Sat, May

The Sham and the Shame of LA’s Small Lot Ordinance … Same Old Sausage


VOICE OF THE PEOPLE--For those who thought a new Department of City Planning (“DCP”) Director (“Director”) would mean a new direction for the department, the proof of the Small Lot Ordinance (“SLO”) update process indicates we are back to the same old sausage. Or similar words to that. 

Recent changes were made in DCP with promises of Small Lot Ordinance updates after citizens citywide rose to challenge these Small Lot Subdivision (“SLS”) projects. Some skeptics remarked the new Director was the “organization guy” in the underpinning of the original 2005 Small Lot Subdivision (“SLS”) Ordinance. 

The DCP cites that, overall, 11% of new projects are appealed, while 22% of SLS were appealed. Wiser planning processes might have been to truly examine the approved/constructed projects and connect the dots with the citizens’ comments. 

The La Brea Willoughby Coalition (“LCW”) neighborhood is a microcosm of these dynamics. Four SLS projects proposed and approved within a one-block area resulted in loss of affordable rent-control units on all project lots. The projects also resulted in several appeals and two lawsuits in which LWC prevailed. 

The LWC concerns and questions were well represented at two of the three initial public hearings and in two extensive comment documents. In this rare opportunity to build and strengthen the Ordinance, LWC’s plea was for all issues and components to be completed, made clear and concrete, and codified in an enforceable Ordinance. Such an overall planning process and policies would better serve applicants, city agencies, and citizens to promote more collaborative, non-litigious relationships with more rapid planning/construction of community compatible projects. 

After all the time and work by citywide organizations, the same “fast track” schedule set under the previous director was kept. Final public comments and questions to the draft documents due by August 8 were invalidated by the lack of sufficient time for a credible Staff Report (”Report”). The City Planning Commission (CPC) hearing was scheduled in less than three weeks on August 25, after the comments were due.   

The LWC recognized the staff needed more time to complete a comprehensive Report and citizens needed more time for a full review of the Report. Neighborhood Councils certainly could not agendize or adequately prepare for the CPC hearing. LWC and other citizens raised these facts to the DCP administration several times, first on August 8. 

On August 15, a DCP administrator finally called this LWC representative. LWC gave reasons to slow down the Report and review periods verbally and by letter to this administer. The administrator admitted it was not enough time for adequate meetings, review, and motions by neighborhood councils and other organizations. No further follow-up was received as the Report was distributed on August 18 and the CPC hearing was scheduled for one week later on August 25, on the previously set schedule. 

Certainly, with this timeline, we wonder if the CPC can truly review the Report or will it simply adopt and approve the staff recommendations? As there has been limited outside review -- and even less time to submit written comments -- the CPC hearing means “1-minute public comment.” Thank you. 

The process and outcomes are not shaped by broad citizen input and certainly lack credibility. The Report with limited comments, shows minor, token changes, while major concerns were reduced to brief phases with no context or rationale -- or not included at all. For example, in this Ordinance, with its slippery language, there are no project notices to citizens or obligatory neighborhood council hearings. No enforcement measures are included. The “Design Standard testing” phase has no timeline specified. 

The real “shiny object diversion” is the elimination of essential environmental review consisting of a categorical exemption. As it is stated, these smaller developments, with no environmental cumulative impacts, require no review. But wait -- the average lot with a 1500-2000 square foot dwelling and four occupants are in play as SLS will now construct three or more 2000 sq. ft. structures for four or more occupants each, having all the predictable impacts – and it will have no review. Period. 

Clearly the DCP systems reverted to the previous models and missed this opportunity to bring in a new planning process -- to provide more eyes and greater insights citywide. This affects all of us, so please attend the hearing and offer your comments for greater citizen participation to shine a bright light on this travesty. 

The LWC will continue to rigorously fight for our rights and our neighborhood through our zoning codes and “Q” conditions, all the way through the courts/legal systems.

(Lucille Saunders is the La Brea Willoughby Coalition president and a citywide community activist. She welcomes all comments and questions at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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