A zoning ordinance that would ultimately limit the population of Los Angeles to about 4 million--less than half the number permitted under existing zoning laws--has been approved by the city's Planning Commission after hundreds of hours of preparation and two days of public hearings.
Under pressure from a pending civil lawsuit, the commission unanimously approved the ordinance Thursday even as city planners worked to prepare extensive maps showing how it would scale down new construction throughout this city of 3 million. The measure now goes to the City Council, where it is expected to be adopted in coming weeks.
The complex ordinance, drafted to comply with a 1979 state zoning law, would prohibit new buildings from exceeding heights or densities established by a series of area community development plans already adopted by the City Council. It would effectively reduce the construction of buildings in areas where the existing zoning limits are more permissive than the community plans.
The measure is expected to have a permanent effect on development throughout the city, where current zoning would allow a population of up to 10 million people.
"The sun has set on prior . . . zoning (regulations)," commission President Daniel Garcia told a hearing room packed with about 100 developers and homeowners. "The status quo has changed."
H. Randall Stoke, an attorney representing developers throughout the city, said the ordinance would would block an untold number of building projects and significantly reduce the size of others.
"I've already advised people they can't build in those (affected) areas," Stoke said. "Office buildings, other projects have been completely killed. It wipes out a lot of projects and development in the city."
Planners said the measure is expected to affect about 200,000 private properties, including many in Hollywood, Venice, the Wilshire district, Wilmington, Harbor Gateway, Silver Lake and surrounding areas. It would also affect smaller areas of Westwood and the San Fernando Valley, planner Dan Green said.
In some of those areas, Green said, up to 90% of the zoning regulations are inconsistent with the city's community plans. Existing zoning laws may permit apartment construction, for example, in neighborhoods that are now occupied by single-family homes. The ordinance would block such apartment construction if the community plans calls for those neighborhoods to remain in single-family homes.
The law would have a similar effect in areas zoned for commercial or industrial uses, Green said.
Planners have been hurriedly drafting the ordinance in the wake of a lawsuit filed in December by the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Assns., a group representing a number of homeowners groups in the Westside and the San Fernando Valley.
Carole Stevens, the organization's president, said the suit was filed because the city was slow in complying with a 1979 state law that required zoning laws and community plans to be brought into conformance.
In only a few of the city's 35 community-plan areas--San Pedro and Pacific Palisades, for example--are the zoning laws already in conformance with the plans. In other areas, Stevens said, homeowners watched high-density developments being permitted in spite of community-plan recommendations and escalating traffic problems.
"What we began to see was an inability to move anywhere in Los Angeles without encountering . . . gridlock, long waits and a great deal of frustration," Stevens said. "It happens in all . . . districts, wherever we have a major traffic artery. That's what the lawsuit is all about."
Did Not Impose Moratorium
On Jan. 14, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John L. Cole ordered the city to bring its zoning into conformance with the state law within 120 days but stopped short of imposing an interim moratorium on building permits--a moratorium he reserved the right to issue at any time. He said he would extend the deadline if necessary but expected a "good faith" effort by the city to complete the actions.
The city Planning Department, which already has spent more than $1 million trying to bring the city's more than 450 square miles into conformance with its community plans, expects to devote nearly all of its manpower to implementing the ordinance during coming months, Planning Director Calvin Hamilton said. Interest among property owners has brought in more questions from callers than any other measure in recent memory, Green said.
Unless altered by the City Council, approval would be retroactive to Thursday's commission meeting, blocking building permits for any nonconforming project that may request approval. Commissioners voted for the retroactive approval to prevent additional higher-density projects from beating a later deadline, despite the protests of developers.