California: Don’t Leave America. Bring America To Us.

The Abundant Housing LA team worked on this editorial in response to the #CalExit push for secession from the U.S. Our pitch:

“We at Abundant Housing LA have a counter-proposal, one we think is both more hopeful and more plausible: Instead of leaving America behind, we should bring America to us. Our state attracts people of all races and ethnicities, genders and sexual identities, faiths and cultures. It’s something we’ve long celebrated, and rightly so. Rather than parting ways with the United States, let’s dial that welcoming attitude into overdrive. Let’s be radically inclusive. Let us be a refuge, a 21st century Ellis Island, for internal and external refugees alike.”

Read more here.

 


Help us support the proposed mixed-used development at 3700 Wilshire Blvd!

This week we need your help to support a proposed mixed-used development and provide input for LA’s Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance (look for the green buttons below).

In housing news, Portland has a unique new proposal that will address two challenging issues in their city: “mansionization” of existing homes, and a lack of affordable housing options. The idea is to limit the total development potential on single-family parcels, but to allow buildings to be divided into more than one unit. In other words, you would no longer be allowed to tear down a 1,500 square foot single-family home to replace it with a 4,000 SF one, but you _could_ build a 2,500 SF building with up to 3 units. You can’t buy a run-down home and turn it into a much bigger rich-person home, but you _can_ buy a run-down home and turn it into good, relatively affordable housing for 2 or more households. It’s an intriguing proposal, and represents the kind of win-win, outside-the-box thinking that AHLA advocates for. Read more here.

Help us support a development project in Koreatown

Help us support the proposed mixed-used development at 3700 Wilshire Blvd! This project will include 506 new apartments. This project will help increase housing supply and is ideally located close to transit. Write to the city of LA in support!

Send an email in support of the project with a single click

Submit input for LA’s ADU ordinance

We have a rare opportunity to improve L.A.’s rules to allow more residents to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs), sometimes also called a ‘granny flat,’ ‘backyard home,’ or ‘second unit’. These second units can help residents house their family members, earn rent to afford their mortgage, and add new housing units to help relieve LA’s housing crisis.

Los Angeles City is currently updating its ordinance that regulates ADUs in response to new state laws. This past September, Gov. Brown signed landmark Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) legislation to make it easier for property owners to build an accessory dwelling. for The state legislation will remove some barriers. Starting January 1st, anyone in California may convert any existing accessory structure (such as a garage) into a dwelling unit, as long as it meets safety code standards, has a setback sufficient for fire safety and it doesn’t exceed 1,200 square feet. If covered parking was removed by the dwelling unit conversion, it need only be replaced by parking on existing driveways or setback areas.

But it is crucial that LA pass a good local ordinance. Cities still retain some control over where ADUs are allowed, how big they can be, and parking requirements for second units. The details of the LA ordinance will determine where it is legal and feasible to build second homes.

 


Join us for the December 6th community open house re the South and Southeast community plans

Fill the Pit at Sherman Way and Mason Ave

Support more housing construction in the Valley! This proposed mixed-use project at the intersection of Sherman Way and Mason Ave will provide 52 market rate units and 9 dedicated affordable low income units, replacing a long-vacant lot. It will also provide a restaurant establishment. It is located near Pierce College and Warner Center, providing good access to employment, education, and other amenities. The project has been approved by the planning committee in Winnetka but was shot down in the general meeting because of 1-4 very vocal community members. We need to show the Winnetka Neighborhood Council Board that there are people who DO support the project and want to see more housing built in the area. Let them know by clicking the link below. Or, if you would like to tell the Board in person, attend the meeting on Tuesday, December 13, 2016 from 6:30pm to 9:00pm at 20122 Vanowen St,Canoga Park, CA 91306 (next to Winnetka Bowl).

Support the Project Here
Two more projects needing our help: 11147 N. Woodley Ave and 3240 Wilshire Blvd

Help us support two more proposed housing developments in LA: 418 market rate units and 22 dedicated very low income units at 11147 N Woodley Ave in the Valley, and 491 market rate units and 54 dedicated very low income units at 3240 Wilshire Blvd in K-town! Write to the city of LA in support!

Support Additional Projects Here

Support greater density by joining us on December 6th at the open house for the new South and Southeast community plans
Abundant Housing LA will be advocating for pro-housing development policies at the December 6th Open House regarding the South Los Angeles and Southeast Los Angeles Community Plans. The existing Community Plans were last adopted in the year 2000 and are being updated to reflect current policies and conditions and to address community issues related to land use. The Proposed Plans update the goals and policies of the community plan and implement programs through a series of Zone Changes and Land Use Changes, including the adoption of a Community Plan Implementation Overlay District (CPIO) for each Community Plan. This is a great opportunity for Abundant Housing LA members to stress the importance of building more housing in the community in order to increase livability in South Los Angeles and Southeast Los Angeles and lower rents. Join us on December 6th at 5:00 PM at the Los Angeles Trade Tech College Outdoor Event Tent (behind Aspen Hill). More information here.
Sign Up to Attend Here


Weekly Update – November meeting, LA2040 General Plan, and 26378 S Vermont Ave

Don’t forget to join us for the AHLA/Happy Urbanists joint meeting is this Wednesday, November 16, 2016 at El Compadre.

Join us for a special November AHLA (Abundant Housing Los Angeles) meeting in partnership with Happy Urbanists, Los Angeles’ premier monthly social gathering of urbanists, where we’ll be chatting about housing and urbanist issues facing LA County in a relaxed social setting.

When: November 16 at 6:30 PM

Where: El Compadre ( 1248 S Figueroa St #101, Los Angeles, CA 90015 )

How to get there by public transit: Exit at the Pico station of the Blue/Expo line and walk west 1/2 a block on Pico. You can also take the Dash D bus to stop #6051, walk two blocks north on Grand and then a block west on Pico.

More details here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1674214396203767/

Submit your input for the LA2040 General Plan!

LA is currently updating the General Plan, which is a policy document that guides decisions about land use and zoning across the city. They are soliciting community input via an online survey to make sure the plan reflects the desires of Angelenos, so let’s make sure they get a lot of pro-housing responses!

Help us support a project!

Support a proposed 110-unit housing project at 26378 S Vermont Ave! This infill project will replace a vacant lot with 110 units of new housing, including 36 market rate units, 69 senior market rate units, and 5 dedicated very low income senior units. The project proposes to use the density bonus program, thereby increasing the supply of both market rate and dedicated affordable units. Support this project by submitting a comment to the case planner and LA city councilmember.


Small Lot Subdivisions: What Are They?

In 2005, the City of LA created the small lot subdivision ordinance. This land use policy is not well understood, and has recently come under fire from both NIMBYs that want to stop development in LA and people concerned about displacement. With that in mind, let’s get to know the small lot subdivision ordinance, and see how it might be improved to better serve LA’s housing needs.

What Are Small Lot Subdivisions?

A small lot subdivision is a project that constructs several free-standing single-family houses or attached townhouses, albeit with separate walls and a small amount of airspace in between homes, on lots that are smaller than conventional single-family lots. Unlike apartments, which are rented, or condominiums, which come with costly condo board fees and assessments, the houses in a small lot subdivision are owned fee simple, meaning that each unit is owned individually. Common areas like driveways or open space are typically governed by a simple maintenance agreement rather than a costly and bureaucratic homeowners association. By increasing density and avoiding condo fees, small lot subdivisions make home ownership more affordable. Continue Reading


Zoning Changes in Los Angeles

In our previous post, we looked at the basic zoning rules that govern development in Los Angeles. In this post, we’ll look at what has to happen to get permission to do something different than what the zoning allows.

Depending on how much the proposed development deviates from what is allowed by the zoning rules, there are different levels of permission needed from the city. For example, a small change, such as a little extra height, requires a relatively small action from the city, while larger changes require larger actions from the city.

By-Right Development

If a project complies with all the zoning requirements and doesn’t require approval by city planning, the project can simply be approved by the city as long as it complies with the building code and other regulations. These projects are called “by right” projects – the owner of the land has the right to do the project without any special permission from the city.

In practice, very few projects are totally by right. Even relatively simple projects like small lot subdivisions, which are small developments of single-family houses, require city approval to subdivide the land (a “parcel map” for 4 or fewer houses, a “tract map” for more). Public hearings must be held for such actions. In addition, most of Los Angeles was zoned decades ago, and the zoning doesn’t reflect the current needs of the city. Continue Reading


A Short Introduction to Zoning in Los Angeles

Zoning that does not allow enough new housing construction is one of the biggest causes of the housing crisis in Los Angeles. So, it’s important to understand what zoning is, how it works, and how it’s been applied across LA. This post provides a summary of what zoning does, what the main zones in LA are, and where these zones are applied in the city. For more detailed information on zoning and parking requirements in LA, see the city’s summary of zoning and summary of parking requirements.

At its most basic, zoning is the idea that there can be different regulations on the built environment in different places within a jurisdiction.  As the name suggests, it divides places into different zones on a map. Depending on what zone a piece of land is located in, there are different rules for what types of structures and activities are allowed on the property. The major things controlled by zoning are:

  • Use type: controls what type of uses can be built on a lot. The main uses are residential (such as houses & apartments), commercial (such as stores & restaurants), and industrial (such as factories).
  • Density: mainly applied to residential uses. Controls how many houses & apartments can be built on the lot.
  • Floor-area ratio: controls how large a building can be, based on how large the property is. The floor-area ratio (FAR) is the size of the building divided by the size of the lot. For example, a 2,500 square foot house on a 5,000 square foot lot has an FAR of 0.50 (2,500 divided by 5,000).
  • Height: controls how tall a building can be. Height is usually controlled in terms of both the number of floors a building can have and its height in feet.
  • Setbacks: controls how much space must be left between the building and the property line. There are usually front setbacks, side setbacks, and rear setbacks. For example, the zoning might specify a minimum of 15 feet from the street to the front of the building, 5 feet from the property line to the sides of the building, and 20 feet from the property line to the back of the building.
  • Parking: controls how many parking spaces the developer must provide as part of the project. For residential uses, it is based on the number of houses or apartments. For commercial and industrial uses, it is based on the size of the building in square feet.

As you can see, zoning controls many aspects of development. Regulation of the type of uses is the least controversial, which is why people who oppose more housing often rely on absurd arguments about uses to make their point. Obviously no one here is arguing to allow new chemical refineries to be built next to schools and apartments. And obviously there is a large difference between that and allowing the construction of 12 apartments where the zoning currently only allows one house.

Zoning in Los Angeles evolved over the past 100 plus years, incorporating a series of societal goals and trends that may or may not make sense in 2016. LA was a pioneer in zoning for uses, adopting the nation’s first citywide zoning code (separating residential uses from other activities) in 1908. LA later borrowed zoning for ‘bulk’ (height, density, etc) from New York City and single family only zones from Berkeley. In 1930, as the region’s streetcar system was giving way to automobiles, LA began requiring some new building to provide off street parking spaces. LA’s current zoning code was last substantially updated in 1946 (though new zones and rules changes have been added in the subsequent 70 years). The City is currently revising the code through the re:code LA process.

Los Angeles began zoning before it had a formal process for urban planning. In 1974, LA adopted its first general plan, with land use and zoning set by 35 community plans. Under state law, zoning in LA is supposed to implement the general and community plans. The current zoning code has almost 2000 uses, everything from frog keeping to phonograph record blank manufacturing to wine bars.

In the city of Los Angeles, the main types of zones are R, C, and M, which correspond to residential, commercial, and industrial uses (the M is for manufacturing). Each zone is also assigned a height district which controls how large and how tall the building can be. For example, a zoning designation of R3-1 indicates that the lot is in the R3 zone and height district 1.

Residential Zones in LA

There are two main types of residential zones in Los Angeles: single-family zones and multi-family zones.

In single-family zones, you can only build one house on the lot, no matter how big the lot is. If you have a very large lot, you may be able to subdivide it into smaller pieces and build a house on each, so long as each lot meets the minimum lot size required in that zone. This is how the suburban areas of LA were developed, by taking large pieces of property, dividing them, and putting one house on each piece – this is why new housing developments are called subdivisions.

Single-family zoning is by far the most common zone of any kind in Los Angeles. The most common single-family zone is R1, which requires a minimum lot size of 5,000 square feet (SF). Almost all of the single-family neighborhoods in LA that are not in the hills are zoned R1.

The other two common single-family zones in LA are RA (residential agriculture) and RE (residential estate). The RA zone requires 17,500 SF lots and allows limited agriculture – this is often called “horse property”. There are 5 RE zones, RE9, RE11, RE15, RE20, and RE40, with the number corresponding to the minimum lot size in thousands of square feet. For example, RE11 requires 11,000 SF minimum lots. All of the single-family zones in LA require a minimum of 2 covered parking spaces.

The map below shows generalized zoning in Los Angeles – click to embiggen. Anything in yellow is an R1 or an RE zone, and anything in light green is an RA zone.

LAzones-small

As you can see, the map is dominated by single-family zones, especially on the Westside, in the Valley, and in Northeast LA. The fight about development and displacement is being fought entirely outside these zones. There’s practically no rent stabilized housing anywhere in the yellow and light green areas. These neighborhoods have been let off the hook for their role in causing the housing crisis, despite the fact that they occupy most of the city’s land. If we are going to fix LA’s housing shortage, these neighborhoods should do their part.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the multi-family zones in LA, shown in orange on the map. These are the zones where you can build apartments. The main multi-family zones are RD, R3, R4, and R5, in order of increasing density. For these zones, density is controlled by requiring a minimum lot area per apartment. There are six levels of RD, which stands for restricted density, RD6, RD5, RD4, RD3, RD2, and RD1.5, with the number corresponding to the minimum lot area per apartment in thousands of square feet. For example, RD2 requires 2,000 SF of lot area per apartment. R3 requires 800 SF per apartment, R4 requires 400 SF, and R5 requires 200 SF.

The RD zones are the most common multi-family zones in LA, followed by R3. That’s mostly what you’re seeing in orange on the map. R4 is found mainly in places like Koreatown, Hollywood, North Hollywood, and Palms. R5 is found almost exclusively downtown and along Condo Canyon on Wilshire. All multi-family zones require parking at a rate of 1 space per studio, 1.5 spaces per 1 bedroom unit, and 2 spaces per 2+ bedroom unit.

To help visualize what these zones look like, RD zones usually look like very small apartment buildings or small lot subdivisions. R3 zones look like dingbats. R4 zones look like podiums. R5 allows for high-rises.

The lack of developable R3 and R4 zones in LA is one of the biggest roadblocks to constructing new apartments for ordinary people. Looking back at the map with that in mind, you can see why the large area of the city devoted to single-family zoning is such a problem.

Most of the residential zones in the city are in height districts 1, 1L, 1VL, and 1XL, where L stands for low, VL for very low, and XL for extra low (see a pattern?). For all zones, this means a maximum FAR of 3. For the single family zones, RD, and R3, these areas allow heights varying from 30’ in height district 1XL to 45’ in height district 1. R4 and R5 vary from 30’ in 1XL to unlimited in 1.

Height districts 2, 3, and 4 allow more height and more FAR, but not more density in terms of the number of apartments. These districts are generally restricted to places like Downtown and Hollywood.

For different places, different factors will limit the amount of development. For example, a 5,000 SF lot in an R4-1 zone theoretically has no limit on how tall the building can be. However, it’s only possible to put 12 apartments on this lot, and with a maximum FAR of 3.0. Therefore, the maximum size of the building would be 15,000 SF, equal to twelve 1,250 SF apartments. It would be impractical to build anything taller than about 5 stories on such a lot. This lot would be constrained by FAR and density, but not height.

On the other hand, a 6,000 SF lot in the RD2-1 zone can have an FAR of 3.0, which would allow up to 18,000 SF of building space. However, only 3 apartments would be allowed on such a lot, and you don’t see many 6,000 SF apartments. If the lot were 50’ wide by 120’ deep, the building footprint available after removing setbacks would be only about 3,000 SF. To get an 18,000 SF building, you’d have to build 6 stories tall, but the maximum height allowed is 45’ – only enough for about 4 stories. This lot is constrained by density and height, but not by FAR.

Commercial Zones in LA

Commercial zones are where businesses like restaurants, shops, and offices are located. They are shown in pink on the above map. As you can see, commercial zoning is located in strips along LA’s major boulevards, and in larger areas of business districts such as Downtown, Hollywood, Century City, and Playa Vista.

There are seven commercial zones in LA (CR, C1, C1.5, C2, C4, C5, and CM), but C2 is by far the most common. In addition to allowing commercial uses, C2 allows R4 uses by default, meaning that on LA’s commercial boulevards, you can build apartments at a density of 400 SF of lot area per apartment.

This was a great way to allow denser residential development along commercial boulevards, which are also often good transit corridors. However, in the 1980s, a ballot initiative known as Prop U cut the allowable FAR in the C2 zone from 3.0 to 1.5. Since many of these properties are already developed with commercial uses and FAR between 0.5 and 1.0, it is not profitable to build apartments in the C2 zone anymore. Thus, these lots are constrained by FAR.

The city has created two new zones, RAS3 and RAS4, that can be applied on commercial boulevards and help solve the problems caused by Prop U. These zones correspond to the same density allowed by R3 and R4, and have maximum FAR 3.0, but allow for mixed-use development by permitting commercial uses on the first floor. However, the RAS3 and RAS4 zones are very rare.

Manufacturing Zones in LA

Manufacturing zones are where industry is located. They are shown in grey on the above map, and are mainly located in the industrial district near downtown and along freight rail lines. As heavy industry has become less important to LA, these zones have become occupied by light industrial uses and commercial uses. The common M zones, M1 and M2, allow for C2 uses, meaning that offices and shops can be constructed there. However, residential uses are prohibited in M zones. For example, the Warner Center is in an M zone.

Occasionally, some people have expressed concern that allowing commercial development in M zones is going to erode the city’s industrial job base. This gets the analysis backwards; the existence of M zones does not create industrial jobs. Many M zone uses, such as warehouses, have low job density compared to commercial uses. In addition, it is worth remembering that because most of the city is zoned residential, commercial and industrial uses are competing for a very small portion of the city’s land. Allowing commercial development in more areas would decrease the development pressure on M zones.

More to Come

This post has hopefully provided an understandable overview of the main zoning regulations in LA. In a future post, we’ll look at the process that developers must go through if they want to get permission to do something differently. Since the housing crisis is a regional problem, future posts will also look at the zoning in other cities in the region.


What Happens When A City Finds Its Voice?

What Happens When A City Finds Its Voice? via The Urban Developer

“Can you imagine a city where the silent majority find their voices and cry out ‘just build!’?

Well according to Wolter Consulting Group (WCG) Director Natalie Rayment it’s not just a dream.

Natalie recently attended the world’s first YIMBY conference with WCG senior planner, Mia Hickey, in Boulder Colorado and there is no doubt they are excited by what they have seen.

‘There is a ground swell of urban activists with exactly this pro-housing, pro-density, pro-development message sweeping the globe,’ Natalie said.

‘Yes, in my backyard or YIMBY, is gaining momentum across the world as we saw at the YIMBY conference.'”


How Anti-Growth Sentiment, Reflected in Zoning Laws, Thwarts Equality

How Anti-Growth Sentiment, Reflected in Zoning Laws, Thwarts Equality via New York Times

“To most people, zoning and land-use regulations might conjure up little more than images of late-night City Council meetings full of gadflies and minutiae. But these laws go a long way toward determining some fundamental aspects of life: what American neighborhoods look like, who gets to live where and what schools their children attend.

And when zoning laws get out of hand, economists say, the damage to the American economy and society can be profound. Studies have shown that laws aimed at things like “maintaining neighborhood character” or limiting how many unrelated people can live together in the same house contribute to racial segregation and deeper class disparities. They also exacerbate inequality by restricting the housing supply in places where demand is greatest.”