Opinion: WeHo’s Policies Are Instrumental in Building the City the Right Way

Illustration of 826 N. Kings Rd.  project.
Illustration of 826 N. Kings Rd. project.

More than most other cities in Southern California, West Hollywood has always lived by a set of strong guiding principles. The city was founded on the ideals of diversity, acceptance, sustainability and affordable housing. Over the years WeHo has adopted ordinances to encourage and require development that is consistent with that vision – from our landmark rent stabilization law in the 1980s to the city’s Green Building Program of 2007.

These policies, among others, have helped create a roadmap for commercial and residential projects, and they’ve largely succeeded. Yet as our city continues to grow and evolve, I find that some of my fellow residents are expressing frustration. This isn’t new in West Hollywood, and this expression is part of what makes our city great. But I think that some of the recent anger may be a bit misplaced and myopic, and it ignores years of policymaking that has long had broad support.

Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann

The city’s affordable housing rules and requirements for new buildings are a good example. I spent many years volunteering my time toward the efforts of providing affordable housing in our city, and I understand the process well. West Hollywood goes well beyond other cities in its commitment to providing affordable housing for its residents. The city requires new residential buildings to provide a minimum of 20 percent of units to be deemed “affordable,” meaning that they must be available to and priced for those on limited income. This rule works in tandem with a state law that encourages developers to include more affordable units in exchange for a “density bonus” that lets a project add more units overall. It’s a quid pro quo. We ask developers to provide affordable units for our lower income residents and in exchange we allow them to build additional market rate units, which helps offset the cost.

Similar incentives exist for sustainability. When WeHo began work on a broad Green Building Program that now requires new buildings to meet a range of strict requirements, the city conducted a survey of residents and businesses at the time. The vast majority of respondents said it would be appropriate to give incentives like increased density and building height to developments that incorporate green building practices.

Other WeHo policies have also shaped our projects. Neighbors often cite a building’s unit count as a cause for concern, but West Hollywood (as do many other cities) requires that residential apartment buildings be within 10 percent of their maximum allowable density– meaning that they must include near the maximum possible number of units given the lot size. So in many ways, our planning policies are working exactly as we’ve planned and are accomplishing the goals of the city as a whole.

These various policies, while supporting the city’s long term goals, result in our buildings sometimes being a bit larger or taller or denser than they would otherwise be if there was no affordable housing component or sustainability incentives or density requirements. This is where I think the rub comes.

The push and pull between some residents and the city and developers regarding proposed new projects can become murky because not everyone understands the process that has led to the final project. Misinformation is sometimes the culprit in these disputes. I see it happening on a recent proposed apartment building at 826 N. Kings Rd.

Some residents in the area have expressed concerns about the project’s size and appropriateness. But this project actually appears to have been designed to meet the city’s goals. The Kings Road proposal follows local zoning rules and has incorporated sustainable design elements as well as good architecture, and we get 20 percent of the units set aside for affordable housing. The part I really like, as a resident, is that the developer has listened to some of the concerns of neighbors and made adjustments to parking and the side yard setback. Having had experience with real estate developers in the past and having worked in the industry myself, I know that it’s not often easy to get developers to listen to neighbors. While I’m sure not everyone got what they wanted, I think the collaboration between developer, city and residents is an important and positive thing to note.

Even the city’s Planning Commission has lauded the project’s fit with the street’s surroundings. The building also includes a public art installation facing the street (this is something that is required by the city but many developers opt out by paying an “in lieu fee”).

Having worked for the American Institute of Architects for nearly a decade, I’m always grateful and impressed when a developer cares enough or is savvy enough to understand that what they’re building impacts the neighborhood and those who live there. From what I’ve seen and heard, I think this building will prove to be a worthy addition to Kings Road.

There was great outcry and controversy a few years back about a project that was proposed across the street from this one at 825 N. Kings Road, which was built next to an architectural landmark, the Schindler House. That building has won design awards since its completion and, in my opinion, has added to the rich architectural fabric of the neighborhood. I believe that 826 N. Kings Road can do the same.

While some of us may have concerns over the various projects being proposed and built in our city, we all need better information so that we can fully understand that these projects are not solely driven by the developers’ wishes or demands as some believe. West Hollywood has worked to put into place policies that will positively affect as many people as possible, and these policies affect how buildings are designed and created.

If we don’t like what’s being proposed or built then maybe we need to revisit some of our policies.

I think it’s important to encourage good developers who want to work with us and are bringing good design to our city and are meeting the guidelines we have set forth. Further development in West Hollywood is inevitable. Let’s work together to make it good as possible and attract the best developers we can.

Thomas Mann is a longtime West Hollywood resident and the former chair of the board of the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation. He is also the former associate director of the American Institute of Architects.

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skywatcher888
skywatcher888
5 years ago

Sometimes you overthink things, and make matters worse. That could be said for West Hollywood’s various “plans.” When you say that “affordable housing” is 20% of a project, the entire context of the discussion has changed over the years. It used to be that 80% of the housing stock was AFFORDABLE and that 20% might have been beyond the reach of the average renter. Now, that ratio is on it’s head. 80% of our housing stock is priced out of reach of the average renter, and the 20% of “affordable housing” has income limits below what most average renters make.… Read more »

Mike Dolan
Mike Dolan
5 years ago

“Affordable housing at all costs?” Steve, this is somewhat of a political oxymoron. Thank you for realist and objective goals based on West Hollywood’s core values Thomas Mann. The drop-in-the-bucket is at least a starting point. The main reason I live in West Hollywood is because the mine and many other’s “quality of life” is in my opinion, second to no other city. Let’s keep this momentum going in the right direction. Thomas Mann your comments are neither cynical (unlike some) but I do detect a lot of political puffery and posturing that are based on empty and false claims.… Read more »

Cathy
Cathy
5 years ago

THANK YOU Steve Martin…….thank you

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
5 years ago

While we have all supported, indeed fought, to create more affordable housing, Mr. Mann fails to note that providing a few extra units of affordable housing has been the fig leaf for massive, out of scale developments that have, or will, contribute to near gridlock and the denigration of our quality of life. While articulate, Mr. Mann has been supportive of the “affordable housing at all costs” camp which has been a cynical alliance of politicians wanting to cling to power and their deep pocketed developer allies. Between the bonuses granted by the State for developers who include affordable units… Read more »

Disco Dan
Disco Dan
5 years ago

Horrid ugly building (adjacent to Gelson’s) ?! Really ? Well why do we not demolish every edifice in WeHo which is considered ugly (a TRULY subjective analysis). The WeHo Planning Commission does not seem to deny any developer from erecting a building. Thank heavens they are not the Planning Commission in Rome, Paris, etc. Yes, a TRULY great admonishment but it is somewhat apt (and that does not mean apartment !). They are destroying what once was a village of citified proportions. Now we are becoming Beverly Hills East. STOP the INSANITY !!!!!

Robert
Robert
5 years ago

Vicki, are you blind? Have you walked around the area lately? There’s construction all over the place! Not just single – family homes (a bunch of them are those annoying “McMansions”), but businesses, multi-use developments (Melrose Ave, between La Cienega and Doheny, for example) and so on. It’s ridiculous. Hopefully, if Larry Block is voted in and has his voice and influence heard and acted upon, these “developments” can be delayed and stopped, at least in the city of West Hollywood, which sits in the middle of Los Angeles, but bordered on the west by Beverly Hills. Our city is… Read more »

One of Cassandra's Snakes
One of Cassandra's Snakes
5 years ago

@Vicki, I think other people in the neighborhood DO care but do not have the stamina to fight it and/or feel that fighting against big money, outside developers is expensive and useless because they will out spend you and drag you through cort just to get what they want. And if you look at the city’s map you will see that there are four projects going up on 3 blocks of Kings Rd. the “ugly building” is being replaced by 5 stories and is purposefully and permitted to be under parked. The low income units will have zero parking spaces… Read more »

Vicki
Vicki
5 years ago

REALLY THOUSANDS? I think the ire about this development is largely driven by one condo association that doesn’t want another building built next to it. Most of the residents I know on Kings (other than the ones next door to 826) could care less about this project, or the others–the project doesn’t really affect them. Perhaps the most disturbing thing I am hearing is that a City appointed Commissioner who is running for office voted yes and now wants to change her vote just to get people to vote for her. No way Jose! And Robert, what construction are you… Read more »

One of Cassandra's Snakes
One of Cassandra's Snakes
5 years ago

There are hundreds of residents on Kings Rd. and thousands in the city who will whole-heartedly DISAGREE with Mr. Mann’s opinion. While he is, of course, entitled to his opinion, his own myopia is akin to that of a Planning Commission and the former City Council who have approved not just this 5 story project, but 4 projects in three blocks without looking at the impacts of all four at once.

Robert
Robert
5 years ago

Mr. Mann spins a cohesive narrative with facts and experience, yet the bottom line is that operative word “development”. No matter how you look at it, we’re still talking congestion, parking, more people and noise, just to list a few negatives. I’ve lived on Kings Road for 15 years, and enough is enough already! Just stop. Please. All this spinning is making me dizzy and even more distrustful of city policies and the politics that happen behind them. I walk my neighborhood every day, and I’m truly disappointed with the amount of building going on, and it’s disturbing. Yes, housing… Read more »