West Hollywood Home Owners Lobby City Council to Oppose Bill to Make Housing Development Easier

Illustration by Alfred Twu (@alfred_twu)

Two West Hollywood neighborhood associations are asking local homeowners to press the City Council to oppose a proposal that would make it easier to turn single-family homes into fourplexes and to build denser and taller buildings near transportation centers such as rail stops.

The West Hollywood West Residents Association, in a recent email to its members, says state Sen. Scott Wiener’s SB50 “would destroy our neighborhood as we know it.” Elyse Eisenberg, in an email message to members of the West Hollywood North Residents Association, says SB50 “would allow our already dense neighborhoods to become even denser, potentially allowing 85’ tall housing to be built on any lot in our neighborhoods, overriding local zoning. Single-family neighborhoods would have to allow apartment buildings on residential lots.”

Wiener’s bill has moved forward slowly, with some opposition to an earlier version lifted after he added provisions that lighten the requirements for counties with populations of 600,000 or less, require that an as-yet-undetermined percentage of any new building’s units be set aside as affordable housing and exempt poor and segregated neighborhoods whose residents fear new development may force them out of their homes.

SB50 is intended to address California’s housing crisis, the worst in the nation. The state has 3.5 million fewer homes than it needs and its rate of new construction is the lowest in the United State. Local governments throughout the state, including the City of West Hollywood, have imposed a variety of zoning requirements and other regulations over the years that make the construction of new housing difficult. That shortage of housing means both rents and home purchase prices are out of reach for many, with the City of West Hollywood estimating that approximately half of the city’s renters are “rent burdened,” meaning they spend 30% or more of their income on rent and thus may face challenges paying for food, clothing, transportation and medical care.

A major objection raised by local cities to SB50 is that it

will take some control of zoning and planning away from them. The fierce debate over the bill has resulted in a lot of inaccurate statements about it.

For example, the owner of a single-family home would not be able to turn the site into an apartment building. However, he or she would be able to turn it into a building with four housing units (a fourplex) so long as the building isn’t torn down or enlarged and its exterior isn’t significantly altered.

West Hollywood would not be required to allow developers to exceed current height limits, a concession only available to projects constructed near transit hubs, which are defined as rail or train stops or ferry docks. Buildings constructed within a quarter mile of such transit hubs would be exempt from height limits of 55 feet and those with a half mile would be exempt from height limits of 45 feet.

While some have said SB50 will result in the destruction of existing housing, the revised bill supports new construction on a site only if “the site does not contain, or has not contained, housing occupied by tenants or accommodations withdrawn from rent or lease in accordance with specified law within specified time periods…” Thus it does not support construction on the site of any building occupied by tenants within the seven years preceding the date of the developer’s application, including housing that has been demolished or that tenants have vacated prior to the application for a development permit. Also, sites of buildings that a developer has taken off the market under the Ellis Act during the 15 years before the application for new construction cannot benefit from the height increase.

The West Hollywood City Council last year voted against an earlier bill by Wiener that had the same objectives and ultimately died in committee. It has asked city staff to lobby the state Assembly and Wiener to:

— Exempt cities that have complied with current RHNA allocations.

— Add exemptions for areas zoned for low rise residential such as West Hollywood West, if the City has met its RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) allocations.

— Offer exemptions for jurisdictions with densities far above the statewide median.

— Limit the bill’s application to no more than 5% to 25% of any jurisdiction’s land area (with percentage scale dependent on the city’s size), and

— Incorporate a provision that allows jurisdictions to accommodate increased density as they see fit. If for example, the bill required jurisdictions to provide more density than current zoning allows, each jurisdiction could plan for the increase accordingly and maintain a level of local control.

Some West Hollywood City Council members and opponents of new housing construction have often referred to the fact that the city meets 100% of its RHNA requirements for construction of new housing, which is determined according to a formula used by the Southern California Council of Governments (SCAG).

Critics of RHNA assert that many cities meet their targets because those targets are very low, which is the case with West Hollywood, whose 2013-2021 RHNA target was only 77 housing units for very low-, low-, moderate- and above moderate-income people.

“Across California, some jurisdictions are earning high grades only because they have very low targets for housing units, relative to local population and performance grades actually decreased as the number of units assigned relative to population increased,” says the public policy think tank “Next 10,” referring to a study called “Missing the Mark.”

Despite setting such a low bar, West Hollywood found itself exceeding it by a large margin, with more than 322 inclusionary units built by the end of 2016 as developers who had put projects on hold during the Great Recession brought them back to life and pushed for approval. That still amounted to only .9 units per one hundred residents.

“The nine jurisdictions that earned an A+ on RHNA progress had an average of only 0.7 units assigned per 100 persons in the jurisdiction’s population,” Next 10 reports. “On the other hand, jurisdictions that earned an F had an average of 3.3 units assigned per 100 persons.”

City planners have acknowledged the issue. “Although housing production in West Hollywood has performed better than anticipated in the state’s current planning cycle for housing (State Regional Housing Needs Assessment, or RHNA 2013-2021), affordability is still an issue,” says the city’s 2016 Housing Report. “The California Department of Finance estimates 40.5% or 9,320 households in West Hollywood are Very Low or Low income, earning less than $29,616 or $47,386 annually. Additionally, 16.9% or 3,889 households qualify as moderate income, earning less than $59,232. Most new residential development in West Hollywood is out of reach to low and moderate wage households.”

The City Council on Monday will consider whether to oppose the latest version of SB50, lobby for more changes, support it or take no position. The Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at the City Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., south of Santa Monica. Parking is free in the adjacent five-story structure with a ticket validated in the lobby.

  1. The camel’s nose is in the tent and SB50, with all its terrors and misunderstandings and assertive intentions and incompleteness, is the future staring us in the face before we are ready for it. I always look for the money trail because that has been the essence of “change” since we learned to walk on two feet. Who will be the beneficiaries of such efforts? San Francisco with its pinched acreage stuffed jowl to cheek with 19th century housing would certainly cause a local politician to propose something like SB50, but to require other jurisdictions to do the same is pushing the camel fully into the tent without its assistance. This is the kind of legislation which gives politics a bad name (really – only this?)

    According to Bill Boyarsky in LAObserved today, it ain’t a done deal yet and the House Speaker seems to be dismissive of it. Stay tuned.

    1. The top contributor to the SB 50 author’s political campaign:

      $17,000 from THE STATE BUILDING & CONSTRUCTION TRADES COUNCIL OF CALIFORNIA…..Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

      1. Hey Manny and everyone else against SB50. How would you make home ownership in WeHo affordable to the average working professional making 100k-200k a year? You argue that we should protect single family homes – ok fine, but at the same time you do not seem to believe these homes should be affordable to anyone other than the top 1% ultra wealthy.

        Do you have a plan to bring down the price of single family home ownership in WeHo? If so, what is your plan? Or is your main motive to protect the $2 million price tags under a “I got mine” mindset?

  2. This article, which is really a bias op-ed, could have been written by the author of this reckless real estate deal that masquerades as legislation. The article’s headline alone tells you where it’s going.

    If it’s true that you can’t build a new 8 story luxury condo or rental development if there was a “low income” tenant on the property with in the last 7 years, who is to say that there was or was not a “low income” tenant. This provision is simply a distraction and a mirage that offers false hope. Buyer beware.

    In regards to the conversion of an average 1400 square foot home into a fourplex, that would produce 350 sf units, with no room for parking, that may each rent for $3000/month. Is that the kind of housing we should aspire to build? I hope not. Keep in mind that if that 1400 sf SFH is within a “transit rich” zone, which is EVERY parcel in the city of West Hollywood, it would be allowable to tear down the house and build an up to 85 foot tall and 8 story high condo or luxury apt building. It would be naive to think that anything smaller would be built or that it would be “affordable”.

    So, let’s try to look beyond the bias headline and look at reality. SB 50 will turn West Hollywood into Century City East, or worse…….Is that what we want? I say NO.

    1. It is not correct that SB50 would allow a developer to build an eight-story apartment building or a building 85 feet high in West Hollywood. That’s because, as the story notes, the revised version of SB50 limits such height exceptions to buildings built near transit hubs, which are defined as rail stops or ferry stops. West Hollywood has neither.

  3. Wow. Some of you guys ought to read the story. “Alternative facts” aren’t helpful unless you’re in the White House. The story says that rent stabilized housing will be protected.

    “While some have said SB50 will result in the destruction of existing housing, the revised bill supports new construction on a site only if “the site does not contain, or has not contained, housing occupied by tenants or accommodations withdrawn from rent or lease in accordance with specified law within specified time periods…” Thus it does not support construction on the site of any building occupied by tenants within the seven years preceding the date of the developer’s application, including housing that has been demolished or that tenants have vacated prior to the application for a development permit. Also, sites of buildings that a developer has taken off the market under the Ellis Act during the 15 years before the application for new construction cannot benefit from the height increase.”

  4. Strongly OPPOSE SB 50. A one-size-fits all solution is not the answer. Local jurisdictions should retain control of their zoning.

  5. Let’s not make this a renters verses homeowners issue. There are many reasons why both need to be suspicious of this reckless and re-hashed state bill.

    SB50 is really a real estate deal who’s sole purpose is to facilitate the building of more luxury and open market housing at the expense of single family homes and our cities existing rent stabilized units and buildings. If West Hollywood wants to change zoning, it can do it on its own. But no city should give up their zoning choices and jurisdiction to the dysfunctional State of California.

    West Hollywood needs to join the City of Los Angeles and San Francisco in opposition to SB50……for the sake of both homeowners and tenants.

    1. Sadly, there are very few single family residences left in West Hollywood.

      NOTE: N WESTKNOLL 8500 BLOCK (behind wells fargo/Ramada) is losing 3 of the 4 small homes on the south side.

      It was rezoned for the MEGA Project on SMB at collier & leash (wells Fargo east to WESTKNOLL.

      Now pushing bigger and back onto the very residential, and very few such housing left in weho.

      1. “Very few single family residences”? Why do you write these lies? There single family residences in WeHo and the average price is $2 million. These elitist homeowners do not want to live next to anyone who cannot afford less than $2 million. A lot of it is racially motivated as well. We need thousands of more units of housing to adjust to demand and catering to racist elitists does not serve the community at large.

    2. I agree 100% with Manny. It’s not a renters vs homeowners this is an issue we should all stand together on.

  6. Even without a subway, West Hollywood’s neighborhoods are already under siege and we need to be vigilant to insure that Sacramento based “reforms” don’t make it attractive to demolish our existing rent controlled buildings.

    SB 50 is a heavy handed attempt to undermine local control yet it has exempted “small counties” like Marin and Santa Barbara which happen to be affluent and overwhelmingly white.

    There are already State mandated enhancements for height and parking which coupled with West Hollywood’s existing zoning that do not make West Hollywood an unwelcoming community for developers, particularly for mixed -use projects. As per the LA Times coverage, housing advocates are starting to realize that ill conceived “reforms” can put rent controlled buildings in danger of destruction and replacement with luxury housing. West Hollywood’s first job is to protect it’s existing stock of affordable housing that so many long term residents depend upon.
    Knocking down a rent controlled apartment to gain a few “inclusionary units” is often short sighted at best and results in a net loss of affordable housing for seniors and working people. We need to be wary of simplistic solutions and SB50 will have many unintended consequences that are likely to hurt long term tenants.

  7. I strongly urge you to support the current version of SB50.

    West Hollywood was and should always be known for affordable housing. Yes, West Hollywood complies with RHNA and meet the RHNA numbers but the amount of affordable housing stock that has been lost or gone to market level is far greater that what RHNA compliance calls for.

    WHCHC and Inclusionary housing is only a drop in the bucket to where we where and need to be and SB50 is another facet to the solutions recovering our lost affordable housing stock.
    West Hollywood is a city of renter’s, making up 75 to 80% of West Hollywood. SB50 makes sense and urgently needed.

    If the two home owner association’s don’t want to be impacted they won’t be if they do not move. Otherwise, the majority of the City this solution to help continue the restoration and exceed the lost rental housing stock even though we are compliant with RHNA. RHNA works for many cities but West Hollywood has always been ahead of their curve based on renter need for affordable housing.

    It’s your support of SB50 that ensures this to happen transit hubs. Vertical increase density in our housing stock and upward zoning changes is clear to reactive and maintain our foundational credo of affordable housing for our City that is known to have been affordable for renters and yes, well above RHNA numbers.

    1. 100% agree. The only ones against SB50 in west hollywood are wealthy single family homeowners who are afraid their neighbors will sell and they will be forced to live next to people who make less money or look different than them. The average single family home in west hollywood is $2 million, keeping out everyone except the very top 1% of wealthy people. These elitist and often racist homeowners want to keep it that way. Perish the thought of living next to someone who cannot afford a $2 million home.

      1. West Hollywood last time I looked was pretty diverse. Why throw race into this? You’re forgetting Supply and Demand.

    2. Looks like SB has been tweaked and not going to make any major changes. We’re not New York . Better planning and a unique idea to Los Angeles.

Comments are closed.