Efforts to establish a building moratorium on substandard lots in the Laurel Canyon area may be abandoned because of a U. S. Supreme Court ruling on the rights of property owners affected by zoning regulations.
The court ruling on Tuesday held that property owners are entitled to compensation if government regulations prevent or drastically restrict them from developing their land. Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo, who is sponsoring the Laurel Canyon moratorium, has asked the city attorney's office to determine whether the ruling applies to the proposed moratorium.
Bill Chandler, a Woo aide, said the councilman wants the legal opinion in preparation for a meeting Tuesday of the council's Planning and Environment Committee. The committee unanimously supported passage of the moratorium at its meeting this week.
Height, Density Limits
"The opinion could definitely affect whether the councilman will continue to seek the moratorium," Chandler said Wednesday.
The moratorium would halt construction on substandard lots (less than 5,000 square feet) for a year unless property owners agreed to height and density limits and received approval for building from fire safety officials.
During the moratorium, the city Planning Department would be asked to draw up new development guidelines for substandard lots.
The Coalition of Laurel Canyon Homeowners Assns., representing 500 property owners in the area, has supported the moratorium proposal to prevent overdevelopment in the canyon, according to members. They have argued that homes are being built on lots designed for smaller structures, worsening fire hazards, traffic and parking problems.
Opposing the moratorium is the Hillside Property Owners Assn., a group of between 100 and 200 owners of undeveloped property in the canyon who contend that the moratorium represents an unconstitutional confiscation of their property.
Spokesmen for both groups agreed that the Supreme Court ruling had introduced a new element in the debate over the merits of the moratorium.
"Our whole world has been falling apart, except for the court ruling," said Berndt Lohr-Schmidt, an organizer of the association opposed to the moratorium.
'More Powerful Argument'
"We have argued without any success before every city department and agency that the moratorium is invidiously discriminatory against small landowners. Now, with the court ruling, we have an even more powerful argument against it."
James A. Nelson, chairman of the homeowner coalition supporting the moratorium, said his group is concerned that the court ruling may prevent the city from adopting the ban on building.
"Our basic argument is that to allow continuation of building currently under way is to pose a fire-safety threat to the entire canyon," Nelson said. "We hope that the city will agree with us that suits from victims of a fire because of inadequate access would be far greater than theoretical suits for compensation from property owners not allowed to overbuild on their property."
Lohr-Schmidt said his group would not oppose the moratorium if it were extended to all building in the canyon. "It is the discrimination that bothers us," he said. "The owners of estate-sized property can continue to build while the widow with a small lot would be prevented from building."