’s easy to forget at the end of the day that the surge in development and the City Council’s rather lax approval process affects people’s lives, whether those displaced from affordable housing or neighbors who wish to maintain their property values and quality of life. Under the current conditions, development is not adding affordable housing as much as lining the already deep pockets of developers who may continue their cozy, symbiotic relationship with council members without some oversight.
(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.)