The November meeting of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Committee began on a somber note for its members, who offered a moment of silence in honor of former committee member and secretary Joe Hoffman, who passed away on November 17, just a few short months after being diagnosed with PML, a devastating neurological disease. Earlier this month, City Council Member Ryu presented a Certificate of Recognition to Hoffman at his home, at a small gathering of his friends and family. Hoffman was also honored with an adjournment motion at last Friday’s City Council meeting.
In more usual business for Tuesday’s LUC meeting representatives of the owner of 545 S. Gramercy Drive asked the committee to reconsider its position of opposition to an application to permit a commercia office in the property, which is in an R-1 single family zone. At one time, the property was use as an adult day care with philanthropic care. The owner, Deborah Kim, told the committee that she loves her house and her neighborhood. She said she purchased the property five years ago, thinking she could operate an accounting business out of the home, with five employees. She is currently caring for her mother in the home, along with two employees, which Kim says is in compliance with the code for a home business. The zoning administrator has already denied the application, but Kim is appealing the decision, and said she hoped to secure the GWNC’s support, arguing that if she can’t operate her business in the home, she could be forced to sell it, and a new owner might choose to tear down the house.
The full GWNC board is already on record opposing the project, and several committee members said they felt strongly about supporting the current zoning, even though they were not not unsympathetic to Kim’s application. Three committee members voted to approve the motion denying support of the appeal, and six members abstained from the vote. The committee offered to write a letter to the Zoning administrator, noting that members are sympathetic, but still want to support the zoning. The committee members also urged the applicant to consider landmarking the house so it would be less likely to be torn down at some point.
Regarding another project, several residents at the meeting spoke against a proposal for a new 5-story, 14-unit, 56-ft. apartment building, with one (1) subterranean parking level for 13 vehicle spaces and 16 bicycle spaces at 611 N Manhattan Place. (DIR-2474 018-4817-TOC, ENV-2018-4818-CE) The GWNC addressed the project at an earlier meeting, and has already sent a letter to city officials opposing it. The developer was not in attendance and did not speak on the project.
Next, Dick Platkin, a resident of Beverly Grove and a former planner for the City of Los Angeles, spoke to the committee about the impact of new transit-area density bonuses on the population of the Wilshire Community Plan area, which is currently about 290,000. Platkin said that adding all the permitted density from recently-instituted Transit Oriented Community bonuses and the proposed Purple Line Transit Neghborhood Plan, along with previously-instituted bonuses permitted by Senate Bill 1818 and new accessory dwelling unit rules, could increase the area’s population to many as 800,000 people. Platkin warned that current infrastructure doesn’t support the increased population. He said he is looking forward to the city’s planned updates of the Wilshire Community Plan, which is one of 16 of the city’s 35 plans that are currently being updated.
Platkin said he learned in July that the Planning Department was working on transit line planning and hoped to increase density along the Purple Line Metro four mile extension now under construction as part of that planning. It is his understanding that areas from Highland Avenue to Beverly Hills along Wilshire Blvd. will be extensively up-zoned under the the proposed TNP, as well as each of the major corridors north and south of Wilshire along San Vicente (up to Cedars Sinai Medical Center), Fairfax Avenue (from Little Ethiopia on the south to approximately Beverly Blvd on the north), and La Brea Avenue (from Beverly Blvd to San Vicente or Pico Blvd.).
Platkin said he and other neighborhood leaders have met with the CD5 Council Member Paul Koretz and his staff, as well as others, to urge the City Planning Department to incorporate transit planning into the Wilshire Community Plan update process before the other plans are approved.
“The best way to plan for up zoning is to improve the public environment; you need to plan for sharing bicycle lanes; you need to have scrambled intersections; you need to upgrade all of the bus shelters rather than little bus stops with one bus bench,” said Platkin. He also said that neighborhood leaders have received very little support so far for their ideas, and several neighborhoods were caught completely by surprised by the city’s plans.Platkin said he is concerned that more density may be added with very few infrastructure improvements. He also said that many neighborhoods were not given any notice about the planning process for the TNP. Hancock Park HOA President Cindy Chvatal-Keane said her neighborhood did not receive any notice of the TNP plans that could affect Hancock Park. [Ed. note: the Purple Line Transit Neighborhood Plan has been in the works since 2016, with several rounds of community meetings held since then.]
In a related matter, Lucille Saunders, President of the La Brea-Willoughby Coalition, told the committee that she is concerned with a new ordinance called the Policies and Procedures Ordinance, developed by the Planning Department to simplify language and streamline procedures that appeared in various places in the current code, but which are being re-written as part of the ReCode LA project. Saunders said she participated for several years in the ReCode LA process, the Planning Departments effort to update the zoning code for the City that started in 2013, and she was always told it was simply procedural, with no substantive changes to the code…but that instead, the new ordinance makes significant changes.
Saunders said the new ordinance would, in effect, remove city council offices and neighborhood councils from planning approval discussions. She said more detail about what’s in the ordinance could be found in an editorial posted on CityWatchLA by Casey Maddren, President of United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles (UN4LA), a grass roots group advocating for better planning, and also a CityWatch contributor. Maddren’s editorial follows an earlier editorial posted by Hydee Feldstein, an attorney, active in the PICO Neighborhood council, who sounded the alarm among community leaders about the potential impact of the ordinance.
Saunders said she and others had met with the Planning Department officials, who said they would like citizens to address their concerns, but the neighbors were later dismayed to learn the ordinance had been sent to the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee without incorporating any of their requested changes. Saunders said the ordinance needs to be stopped and the matter is urgent as the ordinance is now in the PLUM committee approval process, which takes about 75 days.
Cindy Chvatal-Keane told the committee she has organized a meeting with CD 4 Council Member David Ryu and his staff to answer questions neighborhood leaders in CD4 have about the proposed ordinance. The meeting will take place on Monday, December 4. Later in the LUC meeting, the committee voted to recommend the board support the position of theLa Brea-Willoughby Coalition letter of opposition to the Processes and Procedure ordinance.
Platkin asked the committee to endorse the latter drafted by United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles opposing the further development of the Transit Neighborhood Plans outside of the process to update the Wilshire Community plan. The committee voted unanimously to recommend that the full GWNC board endorse the letter.
In other business, the committee voted to opposed a project at 5123 West Clinton, currently under construction. It was originally proposed as duplex, not subject to review, but the applicant is now requesting a conversion to condominium units, and splitting the lot, which does require review. The applicant, Gavin McKiernan, was not present at this LUC meeting but has presented to the committee in the past. McKiernan did send letter this month, asking for support from the committee. After some discussion, the committee voted 7-1-0 to recommend the GWNC oppose the project – in large part because the applicant did not reach out to the area’s neighborhood associations before construction began on the project ,and because he has not made any accommodation to integrate the project’s design into the neighborhood’s architectural context, as was requested in conversations with the neighbors. Land Us Committee Chair Caroline Moser said she was also “reluctant to support something we didn’t see.”
Later, the committee voted 8-1-0 to recommend the GWNC oppose an application for Mozza to Go, 6610 Melrose, to renew its CUB to sell beer and wine…at least until the applicant meets with the Hancock Park Homeowner’s Association and the Melrose neighborhood association, both of which represent areas adjacent to the restaurant. No changes in the permit’s conditions are proposed in the application.
The committee also voted 8-0-1 to recommend the GWNC oppose a CUB at 474 N Western, at this time, because the applicant did not appear before the committee (this follows a stated policy of the committee).
Finally, representatives for 300 N Plymouth, a single family residence in Larchmont Village, appeared before the committee to address complaints about difficulty parking in the neighborhood near the residence, which is owned by a company called Mansion Mates and advertises room rentals (some in dormitory-style bunks) to students and young professionals. The representatives, Roslyn Francois and Art Richardson, explained they attended the meeting to meet neighbors and answer parking questions that had been raised on social media…but they also said they could not address any occupancy issues until they had spoken with their lawyers. The Buzz later contacted Mansion Mates for comment, but has not yet received a response. Below are photos from the company’s website, promoting the rooms for rent. The committee took no action in this item, and Francois and Richardson said they would contact the Larchmont Village Neighborhood Association to discuss the matter further.