On Monday, February 6, more than 30 renters who live on the blocks between Wilshire Blvd. and 8th Street in the Miracle Mile area met with City Council District 4 Planning Deputy Julia Duncan to protest the recent removal – at a January City Planning Commission hearing – of their homes from a proposed Miracle Mile Historic Preservation Overlay Zone.
The originally-proposed HPOZ area would have covered most of the 700 S. blocks from Detroit St. on the east to Orange Grove Ave. on the west. It also included all blocks of Olympic Blvd. between Detroit and the east side of Alandele Ave. That version of the proposed HPOZ was approved by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission in December. But then, at the next step of the approval process, an initial vote at the City Planning Commission in January was tied 4-4. To help break the tie, Planning Commission President David Ambroz proposed removing the blocks along Olympic and north of 8th Street. After that revision, the Commission re-voted and the revised proposal passed with a vote of 5-3, and was referred to the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee for the next round of consideration.
At Monday’s protest meeting, however, Miracle Mile Residential Association Vice President Ken Hixon noted that the newly excluded blocks contain a large number of the neighborhood’s multi-family buildings (which meet the same historic qualifications as the neighborhood’s single family homes, and in about the same qualifying proportions). The blocks also, he said, contain about 500 units of “workforce” housing, with rents controlled by the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance. Those historic buildings, and the 500 rent-stabilized units they contain, said Hixon, would become immediately vulnerable to demolition and re-development if left out of the proposed HPOZ. And tenants in those units, he said – many of whom have lived in the area for 10, 20 or more years – would be displaced and unable to afford the new market-rate units that would replace them.
The residents at Monday’s meeting concurred, saying they fear losing their longtime homes if their blocks are not included in the HPOZ.
The Battle so Far
This is just the latest twist to arise in the HPOZ process in Miracle Mile, which seemed to be proceeding fairly smoothly for most of the last three years. During that time, the Miracle Mile Residential Association conducted many types of outreach, (mailings, an informational website, etc.), and held a number of informational meetings where neighbors extensively discussed the pros and cons and possible governing details of the district. Starting last fall, however, after the city released an initial draft of a Preservation Plan that would govern the district, a very vocal opposition group, SayNoHPZ, emerged, turning out in force at the Miracle Mile’s annual meeting in November, and again at the recent CPC hearing.
City Council Queries
Both the MMRA and SayNoHPOZ now claim to represent a majority of Miracle Mile residents, and both are now jockeying for support from both City Council District 4 representative David Ryu and CD 10 representative Herb Wesson (who represents the “Triangle” area between Cochran and La Brea, and Olympic and San Vicente, which is also included in the proposed HPOZ). Ryu is on record supporting the HPOZ, a position Duncan emphasized several times at Monday night’s renters’ meeting. But Ryu also has yet to weigh in on whether he would support restoring the mostly multi-family blocks that the CPC removed. If Ryu did choose to advocate for the restoration of those blocks, according to Duncan, the vote would require 10 City Council members to agree, and not just the standard simple majority. Duncan said this adds to the “nuances” of the situation, which Ryu is still considering.
But the renters at Monday’s meeting demanded to know whether Ryu will “stand up” to reinstate their blocks in the proposed HPOZ…and Duncan was non-committal. She said Ryu is an “adamant supporter” of rent-stabilized units and definitely supports the HPOZ as a “general concept.” But she also said he’s “still working toward the best version” of the proposal and has not yet decided which version of the proposed boundaries to support.
To help him decide, Duncan said Ryu is sending out a letter to several thousand CD4 residents in the proposed HPOZ area, providing accurate information about the HPOZ, what it would and wouldn’t regulate, and the options homeowners would have under the district’s comparatively flexible Preservation Plan (a revised version, created with input from both pro- and anti-HPOZ representatives, was released in December). The letter also addresses how HPOZs tend to affect property values, how HPOZs are the city’s only tool that can help preserve the historic architectural fabric of a neighborhood, and how they’re also the only tool to protect historic multi-family residences. (Other measures that address neighborhood character, such as current Interim Control Ordinances and the coming customizable R-1 designations, do not protect historic or multi-family buildings, only single-family homes.)
Hixon and others at the meeting reported that Council Member Wesson is doing something similar with the corner of the proposed HPOZ area that lies in his district, except his letter is being sent only to property owners, not renters, and asks people to respond ONLY if they would like to support the HPOZ. Wesson’s letter says recipients who don’t reply will be counted as “opposed or neutral,” prompting several attendees to claim this is an unfair approach, and that people who don’t receive the letter, or who throw it away without reading it, may be counted as “no” votes when they might truly support the HPOZ. They also noted that Wesson’s letter excludes the voices of renters, which they insist should also be considered. In fact, said resident Kimberly Klein, the omission of renters by Wesson “has literally given the Triangle the middle finger.”
In contrast, Ryu’s letter is being sent to both renters and homeowners. But it does not ask for a specific “yes” or “no” response, and instead contains just a general request for feedback on the issue. Renters at Monday’s meeting also took issue with this approach, saying it’s not a strong enough call for action, so response rates may be low, even among those who may have preferences one way or the other. Duncan said that if people are concerned about response rates, they should work to get word out about the letter, and to urge people to respond to her office as quickly as possible.
Why the Exclusions
One of the big questions asked at Monday’s meeting was why the blocks near Wilshire and Olympic Blvds. were excluded by the CPC in the first place, when the Cultural Heritage Commission had already deemed them worthy of preservation.
Several attendees who live on the affected blocks said they were blind-sided by the last-minute exclusion of their homes, and this was the first they’d heard of issues with multi-family properties. (They said most anti-HPOZ advocates they’ve heard at recent meetings seem to be owners of single-family homes, who are worried they won’t be able to expand or remodel their own homes under an HPOZ.) Miracle Mile Residential Association President James O’Sullivan noted, however, that SayNoHPOZ has received support from the Apartment Owner’s Association, a group that represents the business interests of rental property owners, so rental property owners are definitely involved.
Others – including Duncan – noted that the city has been trying to encourage densification along major transit corridors (like Wilshire Blvd. and, to a lesser extent, Olympic Blvd.), and “the CPC discussion was about densification on the Boulevards.” Duncan said that probably played into some Commissioners’ reluctance to support HPOZ protections for those areas and, thus, Ambroz’s proposal to remove them.
What Renters Want
Monday’s attendees were unanimous, however, in their request for Ryu to take a firm stand and take the lead in favor of restoring the multi-family blocks to the HPOZ area, without simply reacting to polls or “squeaky wheels.” And they expressed disappointment that Ryu has not yet taken such a stand. Resident Greg Goldin asked, “Will 500 RSOs be preserved in the HPOZ, or thrown under the tracks of the subway and developers?” And, further, he asked, what will happen if Ryu “sticks his finger in the air and senses that some people oppose it. Will (he) fall to that?”
Another neighbor, Michael Cianfrani, said he worries that if the multi-family blocks are excluded from the HPOZ, it “tells developers that the city favors them,” which would be dangerous for residents. Hixon agreed, noting that renters displaced under the Ellis Act, which allows evictions if a unit is being removed from the rental market, would not be able to afford new market-rate units in the neighborhood. And even though they are supposed to be offered the chance to return to new buildings at reduced rates, he said, landlords often try to get them to sign away that right for an additional settlement fee.
At the end of the meeting, Duncan thanked the residents for their respectful but passionate input – “It’s your homes, you should have passion,” she said. She urged residents to get the word out about Ryu’s letter to the community, and the need to respond quickly with their concerns. She also advised them, when talking to other renters, to mention that HPOZs are currently the city’s only tool to preserve a neighborhood’s historic architecture…and the only tool that helps to preserve multi-family properties (the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance and new R-1 zones address only new construction and additions on single-family lots).