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LA shouldn’t abuse ‘historic’ zones to stop new housing – Pacific Research Institute

LA shouldn’t abuse ‘historic’ zones
to stop new housing

by Sal Rodriguez | May 31, 2024

 

Land-use restrictions and NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard-ism) come in many forms. One of the more creative is the invoking of “history” as a means of regulating or prohibiting housing some people don’t like.

In Los Angeles, an effort is underway to exempt areas of the city identified as part of a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone or HPOZ from the city’s process for streamlining affordable-housing developments. 

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass’ Executive Directive 1 directs city staff to review 100% affordable-housing projects within 60 days and by all indications has successfully sped up dozens of projects adding thousands of housing units to the city’s housing stock.

The order was issued in December 2022, shortly after Bass took office. Despite its success, ED 1 has run into perpetual opposition and has been partly watered down. Projects in single-family zoned parts of the city have been excluded from the expedited review process since June 2023.

Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky would now like to exclude projects in a HPOZ from expedited review under ED 1 and reinstate additional reviews.

Read Sal Rodriguez’s Free Cities Center article about LA’s Executive Directive 1.

Read Thomas Irwin’s three-part Free Cities Center series about LA’s housing reforms.

“Similar to other zoning overlays, HPOZs provide an additional layer of land-use regulatory control,” the council member’s motion explains. “To preserve the character of HPOZ neighborhoods, the Planning Department must ensure that any streamlined 100% affordable-housing project is not out of scale, and foremost that it is in compliance with HPOZ Preservation Plans.”

According to reporting by LAist, what prompted Yaroslavsky’s motion is a proposed 70-unit affordable housing project to be built on what is now a vacant lot in the Windsor Village HPOZ. The Windsor Village HPOZ exists, officially, due to the “significant concentration of Period Revival residences, many in the French, English and Spanish Colonial Revival modes.”

Some community members in the Windsor Village HPOZ have objected to the 70-unit project, mainly along aesthetic grounds, with one quoted as saying the project “doesn’t fit architecturally with what we currently enjoy.” Others submitted duplicative public comments to the city complaining the project would “destroy the historical essence that defines our neighborhood.” 

To top it all off, Yaroslavsky’s chief of staff Gary Gero told LAist the proposed development that while the project includes “some Art Deco touches,” it is “egregious.”

With the city of Los Angeles in need of substantially more housing to meet demand, then, what’s being proposed is the slow-walking of housing projects for something as subjective as the aesthetics of proposed developments.

Gero denies this. 

“We’re not trying to stop affordable housing developments in historic zones,” he told LAist. “We really just want them to work with the community, the neighbors, with the historic zone board and with our office to make the project fit better within the context of the neighborhood.”

In other words, they are trying to stop affordable housing developments in historic zones by subjecting them to the same old clunky processes that yielded Los Angeles’ housing crisis in the first place.

If an otherwise lawful development proposed on a vacant lot is enough to draw the wrath of a city council member, that doesn’t bode well for developments in HPOZs anytime soon. 

Homeowners in the area certainly have self-interested reasons for opposing an abundance of affordable housing in their neighborhood. Homes in the area aren’t cheap, with LAist noting that just a block away from the proposed 70-unit project is a four-bedroom house up for sale at $1.75 million. And, in fact, the city’s own planning department cites higher property values as an advantage of HPOZ designations.

Incidentally, there were just eight HPOZs in Los Angeles in 2000, but now there are 36. Perhaps city leaders suddenly developed an appreciation for history in the last two decades, but there’s no doubt also an element of self-interest involved for property owners in such zones. 

According to a recent review by Rent.com, the median rent in the city of Los Angeles is $3,515, up 4% compared to a year ago. Notably, the city bucked a trend of lower rents in other big California cities like San Diego, San Francisco and Riverside, which actually saw rents slightly dip. 

Los Angeles isn’t going to get out of this problem and have more affordable options for people to live without making it easier to build more housing. Rather than restricting the scope of Bass’ streamlining efforts, the goal should be to speed and simplify reviews of all types of housing. 

 

©Photo:Angelino Heights by Konrad Summers

Sal Rodriguez is opinion editor for the Southern California News Group and a senior fellow with the Pacific Research Institute. He is the author of Dynamism or Decay? Getting City Hall Out of the Way, published by the Pacific Research Institute.

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