Council Widens Woodland Hills Building Issue

Times Staff Writer

A one-year building moratorium designed to prevent the continued development of large houses on small lots in a hillside area of Woodland Hills drew unexpected interest from the Los Angeles City Council Friday.

The council tentatively approved the measure on a 9-1 vote, with Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores dissenting. The council was expected to approve the moratorium unanimously and without discussion, following its practice of supporting a council member on an issue in his or her district.

But several members questioned the situation that led Councilman Marvin Braude to propose the moratorium and said it is part of a larger, citywide problem. A public hearing was held at the insistence of Councilman Robert Farrell.

Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said that building on small lots is a potential problem throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. Councilman Ernani Bernardi said he will introduce a measure to study the kinds of problems created by such development, which he said happens throughout the center of the San Fernando Valley.


Some Exemptions

“We have all of these legal 30- and 40-foot lots in the flatlands as well,” Bernardi said. “They’re all over the city.”

City zoning now requires that building lots have 5,000 square feet and be 50 feet wide. But owners of property smaller than the minimum can legally build large houses if the land was subdivided before the requirement.

The one-year moratorium, with a possible one-year extension, was proposed by Braude in response to complaints by residents in the so-called Girard tract, a 1 1/2-square-mile area south of Ventura Boulevard and east of Topanga Canyon Boulevard. The area includes an estimated 2,000 small lots, many of which were carved out for small vacation bungalows, around the Woodland Hills Country Club.


The moratorium is designed to give city planners time to review ways of regulating development in the area, such as restricting the size of new homes or requiring parking, sewers and street improvements before building.

Unexpected Debate

The issue, to the chagrin of Braude, touched off a livelier debate than expected. Braude said he saw no reason for a public hearing on the proposal at this time because one will be held before the Planning Commission and again when the matter comes back before the council for final approval.

Farrell insisted upon a public hearing. “If people show up and take time off work, we should hear them,” Farrell said.


Farrell later said in an interview that he demanded the hearing at the request of a businessman active in redevelopment in his South Los Angeles district who wants to build a home in the Girard tract.

During the hourlong hearing, about a dozen property owners from each side spoke.

Eric Dugdale, who hopes to build a home in the Girard tract, said the moratorium is being pushed by residents of the area who want to keep others out. “You’ve got a situation of the haves against the have-nots,’ he said.

No Moratorium on Taxes


“If the moratorium passes, does that mean we have a moratorium on our property taxes?” asked Rodney Ayers, another landowner seeking to build in the area.

A city zoning officials said taxes would continue.

Rosemary Woodlock, vice president of the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization, said her group requested the moratorium to help prevent landslides, parking problems and traffic congestion. She said the streets are so narrow that motorists must cross into the opposite lane to pass parked cars.

During the council discussion, Flores said she supports restrictions on building on small lots, but objects to an outright ban. “To say anyone who owns a substandard lot cannot build on it for one year, possibly two years, is unfair,” she said.


Lots Subdivided

The Girard tract was developed by Woodland Hills founder Victor Girard in 1922 as a weekend retreat for Los Angeles residents. Lots were subdivided to average about 3,500 square feet, although some are as small as 1,500 square feet--less than a third the size that now would be required for a building lot.

The first houses in the area were tiny three-room cabins, but large homes have been built in recent years on the lots.

The moratorium would halt building on any lots less than 5,000 square feet. It would allow property owners seeking to build on lots smaller than 5,000 square feet to seek hardship exemptions from City Council.