PLUM Committee Disappoints Neighborhoods on BMO

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Yesterday, the Planning and Land Use Management Committee of the LA City Council appeared to disregard the overwhelming public testimony advocating for a reformed Base Mansionization Ordinance (BMO) by eliminating a square-footage exemption for garages and reducing the ratio of floor area to lot size (known as Residential Floor Area) to ensure that oversize homes would not be allowed.

“This hearing set a new low,” said Shelley Wagers, a resident and neighborhood activist in the Beverly Grove area who has been working on improvements to the current BMO for more than a year.

“The testimony from some 35 speakers, who took the time to come to the hearing during this incredibly busy holiday time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, seems to have been completely disregarded,” said Wagers. “I have never sat through a hearing before where I had such clear impression that the fix was in.”

According to Wagers, PLUM Committee Chairman Jose Huizar took no questions and there was no discussion of the issue. In the council motion, Huizar directed the city attorney to draft an ordinance based on the recommendations of the city council offices that presented testimony.  CD4 Council member David Ryu’s planning deputy Julia Duncan presented comments that addressed homes in hillside areas, as did Council member Paul Koretz. Only Council member David Bonin’s staff addressed the garage exemption and the RFA, asking to keep the current exemption and the RFA at .50, ignoring a July recommendation by the City Planning Commission to reduce it further and effectively undermining activists’ effort to reform the current BMO.

Further complicating matters,  Tom Rothman, a senior Planning Department staff member, apparently misspoke when he described the planning department’s position, according to Wagers.

At this point, it’s unclear exactly what the new ordinance will look like. The Los Angeles Conservancy posted the following on its Facebook page this morning:

Given there were conflicting recommendations from the Council offices, the PLUM Committee’s directive is unclear.

However, we believe the PLUM Committee recommended reinstating an exemption or bonus for up to 400 square feet for garages, whether they are attached or detached. This has been a long-standing and core problem with the current BMO/BHO Ordinance, resulting in out-of-scale and incompatible new homes in older neighborhood contexts.

Further, it appears the PLUM Committee is recommending reinstating the current Maximum Residential Floor Area (RFA), returning it to the current BMO/BHO Ordinance of 0.50. This reverses the City Planning Commission’s recommendation to reduce it to 0.45. The Conservancy supports a reduction in the RFA ratio as it is a fundamental problem with the current BMO/BHO Ordinance. Nearly ten years of experience with the BMO/BHO has shown us that a minimal reduction would help.

According to her office, CD4’s Duncan made the following comments at the hearing:

Protecting residential neighborhoods is a critical priority for our community and we thank the Planning Department, the City Planning Commission, and the community at-large that has worked toward the revisions presented in the draft ordinance. We feel these changes have come very close to fulfilling the requested actions initiated by CM Koretz’s motion.

In totality the changes addressed in the proposed Amendments go a far way in addressing out of scale development, and the impacts created by hillside development. From the elimination of some exemptions, to the reduction in FAR to .45 for all R1 lots, establishment of encroachment planes, and side façade articulation the draft has addressed significant and pressing concerns necessary for neighborhood preservation and context.

There are two items the Councilmember feels must be addressed that have significant impacts on our Hillside communities. Specifically, the guaranteed minimum residential floor area in Hillside areas is set at 1,000 sq. ft. We have large number of substandard lots, those under 5,000 sq. ft, that through this provision allow for a guaranteed minimum regardless of impacts. With the exemption of up to 200 sq. ft of a front facing garage, that effectively guarantees a 1,200 sq. ft. structure. Our office would recommend that the guaranteed minimum RFA be reduced to 800 sq. ft., thus allowing for a garage and the exemption and putting the total square footage of the structure at 1000 sq. ft. The minimum as set is incompatible with hillside neighborhood character and the infrastructure impacts of these projects is not being equally balanced.

The increase in maximum “by-right” grading quantities from the original draft of 1,000 cubic yards to now 2,000 cubic yards for R-1 zones will also leads to significant infrastructure issues. Over the past year we have had streets collapse and homes red-tagged which has or will cost the City millions. Construction vehicles are exempt from weight limits and the impacts of these vehicles are increasing the deterioration rate of our already 100 year old streets. It is essential for both public safety and the integrity of our Hillside communities that the Maximum “By-Right” Grading quantities for R-1 Zones be reduced to 1,000 cubic yards.

We again thank the planning department and the communities for their work on these amendments.

The draft ordinance may go back to the PLUM Committee where there could be another opportunity for public comment but reform proponents are concerned that it may not matter. At this point, it seems that after months of meetings, letters and emails expressing support for reform efforts, neighborhoods may find the new BMO has all the same flaws as the old one.

“This is exactly what happened last time,” said Wagers. “We had a good ordinance, then, at the 11th hour, we were thrown under the bus.”

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About Patricia Lombard

Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

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