Thu, May

Feisty West Hills Community Wins Huge Land Use Battle

CERDAFIED - On August 22, 2013 a feisty West Hills neighborhood lead by Allan Dietel and The Community Rights Foundation of Los Angeles, WON a huge land use battle. For an entire year this pristine low density residential area tried to reach a compromise with the developers of a massive 200,000 sq ft planned Eldercare Facility development. 


At the first West Hills Neighborhood Council land use meeting the project was approved. But Allan Dietel, an architect, drew up site plans showing what it would look like in comparison to the existing community and went back to West Hills NC and convinced them to reconsider.  In a joint effort , West Hills NC and Allan Dietel’s community tried to reach a compromise with the developer Michael Harris. Only the smallest changes were ever offered by the developer. 

LA Associate ZA Charles Rausch, Jr. also required some small changes to the development regarding height and side yards but he approved it none the less. The original request was for 310 units, but the A1-1 Zone allows the maximum density of one dwelling unit per 2.5 acres of land. Of course the city believed this intense use would not have an adverse affect on traffic. Nor did they believe it would impact the quaint historical site (Canoga Mission Gallery). And he believed the General Plan supported this intense use in A1-1. 

Rausch approved this application despite the fact it was one of the largest eldercare sites ever considered. At the time of his decision, he had only received written comments from two city agencies. The Department of Transportation did not conduct a traffic study onsite or offsite offered no insight.  Though a nearby elementary school needed street safety review based on multiple accidents in the area according to local residents. The insurgence of aging drivers surely should necessitate better signage for pedestrians. 

The Community Rights Foundation of LA was called in once the opposing community received their determination approving the project.  We immediately helped with the appeal, brought community groups together, broadened the reach into the community, helped them focus on the legal issues, pushed for one last attempt to down size the 200,000 sq ft. plan but encouraged them to accept the fact that the developer was truly unwilling to compromise at the scale the community needed. 

Other Neighborhood Councils supported the appeal as well as the Tarzana Property Owners Association, and the Sherwood Forest Home Owners Association.  Nearly every group who stood against these massive institutions would have supported a small practical eldercare facility that fit in the community, but currently LA is “super sizing” everything and ignoring basic zoning and planning. 

You can’t expect greedy developers to write their own ticket and achieve compatibility with existing communities. You also can’t expect objectivity from zoning administrators who have cozied up to the developers over time.  Lastly, you really have to communicate with your councilman and make your position clear even if they won’t make their position clear. 

Determinations that quote plan policies that can not be achieved is beyond insulting. i.e.  “1-3.1 Seek a high degree of compatibility and landscaping for in-fill development to protect the character and scale of existing residential neighborhoods.” 

Many projects cannot achieve even a low degree of compatibility. They certainly wouldn’t spend money on character nor can you demand it, and why would you discuss scale when you’re putting 200,000 sq ft buildings on A1-1.  Pass out the blinders. It’s more honest, less insulting. 

But LA is doing something right, because our SVPA commissioners really can see through the smoke and mirrors, past the bussed in elders who skedaddle before a decision is rendered. They look straight  at the besieged residents who fought valiantly for a fair shake for an entire year and couldn’t get one and who are all but praying for commonsense, a lost commodity.  They actually hold you to the 5 legal findings, trying to prevent another unnecessary lawsuit. 

It’s as if the sky has parted when you win a case and save a community. Your faith is restored to you, though it is tattered and torn. There in the sea of hugs and smiles, were the many faces of a victory: The Councilman’s Representative Hannah Lee, the West Hills NC Representative, Allan Dietel, Jim Wallis and Nicole Thibadeaux the organizers, Colleen Marmor, Irene Boyd, Donnal Poppe, and I.


(Lisa Cerda is a contributor to CityWatch, a community activist, Chair of Tarzana Residents Against Poorly Planned Development, VP of Community Rights Foundation of LA, Tarzana Property Owners Association board member, and former Tarzana Neighborhood Council board member.)





Vol 11 Issue 69

Pub: Aug 27, 2013