Election 2020 Citizens Agenda: Development and Housing

The candidates in the Nov. 2 West Hollywood City Council election (left to right, from the top row): Larry Block, Jerome Cleary, Marco Colantonio, Tom DeMille, John Duran, John Erickson, John Heilman, Christopher McDonald, Noemi Torres, Sepi Shyne, Mark Farhad Yusupov

This is the third of eight questions WEHOville presented on Aug. 18 to the candidates in the Nov. 3 election for two seats on the West Hollywood City Council. The questions are based on suggestions from West Hollywood residents — the citizens of WeHo. A new question, and the answers, will be published each of the next six days. Monday’s question andthe answers can be found here. Tuesday’s can be found here.

The Question

Many residents have expressed concern over the years about what they see as too much real estate development in West Hollywood, which they say threatens its “urban village” character. Others have said we need more housing development in WeHo and all of Greater Los Angeles to slow the steep rise in apartment rents. Minneapolis and Oregon have responded to the increase in housing costs by banning single-family zoning to permit the construction of more housing on a lot. The State of California now requires cities to permit construction of accessory dwelling units on single-family home lots.

Should the City of West Hollywood do more to promote the construction of new housing? And if so, what? Or will the construction of new apartment and condo buildings change the city’s character in a negative way?

John Erickson

As vice chair of the Planning Commission, I am a firm advocate of smart growth that contributes to the overall sustainability of our city and diversity. We need to increase the housing stock in West Hollywood in a way that serves that community, without displacing current residents. At the same time, we need to preserve the character of our residential neighborhoods. We can begin this work by identifying lots, based on proximity to transit and commercial areas, as priorities for increasing housing capacity. In many cases, these new buildings will retain a similar envelope as neighboring buildings but will be divided more proportionally to meet the needs of the community.

We are a small community, and the only way to meet our housing needs and preserve our neighborhoods is through infill and mixed-use. This is one way that I approach these issues on development vs. preservation in relation to local communities while ensuring that we are pushing for community involvement on developments because they’ll be more successful in the end as well as bring in both housing, business development, and tax revenues to the city.

John Heilman

Change is constantly occurring in most communities, and West Hollywood is no different. The debate in West Hollywood about how much change should occur and how that change impacts the urban village is as old as the city. I grow nostalgic about certain old businesses which have been replaced, but I also realized that many of our newer businesses have promoted the urban village rather than detracted from it. For instance, the development on the Eastside that includes the Trader Joe’s is a vibrant part of our urban village. Likewise, the Gateway at the corner of La Brea and Santa Monica replaced business that didn’t contribute to what people frequently identify as the qualities that make West Hollywood an urban village. If new developments are designed to promote walkability, outdoor dining and to encourage community-serving businesses, new developments can add to our urban village, rather than detract from it. New developments which contain housing also help us address the housing crisis in California.

New housing development throughout the state is necessary if we are going to solve the housing crisis. This requires the city to do our fair share to meet the housing demand in California. This does not require us to eliminate single-family zoning, but it does require us to make sure that our limited real estate is used in a thoughtful way that contributes to the community and provides housing opportunities for current and future residents. Reasonable infill housing in existing multi-family neighborhoods can occur without interfering with the urban village feel of West Hollywood. Likewise, mixed use housing along our main corridors can enhance our urban village by promoting neighborhood-serving uses with residential units above. We also need to look at allowing smaller micro units in new developments. While entire buildings of micro units might not work, incorporating a certain percentage of very small units in new development will add units and create new opportunities for homeownership.

Christopher McDonald

There’s a difference between development and overdevelopment and I strongly believe that West Hollywood is becoming overdeveloped. We need to stop building bigger and start building smarter. I think for any city to grow and improve there is always a need for reasonable and sensible development, but recent development projects are just not in line with the West Hollywood I fell in love with 20 years ago. We often hear that there is not enough housing in West Hollywood and that housing in West Hollywood is too expensive. I agree with both of those points and believe that with reasonable development we can work towards fixing both those issues. West Hollywood can have both more housing and more affordable housing.

I fully support smaller multi-unit apartments on a single lot. I think more smaller multi-unit buildings will be more beneficial to our city than the idea of putting massive apartment structures throughout our city. Of course, as with any construction project, we need to always be very cognizant of how any new development will affect traffic in that area. I think we need to embrace the “urban village” aspect of West Hollywood and avoid having West Hollywood look like every other city. I want to promote the construction of more reasonable and responsible housing projects. We are a city that’s 1.89 square miles. The reality is we only have so much space, and we need to make the best use of that space… while also protecting what makes West Hollywood the unique city it is.

Noemi Torres

Yes I believe we should, and seriously look at the idea of responsible development, increase the amount of affordable housing that is mandated per project. In addition, I think the idea of micro units should be looked at and consider it as a creative way for renters in West Hollywood have the opportunity to invest in their life by purchasing a unit all their own. I also love the idea that California has changed the accessory dwelling unit zoning regulations to add more housing within one property.

Sepi Shyne

Yes. We should see housing as a right and make sure that West Hollywood remains a beacon of hope and stability for residents, regardless of your income level. First, we need to pass a strong ordinance limiting contributions from developers similar to the ordinance passed by the City of Los Angeles last year. As we have seen in this election, candidates are relying on developers, their business partners, and family members to fund their campaigns.

Unchecked development has turned our inclusive village into a city that is hard to recognize and caused skyrocketing rents and economic displacement primarily at the hands of some of our longest serving Council members. Responsible development is important to a thriving city, and we do have an obligation to help solve our housing crisis. This also means, we need to focus on protecting our rent stabilized housing, including implementing one-to-one replacement when buildings are torn down to ensure we do not lose our rent-stabilized housing stock.

Second, we need to vote to pass Proposition 21, which will limit rent increases and preserve affordable housing to keep California families in their homes. If passed, it will allow us to finally be able to expand our rent control ordinance and will help to limit annual rent increases, preserve currently affordable housing, incentivize the construction of new housing, exempt single-family homeowners and guarantee landlords a fair profit.

This would give us power beyond what we have in our ordinance and most importantly gives us choices that Costa Hawkins has denied.

Mark Farhad Yusupov

Although the lack of affordable housing is a growing problem, nit is not unique just to our town., While it is necessary to evaluate the solutions that other municipalities have implemented, it does not mean those solutions are a perfect fit for West Hollywood. Our city is small, yet it is already one of the densest cities in the country, and what we lack is a comprehensive plan that looks at the city and its neighborhoods as a whole. Unfortunately, when a problem gets too big and somewhat out of control, politicians try to find a fix that is “one size fits all” and therefore can lead to long term issues and unintended consequences.

I do believe it is feasible to have a general plan of how to promote the construction of new housing without changing the character of the city in a negative way. However, without a transparent long-term strategy created with the input of all the city’s residents (and not just those in the real estate development business), these battles for and against new construction are only going to get worse from year to year. We need to look for creative solutions that benefit all of our residents, such as converting some of the existing commercial office space into work/live residencies and developing mixed-use buildings only along our major streets with charming boutique shops on the ground floors with residential units above. This would create more resident living space while providing growth opportunities for our local economy. I believe that most real estate developers and large corporations do not have the City of West Hollywood in their best interest, and therefore we must work together with our own community members in order to make it a top priority to sustain the character of our city that we all love. Therefore, I refuse to take any campaign contributions from any real estate developers.

Lastly, it is vital to have a comprehensive plan to manage the future development of the city’s commercial properties. It is necessary to have the proper and appropriate mix of commercial and residential development living side by side. Not every newly developed project must be a mixed use or a hybrid in order to appear to be innovative. Comprehensive plan will help to maintain the balance and not to exacerbate the density problem.

Larry Block

I’m proud to have the endorsement from the Greater Los Angeles Association of Realtors. My proposal to re-invent our affordable housing is a winning idea. I believe home ownership can have a tremendous benefit to a person’s security and the community at large. Home ownership helps creates longer-term residents and stronger neighborhoods. There are parts of West Hollywood along Santa Monica Boulevard that are ripe for development, and I would encourage mixed-use buildings with residential and community serving businesses on the ground floor that will enhance the city’s character in a positive way.

Housing in West Hollywood today does not allow for construction of many single-family homes. New developments on a single property in an R-2 zone often become multi family lots with two or three condominiums. To build new rental properties a developer would have to string together two to three lots to create new viable rental units. In a city maxed out in development ,with only infill land to do construction, we are limited in our ability to develop enough housing to meet the needs of all those who want to live in West Hollywood. I advocate for the development of micro units and a new quad type housing that has shared common areas such as often appear in college dorms. These smaller units with common spaces will give developers the same ability to “pencil out” their projects but also allow for entry level pricing for younger people.

One project on the Melrose Triangle was originally proposed and approved as housing and now the developer wants to turn that into commercial. The bait and switch in our housing policy with developers means we need better guidelines forward. Entitlements are issued to local developers and then sold to outside interests. Uses proposed are not always the uses implemented.

Jerome Cleary

We need more affordable housing in the city, but almost all the new construction is luxury (and ultra-luxury) condominium and upscale rental housing with only token, if any, affordable housing included. They aren’t replacing the affordable units one-on-one being torn down in droves, nor are they creating sufficient new moderate-rate housing. This does nothing to help the existing residents as most of these new projects are so far out of the range of our population that they cannot be considered as replacement homes for more modest residents to move into. This is what is changing the character of the city. We are becoming the new Beverly Hills.

We need to do more to help existing residential building owners to maintain their buildings, so they aren’t encouraged to sell to developers and become tear-downs, replaced by larger luxury buildings, throwing neighborhoods out of visual scale. We need to create incentives for the developers to create more middle-income housing units but not with impractical and unrealistic incentives like reduced parking requirements, which just forces more cars on the street looking for those rare spots, impacting the quality of life for neighborhoods. This is what will be necessary so we don’t lose long-time residents due to unaffordability of their housing.

Marco Colantonio

Sensible development with “No Strings Attached.”

West Hollywood does not need to do any more to promote the construction of new housing. What we need to do is manage that development, free of undue influence on legislative bodies by developers and special interest groups. Courts have maintained that when a landowner is seeking a zoning amendment, the legislative body’s decision to grant the amendment isn’t really legislative. Instead, they consider it an“administrative”or“quasi-judicial” decision, meaning that even though the legislative body is not a court, it’s acting judicially by applying existing regulations to a landowner’s property.

Sensible development will not negatively change the city’s character, and we need growth for economic sustainability. There are social, convenience, economic, and environmental benefits living in higher density places if they are designed to be mixed-use, walkable, and pedestrian scale.

First, we need to have some guidelines for appointing Planning Commissioners. The Planning Commission is a quasi-legislative body with the ability to grant amendments to zoning ordinances, thus changing or affecting land use. A change in land use is usually permanent. Would you go to a lawyer for medical advice? Why appoint a director of a non-profit organization dealing with birth control to the Planning Commission? And for that matter, is it even ethical or legal for a Planning Commissioner to accept donations for a political campaign from developers.

Secondly, we should need to draft and adopt legislation that does not allow political donations to City Council candidates from developers or independent expenditure groups and PACs connected to those developers with an existing or proposed project within a minimum of five years from the date of consideration.

Sensible development should be determined by competent, knowledgeable, and qualified individuals with “no strings attached”! marco4weho.com

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Tom DeMille

No response.

John Duran

There is a political paradox that occurs with the chattering political classes in West Hollywood. Most everyone wants to see the development of more “affordable housing” and simultaneously argue that there is too much development and construction in the city. It almost sounds like “we need more affordable housing just don’t build any.”

We have a 20% inclusionary housing ordinance that mandates that all new developments must set aside 20% of the units for low- and moderate-income households. It is the highest ratio in all of Los Angeles County. If other cities did what we do here in West Hollywood, we would get a lot further in dealing with chronic homelessness around the county. West Hollywood has NO vacant land. So all new construction is either infill or redevelopment of existing real estate.

I do vote to protect our historic properties across the city. The State of California requires every city to build new housing each year based upon their RHNA number (Regional Housing Needs Assessment). We have always hit our goals in the past. Our population when the city was created was about 35,000 people. Thirty six years later what is our population? 36,000 people. So we have not had any significant increases in our population or density. We are dense and have always been dense with 36,000 people in 1.9 square miles. I do support preserving our existing apartment buildings in residential areas and creating new housing opportunities on commercial streets like Santa Monica and Sunset boulevards. I was the author of the moratorium that froze development to prevent apartment buildings from being torn down to build new condominiums. I believe it is possible to preserve our existing housing and build new units (affordable and market rate) on the commercial corridors.

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