L.A. Planners Restrict Hillside Home Building

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Planning Commission, concerned about fire safety in hillside neighborhoods, has approved temporary restrictions on construction in the Santa Monica Mountains that would make it more difficult to build homes on narrow dirt roads.

In a last-minute decision, however, the commission voted Thursday to exempt dozens of projects that meet certain criteria--a move that brought sharp criticism from proponents of tough controls. An aide to Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, co-sponsor of the restrictions, said Yaroslavsky will try to block the exemptions when the controls are considered by the City Council.

Must Meet Standards

Under the ordinance approved by the commission, building of hillside homes south of Mulholland Drive between the San Diego Freeway in Brentwood and Outpost Drive in Hollywood would be allowed only on paved streets at least 20 feet wide--and then only if the projects meet certain building and parking standards.


Proposed projects on unpaved roads or those narrower than 20 feet would require special review by the city zoning administrator, who could approve proposals that he determines “will not create health and safety hazards.”

The restrictions are intended to give fire engines and ambulances easier access to homes on narrow and poorly built hillside roads. They would be in effect for one year--with a possible one-year extension--while city planning officials devise permanent controls.

At the suggestion of Commissioner Theodore Stein Jr., the commission decided to exempt about 60 projects each year--based on a first-come, first-served basis--if the developers agree to install interior sprinklers, build five feet from the front- and side-property lines, use non-wood roofing material, pave a 20-foot wide stretch of the road abutting the property and agree to participate in any assessment district established to improve local streets.

Stein, a developer himself, said the exemptions are necessary to help builders avoid costly delays caused by lengthy city reviews. Stein, who was unable to persuade his colleagues to exempt all projects that meet the criteria, said the exempted projects would still address fire safety problems without “making people jump through the hoops.”

But Commissioner William R. Christopher, who opposed any exemptions, said they enable builders to “buy their way” out of controls, and Suzette Neiman, who also opposed the exemptions, complained that Stein was “muddying the water” by letting some builders off the hook.

Charlie Justis, a Fire Department inspector, said the exemptions would take away much of the city’s ability to review new projects. In addition, Chief Hearing Examiner Bob Rogers raised questions about the legality of placing a cap on the number of exemptions allowed.

Stein, nonetheless, won the support of Commissioners William G. Luddy and Carmen Estrada, both of whom also joined him in voting to approve the entire package of restrictions. Christopher, who crafted most of the controls, and Neiman voted against the final ordinance after Stein inserted the exemptions.

A spokeswoman for Councilman Michael Woo, who along with Yaroslavsky requested the controls, said Woo opposes the Stein exemptions. Virginia Kruger, planning deputy to Yaroslavsky, said Yaroslavsky also opposes them. She said they will “cause a rush” for building permits.

Special Conditions

Aside from the exemptions, however, proponents of tough restrictions had few complaints about the ordinance approved by the commission. Controversial restrictions on remodeling that had rallied many homeowners against the ordinance were deleted by the commission. Last month, the commission had been unable to agree on an ordinance in part because of protests about the remodeling provisions.

“As far as I am concerned, we did it!” said Jim Nelson, who has led a coalition of homeowner groups pushing for the controls. Nelson said he believes the City Council will remove the exemptions inserted by Stein.

Opponents of the controls, buoyed by the same exemptions, also claimed at least partial victory. “It does open a window of opportunity for those who are ready to build,” said Berndt Lohr-Schmidt, head of the Hillside Property Owners Assn.

Under the ordinance, projects on paved streets at least 20 feet wide would also have to meet several other conditions to get a building permit:

* Five-foot front- and side-yard setbacks;

* One additional uncovered parking space, up to four spaces, for each two “habitable rooms” above five rooms;

* Internal sprinkler system;

* Non-wood roofs;

* Agreement to join any future assessment district for road improvements.

The ordinance approved by the commission must now be reviewed by the city attorney’s office before being sent to the City Council’s Planning and Environment Committee. From there, it will be forwarded to the full City Council and finally to Mayor Tom Bradley.

LIMITS ON HILLSIDE DEVELOPMENT The proposed restrictions would last for one year, retroactive to Dec. 1, 1988, and would apply to single-family home construction. Projects would be allowed on paved streets at least 20 feet wide if they meet the following criteria:

* 5-foot front- and side-yard setbacks

* One additional uncovered parking space, up to four spaces, for each two “habitable rooms” above five rooms

* Non-wood roofs

* Agreement to join any future assessment district for road improvements

Some exemptions:

* On major hillside thoroughfares, including Coldwater Canyon Drive, Benedict Canyon Drive, Beverly Glen Boulevard, Beverly Drive, Mulholland Drive, Franklin Canyon Drive, Roscomare Road, Bellagio Road and Outpost Drive

* Replacements for houses destroyed by fire, earthquake or natural disaster

* On private streets