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Important Current Issues

Concerns Raised at the Tarzana Property Owners Association Town Hall Forum

The revision of the Planning and Zoning Code and the merger of the Departments of Planning and Building and Safety will hopefully go a long way toward mitigating these problems.  The suggestion made at the Forum, that specific training be required for those people who must interpret and oversee the regulations, would also alleviate many of the problems and our concerns.  

The specific concern raised by many of the questions from the audience is that the various plans and code provisions are not being followed and that existing and proposed State and City legislation seriously threatens our single family residences and even the viability of zoning and of community plans.  Let me address the threat specific to single family residences. There are basically four general elements of the threat:

  • Drug and alcohol rehab facilities, sober living homes, and other boarding houses
  • Eldercare facilities
  • Second structures on single family residential lots
  • The failure of the Planning and Building and Safety reviews to conform to the specifics of the various plans, ordinances, decisions, etc.

Sober living/boarding houses.  State and Federal law preclude any city jurisdiction over these facilities that house six or fewer people.  We have no problem with these facilities; they serve a community purpose and rarely have a negative impact on their neighbors or the community.  It’s the larger facilities, that are not licensed and regulated by the State, that cause problems such as public drunkenness, excessive noise, excessive vehicle parking, smoke enveloping neighbors’ yards and even public sexual activity, not to mention the recent murder of four people at such a facility in Northridge.  In addition to the impact on the community, occupants are often subjected to inhumane conditions including severe overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.  Recent cases have involved 20, 30, and even more people jammed into three or four bedroom single family houses.  Even ignoring the egregious conditions of many of these facilities, they are essentially boarding houses and are not permitted in single family residential zones.  The City has been trying to enact a definitive ordinance for over five years.  The current version, the Community Care Facilities Ordinance (CCFO), was drafted by the City Attorney’s office in 2011.  It has a number of excellent provisions and is supported, with suggested modifications, by a wide array of homeowners groups, neighborhood councils, and civic activists.  It contains two flaws, however, that require modification.  The first is that it would abolish the current, extremely important, requirement that State licensed facilities (for seven or more) must hold public hearings and be granted a Conditional Use Permit. The second is that the provisions for enforcement are weak, at best.  LAPD Chief Beck has published several suggestions in that vein that must be included.  Among them are registration with the City and a fee for enforcement of the ordinance, required spacing between such facilities and separation from sensitive uses such as schools, and the right of unannounced inspection by the City to ascertain whether the facility is in conformance with the ordinance. 

What points would we want to see followed up on? Basically:

  • Have Planning work with the City Attorney’s office to suggest the noted revisions to the CCFO.
  • Have Building and Safety more aggressively respond to citizen complaints about such illegal boarding homes, cite observed violations, and pursue mitigation of observed code violations.

Eldercare Facilities.
In 2006 the City enacted the Eldercare Ordinance which would allow construction and operation of eldercare facilities in essentially any zone in the City.  However, in order to approve an application, the Zoning Administrator must find that the proposed structure meets ALL six of the following conditions:

  • The strict application of the land use regulations on the subject property would result in practical difficulties or unnecessary hardships inconsistent with the general purpose and intent of the zoning regulations
  • Will not be materially detrimental or injurious to properties or improvements in the immediate area. 
  • Will provide services to the elderly such as housing, medical services, social services, or long term care to meet the citywide demand
  • Will not create an adverse impact on street access or circulation in the surrounding neighborhood.
  • Consists of an arrangement of buildings and structures (including height, bulk, and setbacks), off-street parking facilities, loading areas, lighting, landscaping, trash collection, and other pertinent improvements, which is or will be compatible with existing and planned future development on neighboring properties.
  • Is in conformance with any applicable provision of the General Plan.

In addition, the proposed facilities must abide by the code provisions resulting from adoption of the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance (BMO). 

There have been several applications for Eldercare facilities, all in RA zoned areas, in the past two years.  RA zones are particularly vulnerable since the land cost per acre is significantly cheaper than in other zones.  In the three most recent cases, the ZA has basically ignored the requirement that the proposed facility meet all of the above provisions and approved the requests.  Subsequent appeals to the South Valley Area Planning Commission upheld the appeals and denied the proposed facilities in two of those cases.  One was subsequently approved by an action of the City Council and is now be before the courts.  The third appeal is currently before the North Valley Area Planning Commission.  Other cases are in an earlier stage.  In all cases, the proposed facilities have been vigorously opposed by the surrounding community as extremely disruptive of their neighborhoods, not in accord with the General Plan or Community Plans, not satisfying any realistic current or future need, and not in accord with the BMO. 

What points would we want to see followed up on? Basically:

  • Have the Planning Department work with the City Attorney’s Office and the Council to re-examine the need for the ordinance and to repeal it or make substantive modifications to it.
  • Train the Zoning Administrators to pay strict attention to the requirements of the Eldercare Ordinance when considering applications and require strict adherence to those requirements
  • Conduct a study to quantify the need, particularly the need for people who could afford the $5000 per month or more rent typically charged and the geographic aspects of that need.
  • Work with the City Attorney’s Office and the Council to enact an amendment to the ordinance which would mandate the removal of failed Eldercare facilities in the future and eliminate the possibility that they would be turned into hotels, boarding houses, or similar non-permitted uses.

Second structures.
In 2002 the State passed AB 1866 which had two provisions.  The main thrust of the bill was to provide incentives for developers to include lower income housing units in new multiple family developments.  There is no problem with that provision.  The second provision authorized cities to establish, by ordinance, minimum requirements which must be met for approval of a second dwelling unit on single family zoned properties.  If no ordinance is enacted by the city, then certain State regulations take precedence.  Los Angeles has not enacted an ordinance.  Rather, it Zoning Administrator memo, ZA 120, to establish the criteria for approval of these second dwelling units.  While ZA 120 generally follows the requirements of AB 1866, the memo and procedures ignore other requirements. One other provision of AB 1866 would require the City to:
identify sites for second units based on the number of second units developed in the prior housing element planning period whether or not the units are permitted by right, the need for these units in the community, the resources or incentives available for their development, and any other relevant factors…
No such survey has apparently been conducted by the City either to determine the number of second units in the prior period or to establish the need in various communities.

The concern is that this memo, and the State law that authorizes second units, will essentially destroy the concept of single family residential areas. 

What points would we want to see followed up on? Basically:

  • Work with the City Attorney’s Office and the Council to adopt a moratorium on approval of second units until surveys of prior second unit approvals and community need can be established
  • Conduct a survey of prior second unit approvals and establish criteria to define community need.
  • Work with the City Attorney’s Office and the Council to adopt a position that AB 1866 must be repealed or at least modified to include provisions allowing cities to impose additional conditions.  An earlier version of the City implementation for ADUs, for example, required that the lot be at least 50% greater than the minimum size for that zone.

 Planning and Building and Safety Reviews
The current division of labor between the Departments of Planning and Building and Safety result in confusion for builders and for homeowners trying to report violations.  The current code is outdated and often self-contradictory.  Ambiguities, omissions, misinterpretations, and errors made at one stage are difficult to correct later in the building stage.   Recent examples include allowing a new building on a property to illegally retain pre-existing rights restricted to remodels on an existing building, contradictory interpretation of conditions imposed on specific properties by ZAs and Area Planning Commissions, and resource allocations that limit the response of DBS to citizen complaints.  As noted above, hopefully the Code revision and departments merger, along with item specific training, will mitigate these problems.

What points would we want to see followed up on? Basically:

  • Rapidly and effectively integrate the functions currently residing in the Departments of Planning and Building and Safety that deal with single family residential housing  
  • Proceed with the planned revision of the code, including empaneling a citizens review panel that includes representatives of single family residential communities
  • Ensure that the Plan Review Process require strict compliance with all regulations and conditions placed on a property.
  • Ensure that all employees of the new department involved with inspection are aware of and enforce all conditions placed on that property.
  •  

Mansionization
The Baseline Mansionization Ordinance and Hillside Ordinance regulate the maximum size of homes based on lot size and zone.  There are several bonuses allowed if the homes meet specific requirements.  Apparently, the requirements to grant bonus provisions, particularly the Green Bonus, were essentially being ignored and granted simply by permit application.  Based on Section 12.08.c.5 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code, to obtain  a certified “green” building permit, the applicant was required  to show substantial compliance with the requirements of the US Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes at the Certified level, documentation that the project registered and paid fees for the LEED for Homes Program, provide a  preliminary checklist from an approved LEED for Homes Provider, and provide a complete set of plans with the LEED for Homes measures signed by a LEED for Homes contracted provider.  Apparently, there are no records that homes granted the bonus followed these requirements and no records.  The US Green Building Council maintains a full national directory of all US homes certified through their LEED for Homes program; no Los Angeles homes are on the list.  Since January 2011 Los Angeles requires compliance with Tier One of the Green Building Ordinance (LAMC 12.08.C.5 (c) (5) whose requirements equal or exceed LEED homes at the certified level and contains demolition requirements, that contractors routinely ignore and inspectors do not enforce.  If the ordinance is a general requirement, why do those homes qualify for an FAR bonus?  Again, there do not appear to be any official records identifying which properties received their FAR bonus through the Los Angeles Green Building Ordinance.

Another questionable provision allows ministerial approval of up to 10% increase in the allowable FAR without specific guidelines.  It is just these misuses of the BMO that cause people to question its utility.

What points would we want to see followed up on? Basically:
Require specific verification that the proposed structure meets all of the requirements specified by the ordinance
Establish and publish the guidelines for ministerial granting of the FAR bonus
Conduct tests for the purported energy savings before granting of the Certificate of Occupancy and require reimbursement of the costs of such tests.  This is a bonus and must be earned.

Other items;
There were a number of other issues raised at the Tarzana Property Owners 2013 Town Hall Forum, including the upcoming mural ordinance.  It seems poor planning and poor preservation of single family residential areas to allow murals in single family neighborhoods, especially since the City can rule on content.  How would the City regulate anti-Semitic, anti-Latino, ant-black, anti-gay, anti-anything messages?  How do you distinguish between a mural and a commercial sign?
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To summarize, our single family residential areas, which make up approximately 75% of residential zones in Los Angeles, are being threatened with extinction by existing and proposed legislation and sometimes contradictory interpretation of the code, community plans, zoning, and conditions on a property. .  We need the Planning Department and other involved agencies to adhere to regulations that protect single family residential property and to repeal, modify, or enact new legislation to protect those areas.

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