Earlier this month WEHOville asked West Hollywood residents what issues they wanted candidates in the March 7 City Council election to address. We received hundreds of responses and boiled them down to 11 key issues. We have asked each of the ten candidates in the election to offer his or her positions on these issues. On each Monday over the next few weeks we will publish one or two of the questions and the candidates’ responses.
7) A major issue in West Hollywood is development, with some residents arguing that the city is too densely populated and shouldn’t allow construction of housing for additional residents. Others argue that growth is inevitable but must be carefully managed, and that the addition of more housing is the only way to slow the dramatic increase in local housing costs? What is your stand on this issue?
“EXPERIENCE” does not necessarily translate to KNOWLEDGE.
Trying to reduce this issue to two component parts misses the forest for the trees. Construction will happen; development will happen, and the reality of what we have seen is that rents have not been brought down but rather have skyrocketed under the leadership of our current council.
The question should be: how do we make it work to address the needs of all the people, not just the wealthy? How do we strike a coherent balance among development, affordable housing and preservation? If what we want is to provide an effective response that will find housing for the people who need it and be sustainable over the long run (you can’t “age-in-place” if you have no home to “age-in-place” in), then I believe a two-pronged approach is in order.
First: a combination of federal, state and local funding should be offered in the form of grants to the private owners of rent stabilized buildings to renovate, rehabilitate and/or preserve their buildings. A requirement of the grants, which is typically done with these types of grant funding, is to require that the building remain affordable for a period of 55 years. Grant funding support would give the owners of rent stabilized buildings an incentive to keep and maintain their buildings rather than to sell out to developers because they can’t afford to keep their buildings up.
The problem that we have seen on our current city council, especially our two incumbents running for re-election, is that political “experience” does not necessarily translate to knowledge. For many years, they have been telling the public that “grants are gifts of public funds” and therefore cannot be given to the owners of private buildings. Either they don’t know better (lack of knowledge) or they do, which is worse because that would mean they were purposely misleading the public.
These grants are absolutely proper and eligible. The regulations governing these grants can be found by searching “24 CFR 570.202,” and you will see all the rehabilitation and preservation activities that can, in fact, be funded with grants to the owners of private buildings. This documentation specifically contradicts the falsehoods our incumbents have used to tell the public that there is nothing they can do to fight the Ellis Act.
They can’t legislatively but they CAN, if they choose to, on the local level. Further, they could have, for all these years they have been in office, prevented people from being thrown out of their homes. And they might have if bigger, faster, louder developments weren’t their ultimate goal. There is grant money out there that the city does not pursue, and when matched by state and local funds grants can provide a host of solutions to West Hollywood’s affordable housing crisis.
Second: “Experience” clearly does not translate to creativity either. Another method of addressing the affordable housing crisis would be to institute a regional approach to providing affordable housing in collaboration with Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Culver City. Working together to focus our efforts on affordability, employment and transportation in a smooth continuum would address the problems created by constant construction, clogged traffic and the loss of real neighborhood serving businesses. In my job, I have worked with a similar multi-agency collaboration and it was very successful. So the issue of affordable housing, it seems, has not been and will not be solved by political “experience” that serves the personal vision of our incumbents rather than our core values and the community’s vision for our city. Look around you and if you don’t like what you see, then it’s time to vote for change.
I am absolutely opposed to OVER-DEVELOPMENT. Here is what over-development looks like to me and every single resident I have spoken to: oversized glass, steel and concrete structures on residential streets that do not co-exist peacefully with the design of the neighborhood.
Over-development also looks like the public easement the council voted to vacate related to the 8899 Beverly Blvd. project. Our residents have enjoyed that easement and the trees and shade it provided for 50 years before the council gifted it to the developer with no public benefit or financial gain to the residents. All so that a developer can build an oversized structure there.
Over-development looks like the project the council approved on Flores that is two stories too tall for the neighborhood and infringes on the property of the historical building that is adjacent to it.
This is the single most concerning issue raised by our neighbors consistently over the last 10 years. When I talk about my desire to protect our urban village, this is one of the main topics on my agenda. There is a sense in the community that the city council is acting irresponsibly on this issue and is diametrically opposed to the will of the voters.
We question the motivation of the majority of the council to continue to approve these projects after hearing resident after resident speak in opposition to these proposals. There is a common belief that many on the council receive large contributions to their campaigns from several developers that work in the city, and West Hollywood is being called “the most creative city money can buy.”
With term limits in effect, I believe the incumbents are approving designs that are completely changing the character of our community and, once their terms are up we (the long-term residents of West Hollywood) will be left to live with these monstrous designs for the duration of our time in the city.
We also must put a halt to the destruction of buildings, particularly ones providing affordable , rent-controlled apartment housing, to construct yet another hotel. How many hotels does West Hollywood need? Do we want to be, simply, a resort community or do we want to be home to our residents? Currently, our population triple with tourists staying in our hotels on weekends. How much more of an influx would we like? In my opinion, triple is more than enough. The city suffers from no shortage of money and we have more than enough in reserves. We should stop relying so heavily on revenue from hotels and developers, and start providing a good, healthy, enjoyable quality of life to our residents.
I want to be clear that I do not believe all development is over-development. Some examples of healthy development are the Huxley and the Dylan on the eastside of town. Those upscale residential buildings are an improvement over what existed on the lots before, provide great new units for residents and have affordable housing built within. I believe the locations at the intersections of busy main thoroughfares makes sense in those locations, but not on narrow streets characterized by single-family homes (many two-bedroom cottages) in the heart of our residential neighborhoods.
In order to promote affordable housing, we need to enforce the ban on short-term rentals to increase the availability of housing on the market and drive down rents. We should encourage developers’ contribution to the affordable housing fund so the city could repurpose existing buildings as homes for low and middle-income residents. We should work on the county and state levels to overturn the Ellis Act. We should be more vigilant with regard to landlords illegally using the Ellis Act to evict tenants and, when they do, pursue them and ensure that the penalty exceeds the benefit they receive in re-renting a unit they obtained by illegal eviction.
To me this issue is crystal clear: the vast majority of the residents are opposed to over-development. The council is elected by the residents and the will of the people should be reflected in the council’s votes.
In conclusion, I was asked by a member of this city’s Democratic Club how I, as a council member, would explain to the residents why this over-development is legally mandated. I responded as follows: I believe the council members have explained themselves quite well. Most of them have legal training, and they are able to eloquently defend their actions. This is not the issue. The issue is: how do we get the council to listen to the residents? We all know enough about the law to know that it can be interpreted in any manner the council would like to interpret it. This council is using the law as a means to achieve their intended result. And it is not a good result for our residents.
I believe smart, sustainable development is indicative of progress. I also believe that increasing inventory is the only way to increase the availability of affordable housing. I mentioned this at the candidate forum a few weeks ago: the only way to increase inventory in our dense urban environment is to build “up” in neighborhoods that can support it.
That said, WeHo’s recent track record for approving development projects has lacked qualified oversight and regard for resident and local business input. Projects routinely regarded by the community as “too big” or “too soon” have been approved by council regardless of input. I propose the following ideas:
1) A ban on all campaign contributions from commercial developers;
2) Implementation and enforcement of neighborhood overlay zones (similar to West Hollywood West and Norma Triangle) that address resident concerns and explore the geographic viability of new development projects based on what each distinct neighborhood can support, including both residential and commercial lots;
3) “Rolling moratoriums” on large-scale commercial development along major corridors (i.e. council should implement an ordinance that allows for the thoughtful scheduling of projects to prevent simultaneous impacts on neighborhoods);
4) Better means of receiving resident and local business input (e.g. city-sponsored digital surveys, Facebook campaigns and in-person canvassing); and,
5) More qualified professionals appointed to Planning Commission (e.g. architects, designers and engineers).
There are residents who are actually negatively affected by concurrent construction projects in their areas. There are also residents who want West Hollywood to look like it did in 1965 because they are afraid of change. West Hollywood’s Rent Stabilization department does a terrific job of protecting residents from unscrupulous landlords, and I wholeheartedly support those efforts. But, I also believe that smart, considerate, environmentally sustainable development projects are essential to progress, and that getting there should be done in a way that genuinely accounts for the concerns of the community.
The population of the City of West Hollywood today is about 36,000 people. What was the population in 1984 when the city was incorporated? About 36,000 people. The point is that West Hollywood has always been densely populated with about 18,000 people/square mile.
That is nothing new. Many residents may not realize that every city in the State of California is assigned a RHNA number (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) requiring each city to build additional housing units. The reason is that the State of California suffers from a severe housing shortage, and every city must build new units to address this shortage. It’s economic supply and demand – limited supply and high demand leads to higher costs. So the questions isn’t whether or not to build additional housing – we must. The only issue is where and how we build it.
In 2008, I was the author of the moratorium on development in West Hollywood. I was concerned about rent-controlled apartment buildings being demolished for new expensive condo construction. So we passed a moratorium for 18 months. That is the maximum time allowed for a moratorium. During that time we analyzed our general plan and decided to move new housing construction down to the commercial corridors to relieve development pressure in the neighborhoods. This is why we are seeing new housing units on Santa Monica Boulevard near La Brea and Plummer Park as part of mixed use projects with commercial uses on the ground floor and housing on top.
West Hollywood is one of the few cities with an inclusionary housing ordinance. This means that every new housing development must set aside 20% of the units for low-income and special needs housing. This is the way that we ensure the building of new units for seniors and lower income workers to maintain economic diversity in West Hollywood.
We all know that homelessness is a serious issue that must be addressed. The way to solve the homeless issue is to build housing for the formerly homeless. West Hollywood makes sure that social services are attached to homeless housing to address mental illness and substance abuse issues.
Our most significant stabilizing ordinance that we have that guarantees affordable housing in the city is our rent control ordinance. Without it many of our residents would have been displaced years ago by rising housing costs on the Westside. All of these remedies (rent control ordinance, inclusionary housing ordinance, mixed use housing on commercial corridors) make sure that West Hollywood is doing its share to provide for the poor, seniors, people with HIV/AIDS, veterans, the homeless and people with disabilities.
The issue of development is a challenge throughout Southern California. Residents are understandably concerned about the impacts of development on West Hollywood, especially the impacts of development on traffic and quality of life. The concern about development is especially great at this time because we are currently dealing with the construction of a number of projects which were approved many years ago.
Some resident mistakenly believe the city council can stop all development but that is not the case. Some development is inevitable because property owners have a legal right to develop their properties when their proposals are consistent with the city’s zoning ordinance. In addition, some development is beneficial to the community because it provides new jobs for residents, new income to support services or additional housing for the community especially when some units are reserved for low and moderate income residents. We have a long list of residents who are in need of permanently affordable housing because they are seniors living on low incomes. Some housing construction is necessary to address this problem.
As a city we should not be anti-development or pro-development. Rather, we should look at the impacts and benefits of each proposal in an objective manner and permit development only when the benefits outweigh the impacts.
One of the big issues is that every development that comes in front of the City Council for approval seems to get approved without any regard to the neighborhood they are building in. Growth is inevitable but we have to do it responsibly. Each project has to be looked at to make sure that it works for the proposed area they are going to build it in. The only way to really control the housing costs is to require developers to build low income housing, and bring back rent control. Building additional housing is not going to lower the cost of property in West Hollywood regulating the developers is the only way to bring down the costs.
West Hollywood is largely built out but the General Plan does allow for additional housing opportunities via mixed use along Santa Monica and through the intensification of density in residential areas other than R1.
We need additional housing, but it is clear we cannot build our way out of the demand for affordable housing. We can and should move forward in a balanced fashion to allow for reasonable growth of in-fill areas and in mixed use projects. But we need to develop projections for growth that are in keeping with our existing infrastructure. We can’t have a 15% or 20% increase in growth without huge adverse consequences.
Whenever we can we should insist that developers build affordable inclusionary housing on site as that is the most effective way to insure these units are actually built. We could mandate that affordable units be smaller or have fewer amenities to create some incentives to create affordable housing.
Much of West Hollywood is under-parked as the city developed when the Red Car ran down Santa Monica and people owned fewer vehicles. We need to insure that we require new developments have adequate parking. We also need to allow for micro units which should be more affordable. There needs to be more opportunities for home ownership as a stable population will lead to a better quality of life.
Our biggest challenge is to prevent and discourage the demolition of existing rent controlled housing.
First and foremost, I am against developers donating to city council campaigns. When private interest groups, like developers, support local campaigns it creates a special interest between them and the council. I am for development that meets the needs of our population: low-income and affordability housing being a priority, rather than luxury and exclusivity. Along with sustainable building practices, this is what I would call “smart development.”
Considering we have a waitlist for low-income housing, we need to prioritize this type of development. Also, if we pride ourselves in being a green, sustainable city, then we must amend the green building ordinance. Our new housing infrastructure should not only be built with eco-friendly materials but should be designed to better harness the power of renewable energy.
Housing and development needs to serve our city and its residents first – not fill the pockets of developers.
Development is not an either/or choice in my opinion. The reality is we are going to have some development, and we have to balance that with the needs and rights of the people who live here. Property owners have a right to develop their property within the guidelines the city has set, but we have to strike that balance with the residents, because they too have a right to enjoy their property.
Too often, development doesn’t offer tangible benefits to our residents, like yielding good jobs, new affordable housing, convenient amenities lacking in the area, or perhaps communal artistic spaces to foster our creative environment, like galleries, theaters, studios – so artists who live here don’t have to pay to work here. This would benefit the community overall.
I think the negative outlook on development stems from a feeling that it leads to corporate profits at the residents’ expense, rather than putting a focus on some fairly basic, thoughtful ways that it could make all of our lives better.
Do I believe we are too densely populated? No. I lived in the East Village too long to think that. Do I think we should develop additional housing? If it’s with the intent and purpose of getting our homeless citizens off the streets and into apartments they can call their own, then you bet I’m for it.
On Feb. 6 city council candidates will offer their opinions about providing more affordable housing and making it easier to start a business in WeHo. Last week candidates addressed a question as to whether the WeHo City Council’s long meetings were a barrier to participation by residents.