Sunday, November 29, 2015

No More McMansions in Los Angeles

Breaking news!
Reform is finally getting started on the city’s failed Baseline Mansionization Ordinance and Baseline Hillside Ordinance (BMO/BHO). The  Planning Department has now published its draft amendments. 
To read the full draft, go to the web page of the city’s Office of Historic Resources; click on Updates and then on BMO/BHO Draft Amendments.  Or follow the link from our website.  (Address at the bottom of this page.)
The timetable
The Planning Department is aiming for Council adoption of the amendments sometime late next summer, following a comment period, environmental analysis, more public comment, a staff report, and hearings before the City Planning Commission and the Council’s Planning & Land Use Management (PLUM) committee.  
The first step is a series of public outreach meetings held in different parts of the city. 
The outreach meetings are coming up fast: 
Wednesday, December 2 - Mid-City
Thursday, December 3 - Westside
Tuesday, December 15 – Downtown
Wednesday, December 16 – Van Nuys
On the following pages, you will find a summary of the draft amendments, a position statement, and sample emails and talking points. 
For background info, contact info, a point-by-point pushback against mansionizers’ bogus arguments, a link to the draft amendments, or info on yard signs go to: 
Overall, the city’s draft amendments stick pretty close to Councilmember Koretz’s original council Motion. And they eliminate the single most damaging provision of the BMO, the 400 sq foot freebie for attached garages. 
The city’s draft amendment
The current code
Our position
Includes square footage of attached garages when calculating size of house.
Excludes up to 400 sq feet of attached garages when calculating size of house.
Yes!  This gets rid of 400 sq feet of bloat and discourages designs that violate the character of many older neighborhoods.
Drops base floor area ratio to 0.45 for lots below 7500 sq feet and 0.40 for lots above 7500 sq feet. 
Uses 0.50 percent for lots below 7500 sq feet and 0.45 for lots above 7500 sq feet.
Yes!  These ratios are much more compatible with the scale of residential neighborhoods.
Eliminates most, but not all, of the bonuses. 

Grants bonuses of 20 percent of base FAR for “green” building materials, “articulated” walls, and “proportional” stories (second story smaller than the first).
Losing the self-defeating bonuses for “green” building and “articulation” definitely moves us in the right direction.
Keeps the 20 percent bonus for proportional stories, if the second floor is no more than 60 percent the size of the first floor. 
Gives the bonus if the second floor is no more than 75 percent the size of the first floor. 

Better formula, but needs to clearly define the size of the first-floor and handle bonuses through open Planning Dept. hearings.
Eliminates the exemption for “double-height” space. 

Allows up to 100 square feet of “double height” rooms, usually entryways.
Yes!  This eliminates another 100 sq feet of bulk.
Keeps the exemption for roofless or “lattice top” patios, balconies, breezeways.  But sets no limit on the size of the exempted patios etc. 
Exempts uncovered patios, etc. up to 250 square feet.

! Danger !  Exemptions  invite manipulation and abuse.  Need to close this loophole.
Zoning Administrators can grant 10 percent “adjustments” with no public oversight.   
This is the same as in the current code.
In addition to variances, the city is creating flexible zoning tools tailored to individual neighborhoods.  We don’t need more “adjustments.”

Our position
·      Eliminate the exemption for patios, breezeways, balconies, etc. 
·      Base the “proportional stories” bonus on the net footprint of the first floor, excluding any space not included in the FAR calculation.  As with other “discretionary” matters, have the Planning Dept. handle bonuses in a
    properly-noticed public hearing.
    Eliminate the 10 percent “adjustments.” 
·      The BMO amendments will take effect before the ICOs expire.  Confirm that once amendments are adopted, ICO neighborhoods will be subject to either their ICO or the BMO/BHO, whichever is more restrictive.
The Game Plan:  Speak up and show up!    
·      Rally your neighbors.
·      Ask your Council office, homeowners’ association, residents’ association, and/or neighborhood council to speak out for meaningful reform of the mansionization ordinance.
·      Go to the public outreach meetings in December.
·      Follow up with comments of support.
We prepared sample talking points and emails.  Use them as-is or put the message in your own words.  The key is to take action. 

Subject line should include:  BMO/BHO Amendments, CF #14-0656
Distribution should include Hagu Solomon-Cary (
Sample text could be:
Loopholes ruined the mansionization ordinance in 2008, and the city has paid a heavy price ever since.  The Planning Department’s draft amendments make a very good start, but they need a few crucial changes: 
Uncovered patios, breezeways, and balconies must be counted as floor space.
The “proportional stories” bonus must be based on the net footprint of the first floor, excluding any uncounted floor space.  And bonuses should be subject to public review by the Planning Department.
The City already offers variances and is now creating many other flexible zoning tools and options.  Get rid of discretionary 10 percent “adjustments” made by zoning administrators.
The city got mansionization very wrong the first time.  This time, we need to get it right.  And we have no time to lose. 

Talking Points
The city’s Baseline Mansionization Ordinance and Baseline Hillside Ordinance (BMO/BHO) failed, and mansionization is ruining neighborhoods all over the city.  Now the Planning Department has proposed important amendments to the ordinances. 
Overall, the city stayed pretty close to Councilmember Koretz’s excellent Council Motion and eliminated the single worst provision of the BMO/BHO: the 400 sq foot freebie for attached garages.  But the draft amendments have a few flaws:
Uncovered  (or “lattice roof” patios, breezeways, and balconies are not counted as floor space.  This is just the kind of loophole that turns houses into McMansions.  With or without a roof, these spaces add bulk.  We need to close this exemption.
The “proportional stories” bonus does not clearly define the first-story “footprint.”  The draft amendments do set a tighter limit on the second story: 60 percent versus 75 percent now.  But there’s a complication:  If space is excluded when the city calculates floor area, it makes the first floor bigger.  So the second floor would be measured against a bigger number.  The Beverly Grove RFA provides a precedent:  The bonus must be based on the “net” footprint of the first floor. 
“Adjustments” of 10 percent can be granted by zoning administrators behind closed doors.  The city already has a process for variances, and now it’s creating all kinds of zoning tools tailored to the needs of individual neighborhoods.  We do not need additional “adjustments.”
Loopholes ruined the mansionization ordinance the first time, and the city has paid a heavy price ever since.  We need to get it right this time.

For further information:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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