Baseline Mansionization Ordinance Revisions Released – MMRA Votes to Support

La Brea -Hancock
A Spanish style bungalow is dwarfed by its new neighbor in the La Brea – Hancock neighborhood.

Baseline Mansionization Ordinance History

In May of 2014, City Council Member Paul Koretz introduced a motion calling for revisions to the city’s Baseline Mansionization Ordinance, the document that governs residential building sizes and is aimed at controlling the proliferation of over-sized construction in single-family neighborhoods.  The original BMO, adopted about seven years ago, turned out to be full of loopholes that, instead of having the desired curbing effect, actually allowed developers to increase square footage in a number of ways.  As a result, many of our local neighborhoods have seen increasing numbers of smaller original homes torn down and replaced with new homes that are two or three times larger than the originals.

Neighborhood outcry against “McMansions” has been building ever since, and several local neighborhoods not currently protected by Historic Preservation Overlay Zones have taken steps to protect themselves by applying for HPOZ status and/or Interim Control Ordinances that would help discourage teardowns of original homes while the city works on revising the flawed BMO.

Last week, after almost a year and a half, the city finally released a draft of the revised BMO, and the public consideration process is kicking into high gear with opportunities to review, analyze, discuss and comment on the proposals.

Activist Response to the Proposed BMO Revisions

One group at the forefront of the anti-mansionization movement for several years has been NoMoreMcMansionsInLosAngeles. A few days ago, the Miracle Mile Residential Association released a video of an interview in which NoMoreMcMansionsInLosAngeles’ Shelley Wagers discusses the proposed BMO changes and points out some of her concerns.

nomoremcmansionslogoIn the video, Wagers says that, on the positive side, the new BMO draft “sticks close to Council Member Koretz’s motion and his vision” to correct flaws in the original BMO.  She says the new draft eliminates most of the exception and bonus opportunities in the old law, and that it contains better methods for more accurately calculating floor area ratios.  Floor area exemptions for attached garages (which are often later converted to living space) are gone now, and “proportional” second stories (set back a bit from the front of the main floor of the house) would now be limited to 60% of the main floor living space instead of the old 75%.

At the same time, however, Wagers goes on to say in the video that there are still some concerns to be addressed.  First of all, the new BMO draft puts no limits on patios, breezeways and other areas without solid roofs, even though those spaces, according to Wagers, do significantly affect a property’s interaction with its environment and neighbors.  Second, while the second floor calculations are set as a percentage of first floor floor area, the draft is not clear enough on how first floor area is to be calculated.  And, finally, Wagers says the draft also contains a provision that would allow a Zoning Administrator to allow an extra 10% of floor area, without providing any parameters for how, when or why that bonus would be awarded.  Wagers says the city already has an established process in place for reviewing variance requests, so there’s no need for a more arbitrary and “behind closed doors” process such as this.

Getting the Word Out

Ken Hixon, who produced the video for the Miracle Mile Residential Association, says that organization, which has secured an ICO for the Miracle Mile neighborhood and is now working hard to establish an HPOZ, is trying to use its website in new and better ways to get the word out about preservation and issues – like the BMO draft – which directly affect neighbors.  “We have been trying for the last three or so years to create a “digital” residential association. And our YouTube channel is one of those tools. I am attempting to step up the number of videos we produce. Some people are readers and others are watchers. We’re just trying to get the information out anyway we can.”

In Hixon’s video, Wagers also encourages neighbors to get the word out specifically about the proposed BMO changes, to educate themselves on the issue (even if their neighborhoods already have an HPOZ or ICO in place), and to speak out – loudly – and make their opinions known.  “There is only one way to make a difference” she says, “…and it is making sure the decision-makers hear your voice.”

To learn more about the proposed revisions to the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance, you can view Hixon’s full interview with Wagers at https://youtu.be/vo2Z3z0cWVU

There is also more information at the NoMoreMcMansionsInLosAngeles.org website.

And the city of Los Angeles will be holding a series of informational meetings, the first of which will take place TONIGHT – Wednesday, December 2.  The community meetings include:

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 2 – MID-CITY
Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 West Washington Boulevard, Los Angeles
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 3 – WESTSIDE
Belmont Village Senior Living Westwood, 10475 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 15 – DOWNTOWN
Ronald F. Deaton Civic Auditorium, 100 W First Street, Los Angeles
(Corner of Main St & W First)
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 16 – VAN NUYS
Marvin Braude Constituent Service Center, Conference Rooms 1a & 1b,
6262 Van Nuys Blvd, Los Angeles
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

Neighborhood Response – Miracle Mile Residential Association

Many local neighborhoods are also holding their own meetings on the proposed BMO revisions.  The Miracle Mile Residential Association discussed the proposal last night (Tuesday, December 1) and adopted the following resolution, supporting NoMoreMcMansionsInLosAngeles’ official position:

The board of directors of the Miracle Mile Residential Association (MMRA) fully supports the positions held by Shelley Wagers and the organization she represents, NoMoreMcMansionsInLosAngeles.org, regarding the proposed amendments to the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance (BMO).

We are in agreement with Ms. Wagers that an amended BMO can provide much needed relief from mansionization provided that the following provisions in the draft proposal be revised and/or eliminated:

1) Eliminate the exemption for patios, breezeways, balconies, etc. 
2) Base the “proportional stories” bonus on the net footprint of the first floor, excluding any space not included in the FAR calculation. As with other “discretionary” matters, have the Planning Department handle bonuses in a properly-noticed public hearing.
3) The provision granting Zoning Administrators the privilege of awarding a 10% “bonus” adjustment in square footage without any public oversight must be eliminated.

The original BMO was riddled with loopholes that made the ordinance utterly ineffective in stemming mansionization. It is crucial that all aspects and formulas contained in an amended BMO be clearly defined and unambiguous. Every aspect of the review process must be transparent and open to full public examination and input.

If the loopholes referenced above are eliminated, the MMRA board of directors believes that the amended BMO would successfully mitigate the most egregious impacts of “McMansions” on established residential neighborhoods.

In approving this motion, the board directs the President to write a letter to Councilmember David Ryu and to the executive board of Mid City West Community Council detailing our “conditional” support of the amended BMO provided the three items above are revised to our satisfaction.

Hixon said after the meeting that “We have the utmost respect for Shelley. She has done her homework.”

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About Elizabeth Fuller

Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - first in the Sycamore Square neighborhood, and since 2012 in West Adams Heights/Sugar Hill. She was long-time board member of the Sycamore Square Neighborhood Association, currently serves on the board of the West Adams Heights/Sugar Hill Neighborhood Association, spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.

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