Issue-Based Discussions Take Center Stage at GWNC Land Use Meeting

GWNC Sustainability Committee member Dan Kegel (left, closest to screen), presents the Committee’s proposed Community Impact Statement on oil well buffer zones to the GWNC Land Use Committee at last night’s meeting.

While many, if not most, of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Committee meetings focus on discussions of specific land use projects, this month’s meeting featured two lengthy discussions on larger issues that are not project specific – the proposed Purple Line Transit Neighborhood Plan, and a proposed Community Impact Statement, recommended by the GWNC’s Sustainability Committee, to support a City Council motion regarding buffer zones between oil drilling sites and housing.

Purple Line Transit Neighborhood Plan

The first of these broader discussions at last night’s meeting was about the Purple Line TNP, which several local neighborhood associations (including Hancock Park, La Brea-Hancock and Sycamore Square) have weighed in on with letters to the city requesting that the discussions of the very specific zoning plan, dealing mostly with areas along major streets near the three new Purple Line Extension subway stops, be postponed until fuller discussions of a rewrite of the full Wilshire Community Plan are scheduled in the next five years or so.  (The neighborhoods have argued that it is not wise to plan for the densification and intense redevelopment of such a small swath of the community without considering broader issues – such as infrastructure and city services – that affect the whole Community Plan area.)  Neither the GWNC board nor the LUC has so far taken an official position on the TNP, but the neighborhood association letters have been circulated to both groups, and discussions have been ongoing.

At last night’s meeting, however, a new stakeholder viewpoint was heard.  Windsor Square resident and land use attorney John Welborne (who is also the publisher of the Larchmont Chronicle), argued emphatically in favor of dealing with Transit Neighborhood Plan issues now, and not later as part of the Community Plan process.  Welborne said that the TNP actually presents a good opportunity to protect local neighborhoods, to deal with urgent densification issues now instead of years in the future, and to discuss the future of the important Purple Line corridor with a unique, concentrated focus that won’t be possible during a discussion of the wider community during the Community Plan rewrite process.  That later and wider discussion, he said, will include a greater geographic area, a greater number of issues, and a greater number of advocates and interest groups, which will all compete for attention and likely take focus away from the Purple Line area.

Welborne said he believes “kicking the can down the road” and delaying specific planning for the Purple Line area is actually the wrong approach for local neighborhoods.  He noted that the TNP will only apply to a “spindly strip” of land (see map) along Wilshire, La Brea, and Fairfax, and that it presents a unique opportunity to deal with big issues in those key areas right now rather than years from now.  “Fight the big battles when they’re right in front of you,” he said.

During his comments, Welborne also noted that some neighbors have been worried that the TNP might negatively affect local single-family neighborhoods, but he pointed out that most single-family areas near the Purple Line corridor are already protected by Historic Preservation Overlay Zones or new R1 zoning variations, which would not be touched by the city-initiated TNP.  The real threat to the area’s single family neighborhoods, Welborne contended, is the proposed statewide law SB 50, which could impose statewide zoning rules on cities that do not demonstrate adequate progress toward their housing goals.  And putting the TNP in place, Welborne further argued, could actually help fight off SB50 impositions, even if it passes, by demonstrating that Los Angeles is making serious efforts toward densifying areas – such as the major streets adjacent to the new Purple Line subway stations – where it makes sense to do so.

At last month’s LUC meeting, committee members discussed scheduling a joint meeting of local area neighborhood council Land Use Committees (Mid-City West, Olympic Park, P.I.C.O. also have territory adjacent to the proposed TNP area), to further discuss issues raised by the TNP proposal, and neighbors’ concerns.  At last night’s meeting, committee members agreed to continue studying the issue, and to think more about organizing such a multi-neighborhood discussion.  No votes were taken.  Attendees were also urged to complete the city’s Purple Line TNP Survey, which presents questions about a variety of issues involved in planning the TNP area, and which closes on March 31.

Oil Well Buffer Zones

Map showing old oil wells and digging sites in the Greater Wilshire area (plugged wells are black, capped wells are purple; none are currently producing oil or gas).

The second lengthy discussion at last night’s meeting concerned a Community Impact Statement recommended by the GWNC’s Sustainability Committee to support a 2016 City Council motion asking various city agencies to study possible new requirements for setbacks of oil and gas wells from residential uses, child care facilities, schools, medical facilities and other sensitive uses, and to work with the Los Angeles County Health Department to study the health effects of oil and gas production in Los Angeles.

The GWNC Sustainability Committee has recommended that the GWNC Board support the council motion, and presented a draft of a Community Impact Statement (CIS) to the board, expressing that support and also requesting that the city specifically require a 2,500 foot “health and safety buffer” between oil and gas extraction operations and the kinds of “sensitive uses” mentioned in the City Council’s original motion.  The Sustainability Committee’s proposal was discussed at two recent board meetings, but board members did not supported it, expressing concerns that the subject was not specific enough to the GWNC area, and that the GWNC board members are not well enough versed in the scientific and medical issues involved to make a fair assessment.  At the March GWNC board meeting, however, Land Use Committee Chair Caroline Labiner Moser invited Sustainability Committee member Dan Kegel, who had presented the issue to the board, to attend this month’s Land Use meeting to discuss the topic further.

At last night’s meeting, Kegel (who is also an occasional contributor to the Buzz, on sustainability topics) once again presented the Sustainability Committee’s recommended Community Impact Statement, which includes the statement of support for the City Council motion, and an additional, more specific recommendation of a 2,500 foot buffer zone between gas and oil extraction sites and sensitive uses such as homes and schools.  Kegel also noted that 29 other neighborhood councils so far have submitted similar Community Impact Statements.

As at the board meeting, however, Moser again said she felt that making a recommendation on the citywide issue is “overreaching” the GWNC’s mission.  Moser also took issue with several “whereas” bullet points in the draft CIS, saying most of the claims about health and safety effects of oil production felt “very broad” to her.  In addition, committee member Philip Farha objected to the implications of a map Kegel provided (see above), showing plugged and capped drilling sites in the Hancock Park area.  Farha said that because none of those sites are actively producing (and many were just test sites that never did produce oil), it didn’t accurately reflect the significance of the issue in our area, which currently has no active oil wells.

In the end,  both Moser and committee secretary Max Kirkham said they would support a recommendation that the GWNC board support the City Council’s original motion requesting further study by city agencies, along with an additional request that the research be completed soon, since the original request for a 120-day study was made nearly three years ago.  Kirkham made that motion (without the Sustainability Committee’s additional recommendation of a 2,500-foot buffer zone), and it passed unanimously, with 10 votes in favor and 0 opposed or abstaining.

In addition to those two lengthy discussions at last night’s meeting, there were also several much briefer discussions of specific land use cases.

300 N. Plymouth Blvd. (No active case number.)

The GWNC board is on record opposing the current use of this former single family residence as dormitory-style housing via a company called Mansion Mates, but the Land Use Committee had invited representatives to return to provide more information about the business and use.  Last night, during the Public Comment section of the meeting, project representative Art Richardson introduced two residents of the property, who have lived there for several months and said they are happy with the residence.  When committee members asked them more specific questions, however, such as whether they have leases at the property, and how many people live there, Richardson would not let the residents answer, and said those questions would have to be held until legal representatives could attend a future committee meeting.  No further discussions or actions took place.

6535 Melrose Ave. (DZR-2019-647-TOC)

Architect rendering of the proposed new TOC project.

This is a new application, first introduced at last month’s Land Use Committee meeting, for a three-to-four story mixed-use building, with variable heights, 33 residential units (8% set aside for Extremely Low Income tenants), and 4,895 square feet of commercial space over one story of at-grade and one story of subterranean parking.  As noted last month, there is currently a smaller, previously-permitted project under construction at the site, so the new application, if approved, would result in an up-sizing and re-design of the project.  Because the project representatives did not attend last month’s meeting, no votes were taken.  But representatives did not attend this month’s meeting either, despite being invited to present details of the project, so the committee moved (as per its policy), to recommend that the GWNC board oppose the project until more details are provided by the project representatives.  The motion passed by a vote of 5 in favor, 0 opposed and 4 abstentions.

607 N. Manhattan Pl. (DIR-2019-553-TOC)

Google Maps photo.
Architect’s rendering.

This project involves the demolition of a single family dwelling, and construction of a new six-story, 10-unit apartment building, with 17 vehicle parking spaces and 12 bicycle spaces in an R3-1 multi-family zone.  Project representative Matthew Hayden presented the project details, which would include (if the city will waive a street-widening request) retention of three mature trees on the property, and the installation of an automated City Lift “puzzle parking” system for vehicle parking.  One neighbor, who lives on the block, spoke in opposition to the project, saying that the very modern “big metal building” does not belong on the block of 1920s-era single family homes and small apartments.  Hayden demurred, however, noting that the city – by zoning the area for multi-family housing – disagrees.  Committee members urged Hayden to reach out to the neighbors and take some of their concerns – such as the building materials and other design considerations – into account as the project plans develop, and said it would also be helpful to see context drawings, showing how the proposed building will fit into its surroundings, will fit in with its neighbors.  No votes were taken.

622 N. Manhattan Pl. (Demolition permit application No. 19019-70000-00361)

Google Maps photo.

The property owners are requesting a demolition permit for two vacant single family homes on the property, in preparation for redevelopment with a new building.  A representative for the owners said at the meeting that plans for the new construction have not yet been finalized, though it will likely be a duplex, constructed by right with no special entitlement requests.  The owners would like to proceed with the demolition at this point, said the representative, because the vacant structures are attracting squatters and other nuisances.  There was no further discussion, and no votes were taken.

206-226 N. Larchmont Blvd. (AA-2019-557-PMLA-CC)

Google Maps photo.

The owner of this property, which includes the Rite Aid drug store, as well as the building housing the Trina Turk and Starbucks stores, has requested a parcel map to “merge and re-subdivide” the total of five lots into “two air space parcels” and “commercial condominums.”  Representatives did not attend the meeting, but stakeholder Welborne clarified that the city owns the parking garage under the property, which is why only the space above the garage seems to be in play…perhaps with an eye toward a potential sale of one or both buildings.  No further information was available, and no votes were taken.

5080 Melrose Ave. (Demolition permit application No.19019-20000-00882/B19VN03009)

Google Maps photo.

This property, at the SE corner of Melrose and St. Andrews Pl., is currently occupied by the Melrose Express Car Wash, but no further details were available and no representatives attended the meeting.  No votes were taken.

Issues voted on at last night’s meeting will be forwarded to the full GWNC board at its next meeting on Wednesday, April 10 (7 p.m. at the Ebell of Los Angeles, 743 S. Lucerne Blvd.).  The next meeting of the GWNC Land Use Committee will be held on Tuesday, April 23,  6:30 p.m., at Marlborough School.

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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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