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Planning Commission Votes to Legalize Home-Based Businesses : Zoning: Advocates criticize some restrictions in proposed new law. Homeowners who oppose plan fear it would turn neighborhoods into commercial districts.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The city of Los Angeles moved a step closer to allowing businesses to operate in residential areas, with a city panel voting unanimously Thursday to legalize more than two dozen home-based occupations.

The vote by the city’s Planning Commission came nearly 10 years after officials first began to study whether to change zoning codes that prohibit commercial operations in residential neighborhoods. Only doctors, dentists and ministers were allowed to conduct business in their homes under the current law.

If approved by the City Council, the proposed ordinance would bring Los Angeles in line with dozens of other municipalities in Southern California that have legalized home-based business, and have begun to collect city fees on the operations.

The Planning Commission decision followed more than three hours of public testimony from homeowners, most of whom fear the law would turn residential neighborhoods into crowded commercial districts. Home business supporters were also heard.

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“This is an unfair burden on residential communities that are trying to establish a peaceful, restful and quiet atmosphere,” said Alan Kishbaugh, president of the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Assns., which represents about 250,000 residents on both sides of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Advocates of home-based businesses testified at the hearing that they are happy the city is finally attempting to legalize such enterprises, but they criticized many restrictions in the proposed law.

For example, Judy Corbet, who has a temporary permit to operate a costume-making business out of her North Hollywood home, challenged a provision that allows only 25% of a home’s floor space to be used for a commercial venture.

“What does it matter how much space is used as long as it doesn’t affect the neighbors?” she said.

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Planning officials acknowledged that when they drafted the proposed law they realized it would not completely please both sides. But they urged the commission to adopt the proposal and allow them to make adjustments to the law later.

“This is our best effort,” said Robert JanoviciCQ, the city’s chief zoning administrator.

As written, the ordinance would:

* Permit 26 occupations in single-family and multifamily neighborhoods, including accountants, attorneys, engineers and composers;

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* Charge a home business license fee, ranging from $50 to $150;

* Prohibit outdoor signs advertising the business;

* Prohibit hiring employees who do not live in the home;

* Limit business operations to 25% of the home’s floor space;

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* Ban all excessive noise, dust or vibrations caused by the business.

Businesses that violate the proposed law could be fined or shut down entirely.

Planning officials said the ordinance requires a public hearing for those businesses that do not meet the criteria. Also, the proposed law allows the commission and zoning administrators to add or eliminate occupations from the list of permitted businesses.

There are no estimates on the number of home-based businesses now operating illegally in the city. But approximately 2,500 residents each year are turned down by the city’s Building and Safety Department for permits to operate home businesses, city officials said.

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City revenues would have increased by $125,000 to $250,000 annually if each of those requests had been permitted and the owners charged a license fee of $50 to $100.

The effort to regulate home-based businesses in Los Angeles started in 1985 when the late City Councilman Howard Finn asked city planning officials to draft regulations to allow such enterprises in residential areas.

But twice the Planning Commission has rejected planning staff recommendations, sending the proposals back for further study.

Councilwoman Laura Chick, who had asked planning officials to try again, told the commission on Thursday that despite some problems with the ordinance, it should be approved.

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“The city must make a statement that they value the home-based businesses,” she said.

After the vote Debra Schacher, the head of a home-based business association in Irvine, said, “We are pleased that we have gotten this far but we should have been much further by now.”

Gordon Murley, president of the Woodland Hills Homeowners Assn., took the opposite side, saying, “We feel this is essentially gutting the (residential single-family) zone.”

The proposed ordinance next will be heard by the council’s Planning and Land Use Committee. No date has yet been scheduled.

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