With a 5-1 vote Thursday night, the West Hollywood Planning Commission responded to new state law AB 1763 by approving the elimination of all requirements for on-site parking in new buildings if 100% of the units are dedicated to lower-income residents.
The idea behind abolishing the parking requirement is that various “affordable” building projects target different populations and those populations all have differing parking needs. Thus, a one-size-fits-all parking requirement for such affordable buildings is impractical.
Peter Noonan, the city’s rent stabilization and housing manager, explained that eliminating the parking requirement would allow a nonprofit developer to “right size” an affordable housing project and spend money otherwise used for constructing costly parking spaces on more housing units instead.
“This does not mean that an affordable housing project is going to be built without parking,” said Noonan. “Not all targeted populations that need housing need the same levels of parking. This allows great flexibility for the nonprofit [developer] to design a building to best fit the needs of the community [in terms of both units and parking spaces] going forward.”
The Planning Commission was amending the city’s zoning code to match new state laws addressing the state’s housing crisis. These new state laws set no limit on the number of units in a 100% affordable building project and also allow those buildings to be up to three stories (33 feet) taller than the area’s zoning allows. Thus, in a residential area where the maximum height allowed is four stories, a 100% affordable building can go up to seven stories.
As for parking, the new state law, AB 1763, says that 100% affordable buildings only need to create one parking space for every two units (.5 spaces per unit), provided the building is within a half mile of a major transit stop, which includes 95% of West Hollywood. While the city must comply with the state law and amend its zoning laws accordingly, the state does allow a city to set even looser requirements. That’s why Noonan proposed eliminating the parking requirement entirely and leaving it to the developer to decide how much parking a building would need.
Commissioner Lynn Hoopingarner voted against the change, saying that it is foolish to think low-income residents do not need parking and that low-income people need their cars to get to their jobs.
She further contended that keeping the requirement at .5 parking spaces per unit gives the city the ability to have some say in the design of a building and grant lower parking requirements on a case by case basis.
“By keeping the .5 [parking requirement] as the state law is, we would be able to continue to have discretion and we would be able to continue to try and develop projects that are not a one-size fits all,” said Hoopingarner.
However, Noonan noted the city frequently provides some funding for 100% affordable buildings and therefore has some input on design at that level.
Commissioner John Erickson contested Hoopngarner’s position and said it’s unlikely that a building would ever be proposed with absolutely no parking because a developer would know his target audience and build accordingly.
“I think the red alert alarm that’s being declared up here is trying to say that we’re going to have projects that come before us that are multiple stories high that don’t have any parking, that is fake news. That’s not true,” said Erickson, in an apparent reference to Hoopingarner’s comments from the Planning Commission dais. “I think people have to be very careful about the verbiage they’re using up here because this is the exact type of NIMBYism that gets us into the situation of where we are at right now.”
Meanwhile, Commissioner Adam Bass noted some affordable buildings target residents with special needs such as autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, or those at risk of becoming homelessness. He said it would be highly subjective for the city to try to determine the exact parking needs of these special needs populations.
“We would just be sitting here debating what special needs is, which I don’t believe as a Planning Commission we’re really qualified to do,” said Bass.
This discussion was about amending the zoning codes regarding 100% affordable units in general. However, several Norma Triangle residents used this as an opportunity to protest a specific project – the recently announced seven-story, 100-unit, 100% affordable Wetherly Palms project that the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation proposes to build on Wetherly Drive, just north of Cynthia Street.
Norma Triangle residents, already upset about a seven-story building in their neighborhood, were even more incensed at the idea the Wetherly Palms building might not have parking. They noted their streets are already jam packed with minimal street parking. To build that project with no parking would force residents of the Wetherly Palm building to park on the street, making an untenable parking situation even worse, they argued.
“This can’t be a one-size-fits-all zoning law,” said Norma Triangle Rebecca Damevanol. “If you pass some kind of zoning law like this, you’re making it harder for us living in the neighborhood. This shouldn’t be a burden on us.”
Norma Triangle resident Charles Jasper said the area was already too crowded and congested and more cars competing for parking would just make it harder to live there. Resident Georgina Moore opposed the project, asking who’s watching out for the needs of the existing residents.
Noonan contended several times that he never heard of the Wetherly Palms building and said the city has received no paperwork regarding it. Finally, Bass said that was “disingenuous” since WEHOville ran a Jan 27 story about the building and the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation (WHCHC) has issued a press release about it. Bass also pointed out that Noonan is a member of the WHCHC board of directors. He is one of 15 people sitting on that board.
Given the public’s negative reception to these zoning changes, the Commission questioned whether Noonan and his staff had done any community outreach on the matter. Noonan replied they had not since state law required the changes be made
Commissioner Sue Buckner was absent.