Los Angeles is dotted with neighborhoods of vintage Spanish-style bungalows and modest Craftsman houses. But for the last decade, many of those homes have been razed and replaced with what their owners consider spacious contemporary homes and their neighbors deride as outsized McMansions. In 2008, the City Council passed the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance to limit the size of new houses built on lots.
The goal was to maintain the character and quality of life of these neighborhoods without trampling on the rights of property owners. But the ordinance was so full of loopholes that owners have been able to build oversized houses anyway. For example, one can earn a bonus of an extra 20% of the allowed square footage by setting back second stories so they don't loom over next-door neighbors, or by following the city's environmentally friendly building guidelines.
Over time, the exceptions became the norm, and community groups complained bitterly. City Councilman Paul Koretz proposed last year that the loopholes be closed. But planning department officials said it would take as long as two years to revamp the ordinance, citing the need for public hearings and to make sure any new rules hewed to the city's broader project to revamp the zoning code.
As a temporary fix, the department has offered an interim control ordinance for 15 single-family neighborhoods that have seen a higher concentration of construction activity; it sets a variety of different restrictions in the different neighborhoods. Planners also crafted an interim control ordinance for five other neighborhoods that are in the process of being designated historic preservation overlay zones; it would set up a temporary moratorium on building and demolition permits. Both ordinances would run no longer than two years.
The proposed changes were met with protest from all sides, and the council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee postponed voting on the measures last month. The committee will take up the issue again Tuesday. It's unlikely — OK, impossible — that the City Council will please all residents, developers and would-be buyers. But if it doesn't decide on something very soon, it will de facto decide to stick with the status quo. Property sales and construction will not stand still for the next two years while the planning department tears down and rebuilds the mansionization ordinance.
The need is most urgent in the neighborhoods waiting to be declared historic preservation overlay zones. At the very least, the council should quickly approve the interim control ordinance for them.
The purpose of these interim ordinances is to preserve the character of neighborhoods, which means — among other things — keeping the scale of the housing intact.