The Los Angeles City Planning Commission has recommended approval of a one-year building moratorium in the Highland-Cahuenga area of Hollywood, where homeowners fear a new wave of apartment buildings and condominiums could further congest traffic in one of the city's most heavily traveled regions.
The commission, acting without discussion Thursday, also endorsed provisions by which the moratorium could be extended for an additional six months, if necessary, to enable planners to complete an overhaul of the area's community zoning plan. The zoning plan currently allows for a substantial amount of new apartment construction in the area--a situation that is expected to change.
"We're going to have to down-zone," said City Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson, who introduced the proposed moratorium late last month. "Traffic on Highland Avenue is horrendous; people are parking on the sidewalk. We don't want to allow any further construction until we decide what the heck we're going to do."
The moratorium, expected to win City Council approval this week, would affect an area extending from Cahuenga Terrace on the north to Franklin Avenue on the south, and from Highland Avenue on the west to Ivar Avenue and Vine Street on the east. Dan Wooldridge, an aide to Stevenson, said the area now contains a large core of historically important early-Hollywood homes surrounded by major streets lined with two- and three-story apartments and condominiums.
Additional apartment construction is allowed under current zoning because planners had expected the completion of several new traffic arteries, including the Beverly Hills and Laurel Canyon freeways, that have not been built, Wooldridge said. Now, he said, successful revitalization efforts in Hollywood are creating interest among developers who might like to build in the area.
"Right now things in Hollywood are taking off like a firestorm," Wooldridge said. "To build . . . more now would be disastrous."
No pending projects are expected to be affected by the moratorium, however, and Stevenson's critics have branded it a political move designed to bolster her chances of being reelected in June. The 13th District councilwoman, who faces a runoff election against Michael Woo, has vowed to go after support among hillside homeowners, who have urged her to press for the moratorium.
But she denied that the measure is politically motivated.
"I'm just doing my job to work for the homeowners," Stevenson said. "Some people would like City Hall to come to a complete stop between January . . . and June, when the election is held. Obviously, that's impossible."
Stevenson introduced the moratorium last month just days after the City Council reluctantly approved her plan to set aside the Highland-Camrose Bungalow Village, a cluster of 15 small early-Hollywood homes in the Highland-Cahuenga area, as a historical landmark. That action, which effectively blocked a 220-unit apartment complex, came on a 12-2 vote that council members privately attributed to the political campaign.
Even several council members who criticized the bungalows, calling them dilapidated and a possible "blight" on the community, agreed to set them aside as landmarks.
Councilman Gil Lindsay, a dissenter on the bungalow vote, predicted that Stevenson also will win City Council approval for the area-wide moratorium because her colleagues know she needs the political help. Lindsay said he has "no qualms" over such support and said he intends to back the moratorium--"just because she wants it and it's in her district . . . no other reason."
Another council member, who asked not to be named, said the proposed moratorium reflects real traffic problems in the area as well as Stevenson's attempt to gain political ground. Citing Stevenson's previous support for development projects in surrounding areas, the council member commented, "She's never been one to support a moratorium."
Stevenson, who lives in the Hollywood Hills, called the accusations "ridiculous," saying she has worked for 10 years on behalf of residents there. Her support for the moratorium now, rather than two years ago, reflects the growing attractiveness of the hillsides as a place for new residential growth, Wooldridge said.
That attractiveness, due partly to a resurgence of nearby Hollywood Boulevard, was evident in the recent plans to tear down the bungalows and build an apartment complex, Wooldridge said.
"Two years ago there was no development that needed to be stopped," he said. "Two years ago people weren't trying to tear down the Highland-Camrose bungalows."
Brian Moore, president of the Whitley Heights Civic Assn., which represents most homeowners in the moratorium area, said homeowners have been asking for a halt to possible growth in the area for several years. Moore refused to say whether homeowners have been unhappy with Stevenson's cooperation, saying only that homeowners very much support the measure.
"I can't answer for Mrs. Stevenson," Moore said. "I don't know what her thought processes are."
Bill Welsh, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said he opposes the moratorium, which he called a backward step in efforts to improve Hollywood. In an interview, Welsh said, "My concern is, if you do not build anything new, the existing buildings become older and older. If you're not moving forward . . . you lose ground."
Welsh said the area's traffic problems could be solved by turning some thoroughfares, such as Franklin Avenue, into one-way streets.