Miracle Mile HPOZ Preservation Plan Hearing – Part 2: Public Comments

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A public hearing on the first draft of the Preservation Plan for the proposed Miracle Mile Historic Preservation Overlay Zone was held on Saturday, August 20, at the Candela Taco Bar at 831 S. La Brea.  The 2 1/2-hour meeting was divided into two parts – an open house and informational presentation on HPOZs in general, and the Miracle Mile HPOZ in particular…followed by a public hearing in which 43 neighbors provided detailed comments and personal testimony.  We cover both parts of the meeting today in separate stories.   This is Part 2, which shares the neighbors’ concerns, both pro and con.  (Part 1 looks at the specifics of the HPOZ rules and Miracle Mile’s HPOZ process.) 

The public hearing section of yesterday’s Miracle Mile HPOZ meeting was officially a call for comments on the new draft Preservation Plan for the HPOZ. But while City officials heard testimony from 43 individuals, nearly all the comments were more general remarks either in favor of or opposing the proposed HPOZ itself.  In all, 33 people spoke in favor of the HPOZ, while 10 spoke in opposition.

Opposition

Of the ten people who said at the hearing that they oppose or can’t yet support the HPOZ, concerns fell into several major categories:

  • the freedom of individual property owners to either tear down or significantly remodel their own houses
  • the ability to sell older homes for top dollar to developers who will then tear them down and replace them with larger new homes
  • a general dislike of increasing city rules and regulations aimed at property owners.

Most of the residents speaking out against the proposed HPOZ mentioned questions or outright fears about the potentially “onerous” review process they could face if they wanted to do any significant work on their houses.  These concerns ranged from one resident who would like to replace a large area of “useless” lawn with additional square footage to the house for her expanded family…to another resident who said, simply, “I don’t want someone to tell me what color to paint my front door.”

Some of the opponents also said that they – like many pro-HPOZ speakers – are not in favor of further mansionization in the neighborhood…but that they believe the city’s proposed new Baseline Mansionization Ordinance will be enough to prevent the proliferation of over-sized replacement homes, without having to specifically regulate things like style and materials, which would be covered by an HPOZ.

Several neighbors who oppose the HPOZ said they had purchased their homes in Miracle Mile, and deliberately avoided – on the advice of their realtors – nearby HPOZ areas such as Carthay Circle. They said they wouldn’t be able to make the kinds of alterations they wanted to make on their homes in those areas, or they wouldn’t be able to tear them down and rebuild entirely…which, they said, would make the protected properties less valuable over time.  These neighbors said they bought homes in Miracle Mile specifically because it had no such restrictions, and they felt they could more greatly improve values in the long run by either tearing down or significantly expanding an older home.

Speakers in this category also said they didn’t see much future re-sale value in the older homes without significant expansion or replacement.  “Millenials don’t want to live in these creaky old homes – these homes are just old, they’re not historic,” said one resident of S. Ogden Dr.  Another resident, from the 1000 block of S. Dunsmuir, said many older homes in the neighborhood are “falling apart” and “not pretty to look at,” so not worth preserving in their current condition.  She and other commenters in this category generally disagreed with the city’s potential designation of the area as “historic,” and described the neighborhood instead as a fairly average collection of small and non-significant houses.  “Our home is nothing special,” said one.

Finally, several speakers generally opposed to the HPOZ did have one more specific concern – the 700 block of S. Orange Grove Ave., which sits across the street from the Petersen Museum, just south of Wilshire Blvd. and – according to the Miracle Mile historic resources survey – contains only six properties (one “contributor,” four “altered contributors” and one “non-contributor”).  Several people who own and/or manage multifamily properties on that block argued that it should be left out of the HPOZ and opened to the kind of re-development and densification taking place along Wilshire and nearby Fairfax.  Randy Greenwald, who owns three properties there, said that protecting older, smaller buildings on this block, which is just one block from the planned new Purple Line subway stop at Wilshire and Fairfax, would be “contrary” to the city’s current densification goals for transit-adjacent areas.

Support

If the testimony from neighbors who opposed the proposed HPOZ was adamant, however, the testimony from those in favor was both more numerous, and generally much more heartfelt than the opposition…with most people speaking very passionately about the value in a unity of architectural style, scale, and history…and the sense of community those things create for longtime residents.

The proponents also disagreed vehemently with the HPOZ opponents about the historic context and significance of their smaller, older and more affordable homes. “This is the real Los Angeles,” said one 30-year resident of S. Redondo Ave.

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Miracle Mile Residential Association HPOZ Committee Chair Mark Zecca speaks at Saturday’s public hearing

Mark Zecca, who has headed the Miracle Mile Residential Association’s HPOZ committee through the current adoption process, acknowledged that new HPOZ rules may seem like “a pain in the ass,” but he said it’s what is necessary to preserve the neighborhood and its homes for both current residents and future generations.  A realtor himself, Zecca disagreed with opponents’ contentions that an HPOZ might suppress property values, saying experience shows that homes in HPOZ areas actually increase in value, because buyers can be confident that the neighborhood will be stable, and will retain the beauty and “park-like settings” that originally brought buyers there.

Ken Hixon, MMRA vice president, called the HPOZ “the last best hope of Miracle Mile,” saying that without the new protections, the neighborhood will be “defenseless” in the face of new state laws encouraging development and densification.  “It’s this,” he said, “or we become Century City.”

Other speakers agreed, with one saying that in standing up against the current onslaught of development, “I feel like I’m waving a flag in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square.”

Perhaps surprisingly – some of the most passionate speakers in favor of the HPOZ were not only homeowners, but longtime renters who have lived for decades and raised families in the area’s many multi-family properties. Julia Machada, who lives on the 800 block of S. Alendele, said the tenants in her building are very afraid now that theirs will be the next building sold, and they won’t be able to afford any of the new units being built in the area.

Jim O’Sullivan, longtime president of the MMRA, said the renters’ concerns are justified, and that Miracle Mile’s low-density multi-family buildings are in particular danger without the HPOZ protections.  He called these properties “the last bastion of affordable housing” in the area, and said the HPOZ is very necessary to preserve them. “I support this [HPOZ] with every fiber of my being,” he said.

Ravi Bhatia, a member of the Mid-City West Community Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee, said he knows both tenants and owners who came to Miracle Mile – and pay a premium to live there – specifically because they love the historic character and scale.  “100 years from now,” he said, “the new buildings won’t be standing…but the ones built in 1927 will.”

Several other speakers agreed with Bhatia, pointing out the more durable materials used in older buildings, as well as their success at withstanding nearly 100 years of seismic activity so far.

But the value of older buildings, for many, goes much farther than building materials.  Many residents spoke of the sense of history created by the neighborhood’s older homes, and how they’re afraid that – unlike cities such as Paris and London – Los Angeles still hasn’t figured out the value in its history. One resident of S. Burnside Ave. mentioned a city she visited in China, where you have to follow a long and convoluted set of directions to find one single tiny hidden neighborhood that contains the only surviving original houses in the city.

Kevin Glynn, who teaches history at Los Angeles High School, said he often takes his students for walks through the local neighborhoods, pointing out the “living history” here. “The lights turn on” in his student’s minds, he said, arguing that it’s important to preserve these areas for future generations and to “preserve the ability to inspire our children.”

Also, in contrast to the comments of those opposed to the HPOZ, most pro-HPOZ speakers at yesterday’s meeting contended that property values would most likely increase with an HPOZ.  Several noted that they bought homes in Miracle Mile after discovering they could not afford already-protected areas such as Carthay Circle, and that they have already seen increases in the value of their homes or rental properties when restoring them to a more original appearance.  They also said they know many people – both renters and owners – who happily pay more for historically intact and protected properties.

Finally, more than one speaker noted that most people speaking in opposition to the HPOZ talked most often about individual freedoms, while many of the more numerous HPOZ supporters spoke passionately about preservation of the larger community.  Bruce Wright, one of those speaking about the importance of the community, said the possible inconvenience of an HPOZ is something he’s willing to put up with for the “greater good.”  “It’s not only about buildings,” he said, “It’s about people.”

“We have a responsibility to be part of the community,” agreed Bruce Block, who lives on S. Ogden Dr.  ” You can’t just wall yourself off and do what you want.”

Finally, Wright also said that the diversity and scale of the older homes helps to foster the current, and very welcome, diversity in residents in Miracle Mile.  Replacing smaller older homes with larger, newer and more expensive ones, he said, could lead to a much more homogeneous population, which would also be ultimately detrimental to the community.

If you would like to add your voice to the discussion of the Miracle Mile HPOZ, comments can be submitted to renata.dragland@lacity.org or  (213) 978-1797 until August 29. The next public hearing on the proposed HPOZ will be on September 15, when the Cultural Heritage Commission will consider certification of the Miracle Mile Historic Resources Survey and HPOZ boundaries.

 

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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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