The Los Angeles Planning Commission signed off Thursday on a proposal to adopt permanent regulations for the demolition, loss or conversion and the development of residential units in the city’s coastal zone, including Venice, Pacific Palisades and San Pedro.

According to the Department of City Planning, the proposed ordinance would accomplish the intention of California’s Mello Act, which went into effect in January 1982 in an attempt to protect existing residential units and increase the amount of affordable housing in California’s coastal zone.

Since 2000, Los Angeles has complied with the Mello Act through the interim administrative procedures that the City Council adopted. The Mello ordinance seeks to strengthen affordable housing requirements by regulating the demolition, conversion, change of use, subdivision and new construction activities for existing and proposed dwelling units in Pacific Palisades, Venice, Del Rey, Playa Del Rey, San Pedro and Wilmington.

The ordinance’s core goals, according to city planners, are to:

— ensure the preservation and maintenance of existing residential units, both affordable and market rate, unless residential use is no longer feasible at the site;

— protect units occupied by extremely low-, very low-, low- or moderate-income households by ensuring they are replaced on a one-for-one basis, and the new units must be “structurally equivalent” to the demolished units; and

— require new residential projects of a certain size to provide residential units for extremely low-, very low-, low- and/or moderate-income households.

Under the current draft of the ordinance, new projects in the coastal area with five or more residential units must set aside “inclusionary units,” meaning:

— a minimum of 8% of proposed units for extremely low-income households; or

— a minimum of 11% of proposed units for very low-income households; or

— a minimum of 20% of proposed units for low-income households.

The ordinance initially included an option to have a minimum of 40% of proposed units for moderate-income households.

Councilman Mike Bonin’s deputy chief of staff, Krista Kline, told the Planning Commission that Bonin supported removing the moderate income target, saying “the city should be prioritizing the inclusionary housing requirement for lower-income households.” The removal of the moderate income target was also supported by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

A development applicant can request a feasibility analysis, and if the analysis finds sufficient and certified evidence that it isn’t feasible to build a replacement unit or inclusionary unit, the requirement may be appealed to the Area Planning Commission.

While replacement units are required onsite, if an inclusionary unit isn’t feasible onsite, developers can apply to place those units offsite.

Kline told commissioners that the councilman, who represents Venice, Pacific Palisades and other coastal neighborhoods, opposes the ability for developers to provide inclusionary units offsite.

“The councilmember strongly opposes the recent changes submitted to the (City Planning Commission) that allows for offsite compliance for affordable units for inclusionary replacement. This addition weakens the ordinance’s intent to preserve and create housing in the coastal zone,” Kline said.

Commission President Samantha Millman said the ability to put inclusionary units offsite is “actually to prevent a situation where we get nothing.”

“So if it is infeasible for units to go onsite and there is a feasibility report that says `this is not feasible,’ we get nothing, as opposed to having options” such as “a development of a unit down the street, some other form of capturing that affordability,” she said.

The ordinance would also allow residential units in commercial zones to be converted into mixed-use developments as long as the structure provides all required replacement units and inclusionary units onsite.

Several callers called in to the meeting to oppose the ordinance permitting the conversion of residential structures to mixed-use developments.

“Being able to convert residential structures to mixed-use structures or projects only enriches developers by allowing a more lucrative commercial use to replace residential structures and does nothing to protect housing,” said San Pedro Neighborhood Council board member and land use chair Robin Rudisill.

Others called in to say this would harm residential zones, but Millman noted that residential structures would only be able to be converted to mixed-use structures within commercial zones, not residential zones.

The ordinance would also create the Coastal Housing Trust Fund to collect fees related to the ordinance. The fund would be used to develop new affordability dwelling units in the coastal zone.

The proposed ordinance was recommended by a vote of 5-2. Commissioners Helen Leung and Karen Mack dissented, calling for bolder action to protect affordable housing, including through a longer affordability covenant.

The commission recommended to the City Council that developments’ affordability covenants last at least 55 years, and urged that longer covenants be explored in consultation with the Housing and Community Investment Department.

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