L.A. Planning Commission Reviews Coastal Housing Ordinance; Vote Continued

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles Planning Commission today reviewed a proposed ordinance to adopt permanent regulations for the demolition, loss or conversion of residential units and development of residential units in the city's coastal zone, including Venice, Pacific Palisades and San Pedro, but the vote was continued until May 13.

The ordinance would accomplish the intention of California's Mello Act, which went into effect in January 1982 in an attempt to protect existing residential units and increase the amount of affordable housing in California's coastal zone.

Since 2000, Los Angeles has complied with the Mello Act through the interim administrative procedures that the City Council adopted. The Mello ordinance seeks to strengthen affordable housing requirements by regulating the demolition, conversion, change of use, subdivision and new constructionactivities for existing and proposed dwelling units in Pacific Palisades, Venice, Del Rey, Playa Del Rey, San Pedro and Wilmington.

The ordinance's core goals are to:

-- ensure the preservation and maintenance of existing residential units, both affordable and market rate, unless residential use is no longer feasible at the site;

-- protect units occupied by extremely low-, very low-, low- or moderate-income households by ensuring they are replaced on a one-for-one basis, and the new units must be “structurally equivalent'' to the demolished units;

-- require new residential projects of a certain size to provide residential units for extremely low-, very low-, low- and/or moderate-income households.

Under the current draft of the ordinance, new projects in the coastal area with five or more residential units must set aside:

-- a minimum of 8% of proposed units for extremely low-income households; or

-- a minimum of 11% of proposed units for very low-income households; or

-- a minimum of 20% of proposed units for low-income households; or

-- a minimum of 40% of proposed units for moderate-income households.

A development applicant can request a feasibility analysis and if the analysis has sufficient and certified evidence that is infeasible to build a replacement unit or inclusionary unit, the requirement may be appealed to the Area Planning Commission.

The ordinance would also create the Coastal Housing Trust Fund to collect fees related to the ordinance. The fund will be used to develop new affordability dwelling units in the coastal zone.

The Los Angeles Planning Commission decided to continue the vote so they will have enough time to review recommendations given by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

LAFLA sent the commission a letter on Feb. 12 with their suggestions, including:

-- prioritizing extremely low-, very low- and low-income households instead of moderate income;

-- defining demolition to include substantial renovation work;

-- revising the process of determining if residential use is no longer feasible;

-- adding buildings with one to four units to the inclusionary housing requirement;

-- setting affordability covenants to the life of the project or in perpetuity.

Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents areas in the coastal zone, issued a statement through his Deputy Chief of Staff Krista Kline in support of LAFLA's recommendations.

“(Bonin) believes strongly that affordable housing is an imperative everywhere. He feels especially strongly that affordable housing is necessary in the coastal zone and that the city of Los Angeles has a legal responsibility and a moral requirement to protect, preserve and promote affordable housing in all neighborhoods, including our coastal communities.''

“Today is an important step in that process, but the council member agrees with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and with housing advocates such as (People Organized for Westside Renewal) that we have additional work to do.''

Several commissioners voiced that they wanted to review in depth LAFLA's recommendations regarding the extension of affordability covenants from 55 years to the life of the project or in perpetuity.

“I don't want the default to be ‘55 years and then if,' I'd rather it be `perpetuity unless it's found that,' so that our expression is that we want affordable housing forever unless X ... My impression is the more the better, the longer the better,'' Commissioner David Ambroz said.

Commissioner Jenna Hornstock recommended that the commission look into adapting the ordinance's affordability covenant requirement to 99 years.

Following discussions about this and several other recommendations in the LAFLA letter, the commission decided to continue the vote until May.

“I'd like to see some adjustments for some of the LAFLA points and some of the points we've heard ... I'd like to have an opportunity to have further contemplation about things like the 99 years, 55 years, perpetuity,'' Commissioner Dana Perlman said.

Commissioners also discussed LAFLA's recommendations regarding moderate-income housing, and they discussed leaving the requirement in for housing replacement but not inclusionary obligations.

Hornstock expressed concern about removing moderate-income housing.

“There is no funding for moderate-income housing anywhere. All public subsidies are basically 60% (area median income) or below ... it's tough for me to then take away the few tools that we have to provide moderate income housing.''

City Planner Shana Bonstin said her team would go through the LAFLA letter and provide red line edits to the ordinance for the commission to review.

The commission will review the ordinance again during their meeting on May 13.

Photo: Getty Images

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