Thu, Jun

Upzoning? – Up Yours!


iAUDIT - Disclaimer: This article was written with input from members of the Westchester community who are concerned about their neighborhoods, as all residents of Los Angeles should be, since what is happening there will be happening all over the city.

As James O’Sullivan described in a recent CityWatch article, the proposed housing plan maps for Los Angeles’ Westside are intended to fundamentally change the area’s character, while denying residents a voice in the process.  City planners released the most recent housing map in April, tweaked it a bit, and then re-released it in June. This map creates contiguous "density districts," entirely in the eastern part of Westchester, and proposes upzoning 2,200 residential lots—square miles of the community--erasing more than two thousand homes from an already sparse market. This could add 30,000 units in these density districts alone, and that doesn't include the traffic corridor upzoning with zoning for more units. Pacific Urbanism, a progressive-leaning consulting firm that has managed to inject itself into the planning process, states that CD 11 is expected to take on 63,000 units as part of the current upzoning cycle. These proposed upzoned areas are called “transit oriented communities” because they are supposed to have easy access to public transportation and are centers of large-scale employment.  At best, Westchester has decidedly anemic bus service, and the vast majority of its businesses are small, LAX notwithstanding.  Although it is adjacent to Silicon Beach in Playa Vista, few of Westchester’s proposed apartment projects will be designed with high-wage tech employees in mind. 

The proposed upzoning is part of the state-required Regional Housing Needs Allocation, (RHNA), process and housing for people who are of very low income, low income, and homeless will be incentivized in these areas. There will be no requirement that developers provide onsite parking.  There's no plan for infrastructure, and no plan to provide more police officers, firefighters, schools, or parks. Just housing, in monolithic apartment blocks reminiscent of Soviet-era Eastern Europe. This is “city planning” at its worst. 

Community advocacy groups like Concerned Westchester, Save Osage, Concerned for Kentwood and Concerned for Westport Heights have formed, virtually overnight, to express residents’ concerns to the City. A major concern is that these areas will become containment zones for people who are very low income, low income, and homeless. There's an area in Westchester Reading/Ramsgate, adjacent to one of the proposed density districts, that was upzoned several years ago, and the neighborhood became blighted as people began selling their homes to developers to get away from construction zones and the five-story buildings next door. This area, along with Mar Vista Gardens, are the only areas in CD 11 that are not “higher opportunity areas.” The proposed "density districts" are far larger than the Reading/Ramsgate area.     

Before its passage, State Senator Scott Weiner amended his housing upzone bill, SB 423, to exclude coastal zones and very high fire severity zones from the streamlined approval process, making it very unlikely upscale areas like Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Venice west of Lincoln, and Playa Del Rey west of Pershing will see affordable housing. The exemption from the streamlined approval process will steer developers to other areas. It appears CD-11’s residents who live outside of the exempted zones will be expected to absorb what would have been those communities’ fair share of affordable housing—ergo, the upzoning for more than 50,000 units in Westchester.

In what has become standard practice, neither the City nor the Council office are providing residents with information as to the target numbers for any community, or if some areas will be taking on the exempted communities’ share of affordable projects. They claim the numbers haven’t been finalized, but as Mr. O’Sullivan pointed out in his article, once the numbers are released, it will be virtually impossible to change the target. In practice, the City has provided incorrect information, such as "This will be like SB 9 with a maximum of four units on each lot and people can already build four units under SB 9, so this is no different”.  What they fail to say is that when you include all the density bonuses and TOC bonuses, five stories will be allowed on a residential lot, and 11 units, on up to 15 stories in some upzoned areas.

Most of Westchester’s streets are already jammed with cars; most of the housing stock dates to the 1940’s, and many homes have one-car garages. Of course, most families have one or more cars and must park on the street. People going to LAX park their cars in residential areas and Uber to the airport to save parking costs. Many homes are rented to  LMU students, most of whom have cars and take up more parking spots. The upzoning plans assume tenants will use LA’s infamously inefficient, inconvenient and unsafe public transportation system, so they have few if any parking requirements. 

The purpose of RHNA and the city housing element is to provide housing in high opportunity areas and the city is providing incentives and bonuses aplenty for construction. Residents are concerned these density districts will quickly turn into areas of high poverty and segregation, like Mar Vista Gardens, which is directly contrary to the core objectives and purpose of RHNA and the City Housing Element. Most of Westchester’s public schools, except for a couple of elementary charter schools, are already very low achieving. People moving to so-called “high opportunity areas” will be sending their children to schools that are already struggling. 

People in the proposed density districts feel hopeless and many are talking about selling their homes before developers buy the lot next to their homes and their streets become construction zones.  Yet moving is stressful and expensive. Homeowners who sell  would end up with a higher property tax basis unless they are seniors. Their children would have to change schools, and many would have farther commutes to work, making traffic that much worse. People who live in rent stabilized homes would be displaced.     

You can get more details on Concerned for Kentwood’s website , where you can  find maps, some news pieces, FAQs, plus links to the Community Alliance, Save Osage, and Concerned or Westport Heights. 

(Tim Campbell is a resident of Westchester who spent a career in the public service and managed a municipal performance audit program.  He focuses on outcomes instead of process. Tim is a regular contributor to CityWatchLA.)