Tue, Apr

Lies and Mansionizers: Spinning Some Wild Yarns about LA’s Housing Crisis


 PLATKIN ON PLANNING-Sometimes it is necessary to be as frank as possible to communicate a point, and this is such a time. It is hard to find anything like a legislative threat to someone’s business model to bring out his or her inner-scoundrel. In this case, it is real estate speculators who have generated a spirited, but thoroughly bogus defense of their construction of McMansions and their close relative, high rise luxury apartment buildings. 

In both cases the geese that lay their golden eggs are threatened by public opposition that is pressuring City Hall. And in both cases, the speculators have responded to public opposition with a torrent of lies to maintain their private gain at the public’s expense. 

Top Three Lies of the Mansionizers--Since the lies of the mansionizers – investors, contractors, realtors, architects, and a few bamboozled residents who support the construction of McMansions – were resurrected last week at the City Planning Commission’s public hearing on amendments to the Baseline and Hillside Mansionization Ordinances, let’s start there. If you are a regular CityWatch reader, then my apologies for dredging these whoppers up from the muck. 

Lie #1. No one can tell me what to do with my property--Sorry, Charlie, but the U.S. Supreme Court approved zoning as part of the police power of local government nearly a century ago. Cities have a total right to control land use through zoning and planning, and their purpose is to find a reasonable balance among all property owners and residents when it comes to the use of land. This means that no one can do whatever they want with their property. 

Lie #2. Opponents of mansionization are opposed to progress--There is nothing modern or advanced about plopping expensive, over-sized, boxy, energy intensive, automobile-oriented McMansions into existing residential neighborhoods. If they should be built at all, they should be located in new, jumbo-sized suburban lots large enough to accommodate new jumbo-sized houses.  

Lie #3. Anti-mansionization ordinances jeopardize property values--The mansionnizers regularly trot out this lie to bamboozle low-information local residents who believe their single family home nest egg will be pulled under water by a whirlpool of zoning amendments. But there is no evidence at all for this claim. Los Angeles neighborhoods with Historical Preservation Overlay Zones, Residential Floor Area Districts, and Specific Plans have exactly the same trends in property values as adjacent neighborhoods where the mansionizers have free rein. The only threatening action to property values is the construction of a McMansion next to you. In that case, the market value of your house declines by $50,000 to $100,000. 

Top Three Lies of the Luxury High Rise Syndicates--High rise buildings, mostly filled with luxury apartments, are sprouting up in many older Los Angeles neighborhoods, such as Koreatown and Hollywood. What they have in common is that most of these buildings can only be legally built through City Council legislative actions for individual parcels: zone changes, height district changes, and General Plan Amendments. This business model, which has extraordinary adverse community impacts, would have stayed out of view were it not for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. Scheduled for the March 2017 ballot, this Initiative would halt the City Council’s legislative actions to legalize these otherwise illegal high-rise luxury apartment projects through spot-zoning and spot-planning. 

The investors, contractors, sub-contractors, realtors, and their allies at City Hall, have pushed back against the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative with some truly imaginative fairy-tales, otherwise known as lies. Here is their top three: 

Lie #1. We need to continue City Council spot-zoning and spot-planning to build affordable housing--Through CityWatch and private inquiries over the past six months I have repeatedly asked for the addresses of affordable housing projects built through zone changes and/or General Plan Amendments. So far I have only been sent one address that checked out, and I am still patiently waiting for a long list to miraculously appear in my inbox. When that happens, I will gladly withdraw my accusation of lying. 

Lie #2. Los Angeles is a rapidly growing city, and its existing zoning is not sufficient to meet the housing needs of future residents--The Department of City Planning relies on the Southern California Association of Government for its population forecasts. These forecasts are notoriously high. For example the General Plan Framework Element, which is the heart of LA’s General Plan, overestimated LA’s population by over 500,000 people. It predicted a Los Angeles population of 4,300,000 people in 2010, while the US Census reported that LA’s 2010 population was only 3,800,000 people. 

But even if this and subsequent population forecasts turned out to be correct, there still is no evidence of insufficient zoning to meet future housing needs. The Framework’s own technical studies, which City Hall has never up-dated since they were submitted over 20 years ago, concluded that existing zoning (as of the mid-1990s) would build-out to a city of 8,000,000 people. Likewise, the AB 283 zoning consistency project, which ended in 1991, reached the same conclusion: Los Angeles had sufficient zoning to accommodate 5,000,000 more people. 

Lie #3. High-end market housing built through City Council legislative actions addresses Los Angeles’ housing crisis by increasing the supply of affordable housing, by forcing down housing prices, and by eventually filtering down to become affordable housing--While these claims are consistent with classical economics and the tenets of neo-liberal market fundamentalism, there is no data to back them up. Like, the tall tale that the construction of affordable housing depends on City Council legislative actions, I have also repeatedly asked for the names of Los Angeles neighborhoods where new luxury housing has forced down the price of other housing. I asked about immediate deflation of housing costs, as well as long-term reductions through filtering. So, far I have not yet received a reply. No one spinning these lies has been able to identify even one Los Angeles neighborhood where luxury housing construction increased the supply of affordable housing, even in the long-run. 


There should be no mystery why no one has stepped forward to identify the neighborhoods where speculation in McMansions or residential sky-scrapers increased the supply of affordable housing. Perhaps they don’t exist? Or perhaps the amount of existing affordable housing eliminated through demolitions and evictions to make way for speculative real estate projects vastly exceeds the number of new affordable housing units added to LA’s housing supply through City Council spot-zoning and spot-planning. 

The repetition of these lies, despite their repeated rebuttal and lack of supporting evidence, speaks volumes about the motives of those who dredge them up again and again. All they care about is their business model, not the overall well-being of Los Angeles’ residents, employees and visitors. 

As a result, any planning approach that is based on these lies will doom LA to a downward spiral of ugly, out-of-scale, out-of-character white elephant projects that clash with adopted plans and that exceed the capacity of existing and future public infrastructure and services.


(Dick Platkin reviews city planning issues for CityWatch. He is a former LA City Planner who is now active in the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association and the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council Planning Committee. Please send any comments or corrections to [email protected]. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)

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