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Cuts in Red Tape Urged to Boost New Housing

A report recommends less stringent parking and open-space rules, among other changes.

May 29, 2003|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

A downtown Los Angeles business association is urging city officials to revise policies that it says hamper the construction of residential housing and contribute to a housing shortage.

If the recommendations are followed, developers will save $20,000 to $30,000 per housing unit and more housing will be built, "just by doing it better, faster and cheaper," said Greg Vilkin, president of Forest City Development, who served as chairman of the committee that produced the report.

The Central City Assn. of Los Angeles released two dozen recommendations Tuesday in its white paper, "L.A.'s Housing Supply Crisis: A Plan to Increase Housing Production in Los Angeles."

Mayor James K. Hahn expressed support for some of the recommendations and acknowledged the need to streamline the process for developers.

City departments doing a better job can help "get us where we want to be -- that's more housing on the streets of Los Angeles," Hahn said, speaking at a news conference with members of the business association.

The report focuses on how it says the city inadvertently contributes to the housing shortage. In addition to rising construction costs, building is slowed by "increasing code requirements, bureaucratic inspection processes, planning and zoning restrictions and NIMBY activism," the report said.

The report recommends that the city revise its requirements for housing developments built along transit corridors, where residents are more likely to use public transportation. Currently, the city code requires developers to offer up to two parking spaces for each unit and in certain instances -- such as with condos -- 2 1/2, said Jane Blumenfeld, a principal city planner. The report recommends one space per unit.

"It stands to reason that residents who live near public transit will be less reliant on their automobiles," the report said.

The document also recommends that the city waive parking and open-space requirements for certain high-density projects.

The city now lets developers build more units than allowed in the zone if a certain number of units are dedicated to affordable housing.

But that incentive is overshadowed, the report said, by the requirement to offer additional parking and open space.

Instead, the report said, developers should be allowed to pay a fee, which could pay for the maintenance of nearby open space, such as existing parks or schools.

"It's time for L.A. to embrace density," Vilkin said. "We're talking about changing the paradigms."

The association also urges opposition to any adoption by the city of what is called an inclusionary housing ordinance -- unless it contains incentives or subsidies making it more palatable to builders.

Inclusionary housing or zoning laws require developers to offer a certain percentage of units to low- and moderate-income residents.

In exchange, local governments sometimes offer incentives to offset the costs.

More than 110 communities in California use such ordinances to increase production of housing for low- and very-low-income residents.

The report also recommends that the city:

* Encourage private companies to invest their pension funds in local housing projects.

* Provide mortgage and rental assistance for police officers, firefighters, nurses and teachers who work in the city.

* Declare a "housing supply state of emergency" to focus attention on the housing shortage.

* Increase the city's document transfer tax and place the revenue in the housing trust fund.

Carol E. Schatz, president and chief executive of the association, said the white paper had been presented to some City Council members, including Jan Perry, who has expressed support for the recommendations.

"We want to introduce motions to get these put into ordinance or change ordinances," Schatz said.

The report is the culmination of a yearlong effort by a committee of developers, Blumenfeld, representatives of the Los Angeles city attorney's office and Fannie Mae representatives.

Councilman Ed Reyes, who heads the council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee, called the report "a good effort, a first shot at these issues."

On the other hand, he also criticized the document for attributing the housing shortage to a list of issues that include immigration.

"To use immigration as part of a problem is the wrong tone to take," Reyes said.

"We are an international city. As an international city, we should embrace our ability to work with all people, regardless of their status."

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