City Council Candidates Use Ogden Drive Hearing as Forum on Housing Issues

Project proposed for North Ogden Drive (Dean Larkin Design)
Project proposed for North Ogden Drive (Dean Larkin Design)

The West Hollywood Planning Commission Thursday night postponed action on a proposed development on Ogden Drive during a fractious hearing that included challenges by Commissioner Sheila Lightfoot to the city’s General Plan and allegations by City Council candidate Cole Ettman that the commissioners were accepting gifts from developers.

The public hearing also illustrated the degree to which housing development has become an issue in local politics, and especially in the upcoming June 2 City Council election. It attracted anti-development activists such as Stephanie Harker and Cynthia Blatt, who have criticized most recent development projects, claiming they cause parking problems, contribute to the drought and harm the look and feel of city neighborhoods. It also drew comments from Planning Commissioners who said the city should not shut its doors to new residents.

“This is the most desirable area in the country to live, and West Hollywood is perhaps one of the most desirable places in Southern California to live,” Commissioner John Altschul said. “Not only can’t we help that, I think we should rejoice in that. The city has created a sensational community where people want to come. The people that were here, they welcomed us when we came. Let’s not be the kind of people that say ‘We’ve got ours, let’s close the doors’.”

Commissioner Roy Huebner recalled that he moved to West Hollywood in 1989 and moved into an apartment because he couldn’t afford a house. “We shouldn’t be restricting the number of units that we have and putting more upward pressure on the demand and making the prices go even higher,” he said. “It’s just going to become more and more exclusive… By limiting the inventory we are just going to create more pressure on the inventory that exists.”

Lightfoot was named to the Planning Commission in April by newly elected City Councilmember Lauren Meister, who is known for her opposition to increased housing in West Hollywood. During the hearing her criticism of aspects of the General Plan drew objections from various Planning Commission members who noted that their job is to decide whether a project meets the city’s requirements not to critique the existing zoning regulations or the General Plan adopted by the City Council. The General Plan, adopted in 2011 after numerous public hearings, is required by the state. It is meant to reflect “how, when, and where the city should develop and change as a place to live, to work, and to invest … developers use it to understand the City’s development needs, preferences, and physical parameters,” the plan states.

Among Lightfoot’s concerns was that the area of Ogden Drive south of Santa Monica where the project is proposed is zoned for medium density development although currently there are a number of single family homes in the area. Antonio Castillo, a city planner, explained that the zoning reflects the anticipated development of the area and that medium density development is permitted from Ogden to Martel Avenue south of Santa Monica Boulevard.

While Lightfoot’s questioning of the city’s General Plan and zoning regulations clearly annoyed some of her fellow commissioners, it was Ettman’s accusations that drew angry responses from them.

During a period when members of the public are allowed to comment, Ettman said: ” We don’t want a zoning code that allows for buildings two times the size of what’s next door. And what else has to change is the (City) Council. The Council entrenched with developers. And Planning Commissioners, with $500 steak dinners and bottles of wine with the applicants to learn about their projects, and Planning Commissioners who run for office and accept contributions from developers that they are going to vote a project on. It’s time to take the money out of City Hall. It’s time to take the money out of the Planning Commission.”

Ettman’s remarks drew a quick and heated response from Planning Commissioner Marc Yeber. “Who are you accusing?” Yeber asked Ettman, who declined to respond. “That’s playing fast and loose with the truth,” said Altschul. “You are entitled to have your own opinion but not your own facts,” said Commissioner Heidi Shink, who also is a candidate in the June 2 City Council election.

Ettman’s accusation about accepting money from developers clearly was directed at Shink, whose opponents claim she accepted a campaign donation from the developer of the controversial 826 N. Kings Rd. project. While the developer did make a contribution to Shink, her campaign has returned it. Shink herself has sparked controversy for voting for that project as a Planning Commissioner and then urging the City Council to reject it after beginning her campaign for office.

The Ogden Drive project would demolish four single-family houses that are occupied by renters and replace them with 21 condominium units in three buildings, three of which will be rented to low- or moderate-income people.

The project was largely supported by Altschul and Huebner. ” I actually think that these designs are refreshing and maybe they will start some better designs in the neighborhood,” Heubner said. “… This applicant has played by the rules of the road.”

Altschul said he believed the project met the city’s zoning requirements and that while the Planning Commission had some discretion in approving it, he believed its decision “should fall in favor of providing housing for people.”

Yeber said he was concerned that in constructing three separate building on three separate lots the builder was removing street parking in three places to provide access to underground parking structures. He also questioned the amount of shade or shadows that the buildings would cast on one another and adjacent properties. Commissioner Donald DeLuccio said he shared Yeber’s concerns.

Shink, who has taken a stand against new housing development since she began her City Council race, opposed the project, noting that residents of the four single-family homes would be evicted because of it.

The Commission’s vote entitles the developer to come back before it with changes to the project that might satisfy Yeber and DeLuccio’s concerns.

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Mike Dolan
Mike Dolan
5 years ago

@Snake: I do agree with his statement. I do not agree with whom he supports. Is it Shink or Ettman? The difference between your observation and my supportive comment ends there!

Jim Nasium
Jim Nasium
5 years ago

Sounds more like the single family homeowners who sold their houses are the ones who are in the pocket of these developers.

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

@Mike Dolan, glad you agree with Commissioner John Altshul; he is supporting
HEIDI SHINK FRO WEST HOLLYWOOD CITY COUNCIL.

Lynn
Lynn
5 years ago

@Cassandra’s Snakes: John Altschul may indeed be confused. If I remember correctly he highly complemented the developments @ SM Blvd & La Brea. Also don’t recall any appeals. So now, he is in step with Heidi Shink? He also had weekly meetings w John DAmico while both on planning and possibly since. Did they never discuss the potential of overdevelopment and exponential problems?

Waynegrow
Waynegrow
5 years ago

I was at the meeting last Thursday night. I also live within 200 feet of the proposed North Ogden proposed developement. I also attended the neighborhood meetings in February at Plummer Park. This project is completely out of character with the surrounding elements of our neighborhood. There are about 11 single family one story homes located on this block. And, about 10 2 story apartment buildings as well. Furthermore, the developer and architect are also developing a property located right across the street from thIs proposal. That home, at 1021 north Ogden has been sitting vacant since January. The developer… Read more »

butnotrose
5 years ago

Wake Up. It is May 25 with a June 2 Election. PERSONALLY ,…. I CAN’T THINK OF A BETTER TIME TO POSTPONE A VERY HOT AND DIVIDED ISSUE. Were I running with the hopes of winning and NOT showing/proving/risking a candidates actual way of dealing with issues. Dealing with residents issues. Dealing with the all powerful developers who really control weho. —————————— ALSO – despite the charade of the Council Appointed Members of the weho Planning Commission, good or bad intentions aside, THEY have no actual power to make changes to building in weho. They sit there getting tied up… Read more »

Lynn
Lynn
5 years ago
Reply to  butnotrose

@butnorose: Are you saying that John Heilman is three people or simply one person that was controlling two other council members? Are you inferring that he is in collusion w Paul Arevalo, City Manager? Who has the time to arrange all of this? Are there in essence secret RFP’s that go out to preferred developers in on the game? When did the land grab begin and who do you think instigated it? Any fact you can offer would be appreciated.

Lynn
Lynn
5 years ago

@Cassandra Snake. Grandpa Heilman, now that’s a funny one. If I’m correct the projects you speak of were approved @ Planning Commission and unless one or more were appealed never advanced to Council. At the time, wasn’t John d’Amico a planning commissioner. Strange how amnesia works, it can strike any of us at any time. LOL.

Lynn
Lynn
5 years ago

Significant changes might make this project more befitting the neighborhood. I believe the architect would have benefitted by considering different scenarios in massing to handle the dynamic and not make it appear repetitive of overbearing. Apparently this is his first considerable project and hopefully he will be opeibded and flexible producing something both he and the neighborhood will be proud of. It is possible. Unfortunately much of the focus during the meeting evaporated after Commissioner Lightfoot’s consistently probing questions regarding general policy issues When Lauren Meister appointed Ma. Lightfoot to the commission she commented as to how Ms. Lightfoot enjoyed… Read more »

GMH
GMH
5 years ago

Potholder sender Ettman was plugging for votes at the Senior Health Fair at Plummer Park. He is really annoying, but to his credit, he speaks fluent Russian. I love the yellow potholder btw…the blue & white one Paul Koretz gave us years ago was too straight for my kitchen.

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

This is Wehogwash. The activists are NOT anti-development. You must listen to what they are saying because over and over they are misquoted and treated as if they want no development. They are ANTI-IRRESPONSIBLE development. Wake up people. Go drive down La Brea and then come tell all of the commenters here what you see. Grandpa Heilman voted everyone of those gigantic, ugly buildings in and then at the forum kept patting himself on the back for conspiring with WHCHC to include 35 units of “affordable” housing in each building but failed to mention the lottery list to get into… Read more »

Rudolf Martin
Rudolf Martin
5 years ago

Good point, SaveWeho! Housing costs are not a local issue. Sure we can develop, add and upgrade housing but it won’t affect the cost of housing in the slightest, if anything it attracts a new group of people who are willing to pay much higher rents or top dollar for condos. Nothing wrong with that but does anyone believe that this will stop rents from going up? Even the low-income tenants will most likely be “imported”. People build big and fast right now because they want to make money. There is no other reason and that’s fine. Very good assessment… Read more »

Mike Dolan
Mike Dolan
5 years ago

I thought the opposite Steve Martin. The comments by Commissioner John Altschul was spot on! He exactly exemplifies why this Special Election is critical to in stopping the “closing the door,” movement that’s main objective is “closing the door.” Steve Martin, I don’t agree with your calling this responsible development, a “four story TOWERS.” Where and when were you one of the little people from Land Of The Giants? Then, and only then, does a midrise responsible development meet your propaganda of “TOWER.” This project is zone compliant and meets the responsible requirement for development under the General Plan. The… Read more »

Jerome Cleary
Jerome Cleary
5 years ago

In our neighborhood on Horn Avenue, when the developers were building the 4 story Shoreham Villas. I had asked at the planning commission and city council meeting if we could have just 2 stories and it was met with a no they approved the 4 stories. Then I asked for a compromise at 3 stories and it was still met with a no from the city council for our final meeting on it and it was built at the full 4 stories. So even though our neighborhood came out and asked for it to be scaled down it still got… Read more »