MMRA Supports LaBonge Motion to Reform Small Lot Subdivision Rules

MMRA Supports LaBonge Motion to
Reform Small Lot Subdivision Rules


Example of typical small lot subdivision

 

In 2005, a “Small Lot Subdivision” amendment to the Los Angeles Municipal Code was passed allowing developers to carve up lots in commercial and multifamily residential zones into small single-family plots. The previous minimum size for a single-family lot of 5,000 square feet was reduced to 600 square feet with a minimum width of 16 feet. The purpose of this law was to promote housing density by permitting “infill projects” in established communities.

These smaller lots are fee-simple parcels that can be bought and sold independently of each other. Unlike condo owners, residents of the small-lot homes own a plot of land and a home that is built on a separate foundation. These “townhouses” do not share walls, although they are built only inches apart. Typically, these small-lot homes range from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet and are accessed via a long driveway on the edge of the property with two-car tandem garages at grade level, bedrooms on the next floor, an open-plan living area above that, and a rooftop deck.

The spread of small-lot home development – from Silver Lake to North Hollywood to Venice – is generating “push back” from nearby residents. Neighbors have complained about the noise generated by rooftop decks and the lack of parking when small-lot homeowners place multiple sets of trash bins on the street. Unlike many condo or apartment projects, small-lot guidelines do not require private trash pick up. Another problem is that the inherent inconvenience of tandem garages encourages small-home residents to use street parking. Also, these projects lack proper setbacks and their tall and boxy designs are often incompatible with the scale and look of the rest of the neighborhood.


Recently, Councilmember Tom LaBonge proposed updating current guidelines and imposing stricter rules on Small Lot Subdivisions as a result of the many complaints generated by these projects. LaBonge’s reforms would include a 15-foot setback for small-lot developments; require private trash pickup to eliminate having as many as 20 individual trash barrels on the street; replace tandem parking garages with traditional two-car garages; mandate additional review of rooftop decks to reduce impact on adjoining neighbors; and require that the architectural character of the neighborhood be considered in the approval process.

“I strongly believe in tweaking the Small Lot Subdivision ordinance to ensure that new small lot subdivisions fit into the character of the existing community better,” said LaBonge.

Although no small-lot subdivision projects have been built in the Miracle Mile – given the number of multifamily zoned properties in our community, some adjoining single-family homes – it is only a matter of time before this sort of development arrives. On October 9, 2014, the board of directors of Miracle Mile Residential Association endorsed Councilmember LaBonge’s effort to reform the Small Lot Subdivision rules. These changes would mitigate the most egregious problems created by these projects.

“Frankly, I don’t think this sort of development belongs in the Miracle Mile,” said MMRA President Jim O’Sullivan, “but there’s nothing we can do to stop it. But Tom LaBonge’s reforms are a step in the right direction by reducing their impact on the neighborhood.”

For additional information:

LaBonge Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance Reform Motion

The Eastsider L.A.: Councilman Calls for Reviewing Small-Lot Development Rules

Larchmont Buzz: Developer Plans Small Lot Subdivision for 421 Van Ness Ave.

Los Angeles Times: In Urban L.A., Developers are Building Trendy Homes on Tiny Lots

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Proposed Ban on Single Family Home Demolitions Includes Miracle Mile

 

Proposed Ban on Single Family Home
Demolitions Includes Miracle Mile

A tidal wave of complaints about mansionization – and the inability of the existing Baseline Mansionization Ordinance [BMO] to stop the spread of McMansions – has prompted the City Council to propose a stopgap measure to protect neighborhoods under attack. A plan presented October 7th at the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee would impose temporary restrictions to stop or limit demolitions in areas with pending applications for either a Reduced Floor Area District [RFA] or Historic Protection Overlay Zone [HPOZ].

The Miracle Mile Residential Association submitted a request to create a RFA to Councilmember Tom LaBonge on September 13th. LaBonge appeared at the City Council committee to place the Miracle Mile on the list of neighborhoods to be included in the proposed Interim Control Ordinance [ICO].

The ICO – which is still to be finalized before being brought to a vote of the full City Council – would prohibit all single-family home demolitions while allowing only interior remodels that retain all exterior walls and roofs orfeature a less restrictive option that could allow complete demolitions but limit new structures to 120% of the size of the previously legally existing structure. Either measure would effectively stop mansionization, but MMRA President James O’Sullivan and Vice President Ken Hixon informed the committee that the MMRA preferred the first option prohibiting single-family home demolitions entirely.

Nearby areas to be included on the list of protected neighborhoods are La Brea-Hancock and North Beverly Grove, which – like the Miracle Mile – are seeking RFA status, and Carthay Square, which has been waiting nearly four years for approval of its HPOZ. Staffing cuts to the Department of City Planning have created a logjam of pending RFAs and HPOZs. Developers have been exploiting this backlog to quickly build McMansions before protections are officially implemented.

An ICO is a temporary ordinance that is renewable in six-month increments for up to two years. It would stop mansionization in the most vulnerable areas and give the city time to reform the BMO and tighten zoning rules so that neighborhoods could have more say about the density and scale of new home construction and remodeling.

The ICO would protect the Miracle Mile while our RFA is developed and HPOZ protection is pursued. The proposed ICO clearly has the support of the entire City Council and it is anticipated that it will be approved and implemented by the end of the year.

For additional information:

Los Angeles Times: Tighter L.A. ‘Mansionization’ Rules Coming Too Slowly, Critics Say

MMRA Request for Reduced Floor Area District, Sept. 13, 2014

MMRA Newsletter, September 2014: MMRA Pursues “Reduced Floor Area District” for R-1 Zoned Properties in Miracle Mile”

Los Angeles Times [Editorial]: L.A. is Bogged Down in Trying to Save Its Historic Structures

Los Angeles Times [Steve Lopez]: L.A. Should Act Quickly to Close Loopholes in Mansionization Ordinance

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MMRA Submits Comments on Academy Museum DEIR

MMRA Submits Comments
on Academy Museum DEIR

 

The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] has submitted its comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report [DEIR] for the proposed Academy Museum at the former May Company site. The nearly 7,000-page DEIR was released on August 28, 2014. The 45-day commentary period closed on October 14, 2014.

The DEIR highlights the scale of the Academy Museum project:

  • The creation of a “Sign District” allowing for the historic May Company building to serve as a background for super-graphics and digital signs.
  • Demolition of the 1946 northern addition of the May Company building to allow for the construction of the 1000-seat “Sphere” theater with a 10,000 square foot enclosed view deck. In total, the overall project will house three theaters with a combined seating capacity of 1,350 persons.
  • A ground level “Piazza” beneath the “Sphere” theatre providing access to the northern entrance to the Academy Museum. The “Piazza” would host outdoor events and screenings with up to 2,500 attendees.
  • Banquet and conference space with a capacity for 1,200 persons, including a “ Tearoom” rooftop terrace with a capacity of 800 persons that will also be utilized for outdoor film screenings.
  • A Museum Café with seating for 150 persons and a 5,000 square foot Museum Store.
  • A projection of 860,000 visitors per year with no new on-site parking.
  • Movies premieres, concerts, and other special events.

The DEIR is a very lengthy and complex legal and technical document that is difficult to concisely summarize. (For an in-depth view, follow the links below to see the MMRA’s comments to the DEIR and our independent traffic expert’s assessment.) The MMRA objections to the project center on traffic congestion, traffic and parking intrusions, infrastructure, public services, and the overall impact of locating a major special events center in a heavily congested and densely populated residential area.

Here’s the backstory.  In the mid-2000s the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences [AMPAS] began aggressively acquiring parcels in Hollywood as a future location for a museum. Working with the now defunct Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, which wielded its power of eminent domain, AMPAS secured a full city block south of Sunset Boulevard on Vine Street. Including other parcels, as well as their holdings at the adjacent Pickford Center of Motion Picture Study, AMPAS assembled approximately 8 acres.

Then, with the stock market crash in 2008 and ensuing recession, AMPAS’s fundraising campaign for the Hollywood museum site derailed. They were left holding a large parcel that was suddenly worth much less than they had paid.

Three years later the dream of an Academy museum was revived. In 2011 AMPAS signed a long-term lease to take over the former May Company from Museum Associates, which operates the Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA].

This preamble about AMPAS’s thwarted plan to locate a museum in Hollywood is relevant because it spotlights what is so obviously wrong with their plan to locate the Academy Museum in the Miracle Mile: They are trying to fit all of their grand plans for an 8-acre project in Hollywood into a mere 2.2 acres at the May Company site.  It is not an easy fit.

AMPAS has had to resort to slight-of-hand in the DEIR to create the illusion that an Academy Museum is compatible with the Miracle Mile – so that they can preserve their objective to be a major tourist attraction and special events center. But the only way they can do that is to minimize its true impact on the community.

A 2008 Traffic Study for the proposed Hollywood museum location projected 7,800 visitors per day. The DEIR for the May Company location projects only 5,000 – for a total of 860,000 visitors per year. Museum experts not connected to AMPAS predict that the project will easily draw at least 1 million visitors annually, if not match or exceed LACMA’s current annual attendance of 1.2 million visitors.

Why does AMPAS claim that the Miracle Mile location will attract 2,800 fewer visitors per day than the former location in Hollywood? Answer: To justify the lack of any new on-site parking. In Hollywood AMPAS was going to build a 5-story parking facility with 850 spaces; at the May Company site they propose none.

But even with this miraculous reduction in the number of visitors, AMPAS still needs to conjure hundreds of visitors arriving on foot, bicycle, or wandering over from LACMA, to cram down their numbers to meet city-mandated parking requirements.

The DEIR tortures visitor projections and parking discounts so that it will support its most important finding: That there is already adequate parking at LACMA’s underground Pritzker garage and Spaulding surface lot for the Academy Museum to share parking with LACMA.

This defies reality. The residents in areas adjacent to LACMA have endured the parking and traffic intrusions of LACMA visitors for decades. Everyone knows that LACMA doesn’t have enough parking. The “Full” sign is up almost every weekend at the Pritzker garage and Spaulding Lot. But according to the DEIR, LACMA has hundreds of existing parking spaces to spare.

In truth, the Academy Museum is as much a major special events center as it is a museum, with 87,000 square-feet devoted to theaters, events space, cafes, and a store and 84,000 square-feet for exhibitions areas, collections, and exhibit support.

As stated in the DEIR, the primary purpose and objective of the project is “…providing film screening and premieres in a state-of-the-art theater competitive with venues in size and amenities.”  Translation: The museum hopes to steal some of the audience, and wrestle some of the revenue, from such popular film premier venues as the Chinese Theater, the El Captain, and the Cinerama Dome. The list of additional events, besides film premieres, includes Academy member and public film screenings, traveling shows, concerts, performances, cultural programming, spoken word productions, classes, video and press events, and film festivals. Each of these will attract anywhere from 100 to 1,325 attendees.

These “special events” are intended to “Provide for revenue-generating events that support sustainable Museum operations….” Not surprisingly, AMPAS places no limit on the number of special events per year nor does the DEIR indicate the maximum number of special events that the project could potentially accommodate on an annual basis. That could top 300 per year – especially given their desire for revenue.

From the blare of rooftop movie screenings to the glare of digital signs that violate the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay, to the onslaught of traffic and nightly events, the MMRA has concluded that the Academy Museum doesn’t fit the Miracle Mile. With all due respect, it should go back to where it came from: Hollywood. That’s where it was originally supposed to be. And that’s where tourists expect to find it.

For additional information:

Academy Museum Draft Environmental Impact Report

Miracle Mile Residential Association – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Tom Brohard and Associates – MMRA Commissioned Traffic Focused Review of the Academy Museum DEIR

Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Carthay Circle Neighborhood Association – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Los Angeles Times [Feb. 28, 2014]: Some Feel Cheated by Change in Film Academy’s Hollywood Museum Plans

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“Nix Pix Museum” Says MMRA

A message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President

The Academy Museum Draft Environmental Impact Report [DEIR] is the final chapter in a sad tale of incompetence and betrayal. Ultimately, it is a perfect example of the golden rule: He who has the gold makes the rules.

We got our first look at the Academy Museum project in May 2013. It was a 104-page study that raised a few eyebrows, but that’s not out of the ordinary for a very large project. Then, on August 28, 2014, an almost 7000-page DEIR was dropped into our lap and we realized we were in the middle of a four-alarm fire. Aside from the shock at the size of the DEIR, our worst fears were confirmed: The Academy Museum is a full-tilt special event center masquerading as a museum – Nokia/L.A. Live in the Miracle Mile.

We were never supposed to be in this position. If Museum Associates (dbaLos Angeles County Museum of Art) had done what they promised when they bought the former May Company property in 1994, the landmark building would have been completely restored and now would be the home of:

  • Up to 20,000 square feet of additional gallery space for LACMA’s collection of prints, drawings, and photographs, providing enhanced accessibility and use by students, scholars, and the public.
  • The Boone Children’s Gallery with workshops, a video and new-media center, and other programs for children, young people, and families.
  • Curatorial and administrative offices.
  • Public amenities including a new restaurant and retail space.
  • An underground garage with 1000 parking spaces to replace the 1200-space May Company parking structure that was demolished – and ended up being the Pritzker garage with only 517 parking spaces.

But instead of restoring and readapting the May Company, they built the Resnick Pavilion, BCAM, and ARCO Plaza – piling on debt by issuing construction bonds to the tune of $383 million. And then

…In August 2011, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded LACMA’s bond rating and Museum Associates found themselves dog-paddling in the deep end of a financial mess of their own making. They needed an infusion of cash to stay afloat. Four months later, in October 2011, Museum Associates abandoned their promise to renovate the May Company for LACMA’s purposes and announced they had leased it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences [AMPAS] for an Academy Museum.

It was a shotgun wedding. AMPAS had flown too close to the sun, too. They had gone on a spending spree acquiring property at the top of the market to build a museum in Hollywood. Then the real estate market collapsed. But they still had a tidy dowry so the terms of this arranged marriage were that AMPAS would pay Museum Associates $36 million up front for a 110-year lease. That’s right, the 300,000 square-foot May Company and the 2.2 acres it sits on for $896.64 per day. It was fire sale, but Museum Associates was desperate for a quick fix to balance their books. In their haste, they conveniently forgot old promises.

In 2005 the residents of the Miracle Mile agreed to give up Ogden Drive (a public street connecting Wilshire Boulevard to 6th St.) allowing the original LACMA campus to be unified with the May Company parcel. In exchange, the May Company would be restored and readapted for LACMA’s uses. We lost a street and a great shortcut to 6th, but it seemed like a win-win proposition: May Company rescued, new gallery space for LACMA.

But then, Museum Associates eloped with AMPAS and now what do we get? A third of the original May Company will be demolished to make way for a giant sphere that looks like it rolled here from Disney World in Orlando; a million visitors a year with no new on-site parking; gridlock; traffic and parking intrusions to our neighborhoods; a digital sign district; super graphics; searchlights; celebrity premieres on Fairfax Avenue; paparazzi; screaming fans; long lines of limos; midnight screenings; concerts; and numerous special events. And will most of these functions be open to the public? Not likely.

He who has the gold rules. And that is why the City will grant all the variances and approvals requested for this project. It’s a done deal. AMPAS has spent over $1 million lobbying City Hall according to the most recent public records. For that kind of money, the City will turn a blind eye to the disastrous impact the Academy Museum will have on the community. A pair of ruby slippers and a major special events center are being plunked down in one the most notoriously congested areas in town – while all the politicians gather to sing a rousing chorus of “We’d Like to Welcome You to Munchkin Land.”

Of course, the politicians don’t want to make Tom Hanks or Steven Spielberg mad. They want invitations to the groundbreaking. Talk about a photo op! But what will be missing from that picture is how Museum Associates betrayed the residents of the Miracle Mile and the surrounding communities when they climbed into bed with the Academy Museum.

[Ruby Slippers photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.]

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MMRA to Produce YouTube Interviews of CD4 Candidates

 

 

MMRA to Produce YouTube Interviews of Council District 4 Candidates

The race for Council District 4 is quickly shaping up to be the most contested open seat election in the city. Currently, there are 14 candidates running to replace Councilmember Tom LaBonge, who represents Council District 4 – a district that stretches from the Miracle Mile to Sherman Oaks [see map]. LaBonge has served on the council since 2001 and will be termed out in 2015.

The battle to represent one of the most influential districts in the city is attracting a broad range of candidates from City Hall insiders to complete unknowns – all who are vying to emerge on top in the March 3, 2015 general election.

Over the past two years, the Miracle Mile Residential Association has invested in social, online, and digital media to enhance and expand our ongoing commitment to community outreach. Our website, monthly emailnewsletter, and our MMRA Channel on YouTube have provided us with platforms to effectively communicate not only with the residents of the Miracle Mile, but with the city at large.

In the process of becoming a “digital” residential association we have witnessed first hand how good communication fosters engagement. It is in this spirit that the MMRA has decided to produce a series of video interviews with all of the candidates for Council District 4. Although traditional debates have their value, we want to provide an opportunity for voters to get to know each candidate in a “one on one” interview where their remarks are not hamstrung by the formal time constraints of a debate. This interview format will allow more “elbow room” for follow up questions and responses.

Ken Hixon, MMRA Vice President and Director of Communications, will conduct the interviews, which will be approximately 20 to 30 minutes in length and will cover topics relevant to both the Miracle Mile and Council District 4.

To date 12 candidates have committed to participating in this project:

Jay Beeber
Teddy Davis
Sheila Irani
Step Jones
Wally Knox
Fred Mariscal
Joan Pelico
John Nelson Perron, Jr.
Carolyn Ramsay
David Ryu
Steve Veres
Oscar Winslow

We are waiting for replies from:

Tera Bannister
Tomas O’Grady

 
The MMRA is a non-partisan, non-profit organization committed to providing a fair and open forum for the candidates to express their positions on a variety of issues to the residents of Council District 4. If there are questions or issues that you would like the candidates to respond to, please send your suggestions to:

 

 

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MMRA Pursues “Reduced Floor Area District”

[Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.]

 

MMRA Pursues “Reduced Floor Area District”

for R-1 Zoned Properties in the Miracle Mile

On September 4, 2014 the Miracle Mile Residential Association’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a motion in support of seeking Reduced Floor Area [RFA] District status for R-1 zoned properties in the Miracle Mile. On behalf of the board, MMRA President James O’Sullivan sent a letter to District 4 Councilmember Tom LaBonge formally requesting that he introduce a motion directing the Department of City Planning to draft a RFA overlay for the Miracle Mile limiting the base Floor Area Ratio to 0.42, increasing the side-yard setbacks of two-story homes and eliminating exemptions for over-height entries, balconies, covered porches, and attached garages.


The construction of a “McMansion” at 808 South Ridgeley [right] has galvanized the community to take this action. The implementation of a RFA would plug loopholes in the existing Baseline Mansionization Ordinance [BMO] and stop the construction of additional “super-sized” homes. A RFA would also serve as a stopgap measure to preserve the scale of our neighborhood while the community continues to do the consensus building required to create a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone [HPOZ] that would protect the traditional design and fabric of the Miracle Mile.The MMRA had hoped that recent efforts to reform the BMO would make this step unnecessary, but there is no relief in sight. The Miracle Mile is surrounded by HPOZs and by other neighborhoods that have already secured or are actively pursuing RFA status thwarting mansionization. It is apparent – given our lack of RFA and/or HPOZ status – that the Miracle Mile has become an easy and obvious target for developers of McMansions.A Reduced Floor Area District [see map] would limit the square footage for new construction and the remodeling of existing homes. It would only apply to single-family homes that are zoned R-1. Details of the proposed ordinance are contained in the letter the MMRA sent to Councilmember LaBonge [click here to read letter].

 

Click on map to enlarge.

 

Once the Department of City Planning launches the process of drafting a RFA overlay for the Miracle Mile they will hold a series of public hearings and workshops to garner community input. Although less time consuming and complex than creating an HPOZ, a RFA could take as long as a year (or more) to implement due to budget cuts and staffing shortages at the Department of City Planning – and the fact that the department is being deluged by new RFA applications from communities across the City that are desperate to stop mansionization. In Council District 4 alone there are already four RFAs waiting for action – the Miracle Mile would be the fifth RFA in this holding pattern.

It is a sad commentary on the state of our City that our leaders lack the political will to reform the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance in order to protect our historic and traditional neighborhoods from the intrusion of mansionization – and that residents must resort to creating RFA Districts to stop what the BMO was expressly intended to prevent. But it is very clear that our residents are ready to take any and all actions necessary to protect the quality of life in the Miracle Mile.

For additional information:

MMRA Declares War on McMansions!

Los Angeles Times Finally Starts to Report on the Mansionization Story

Preliminary Results of the Mansionization-HPOZ-RFA Survey

Mansionization Threatens Miracle Mile

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Lactose-free Politics • a message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President

Lactose-free Politics

A message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President

 

• July 2014: Sunset Blvd. water main rupture floods UCLA
• Sept. 2009: Coldwater Canyon water main rupture floods Ventura Blvd.
• The city replaces water mains once every 315 years
• 42% of Los Angeles’ 10,750 miles of sidewalks are in disrepair
• L.A. pays $3 million to $5 million a year for sidewalk injury claims
• 33% of the streets in the city have a score of D or worse
• Estimated cost of repairing these streets: $4 billion

The circa 1921 water main that spectacularly ruptured a few weeks ago on Sunset Boulevard and flooded UCLA with 20 million gallons of water reminds us that Los Angeles’ infrastructure is collapsing and there isn’t enough money to fix it. Not pipes, not roads, not sidewalks, not bridges, not fire department response times – not much of anything is getting improved, repaired, or replaced these days. It raises the obvious question: Where did all the money go that was supposed to maintain our infrastructure?

It is particularly interesting to me because many of the homes in the Miracle Mile were built in the 1920s. How much of our infrastructure was installed then – and how much of it is cracked or corroded and at the breaking point?

You would think there would be a place to look up current information on the state of our infrastructure, wouldn’t you? But there isn’t. And there’s a reason why such information is not readily available: because real estate development is the brightest star in the City’s overall dim economic firmament and if people really knew the truth about the state of our infrastructure they could use that information to slow or stop new development until the infrastructure issues are remedied. But this “no build” option is anathema to City Hall. As they say, money is the mother’s milk of politics – and to say “no” to developers would deprive politicians of a critical source of daily nutrition.

The City hasn’t always swept these facts under the rug. Back in 1996, when L.A. upgraded its general plan, the City made plans to chronicle infrastructure information and issue a yearly report so decision makers could prioritize public expenditures to ensure that our infrastructure could support development and jobs. It was, as the City declared at the time, an “elegant solution” to marry infrastructure with development.

Within a couple of years the City found this solution less than elegant. It became a source of acute political indigestion when the powers-that-be realized there wasn’t enough money to make sure neighborhoods had sufficient infrastructure to ensure public safety or quality of life. But they wouldn’t dare to publically admit that.

So, they declared to the taxpayers that the planning department has the discretion to determine the manner by which the monitoring and reporting requirements of the general plan are done. That “not all plan policies can be achieved in any given action, and in relation to any decision, some goals may be more compelling than others. On a decision-by-decision basis, taking into consideration factual circumstances, it is up to decision makers to decide how best to implement theadopted policies of the general plan in any way which best serves the public health, safety and general welfare.”  

That’s a mouthful. Let me translate for you.

What the city leaders really mean is they don’t want a little thing like failing infrastructure to prevent them from approving more and more high density real estate projects ­– they would miss the wonderful clinking sounds from the bottles of fresh milk that are delivered to their doorsteps every morning.

The City continues to hold the line that monitoring and reporting on infrastructure is optional. They are deploying that argument with a project in the Miracle Mile currently going through the Environmental Impact Report process.  This is an absurd spin on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” This is “you can ask, but we can’t tell you because we don’t know – and even if we do, we don’t have to tell.”

Absent comprehensive and transparent monitoring and reporting on the state of the City’s infrastructure, how can we prioritize on what gets fixed and when? How do we budget our resources?

How many water mains could have been replaced with the money the City now must expend to compensate UCLA for the flooding of their campus? How many broken arms and collarbones must pedestrians endure before we come up with a rational plan to repair our jagged sidewalks? How large must the City’s annual budget deficits grow before we get a strong grip on city salaries and pensions?

The truth is hard to take. Behind the scenes, politicians say the public can’t handle the truth. That’s their way of rationalizing the artful way they dodge the facts about our infrastructure (and everything else). I think it’s the politicians who can’t handle the truth – for fear of being placed on a lactose-free diet.

 Sunset Blvd. sinkhole [Courtesy of KTLA]. Click image to enlarge.

For additional information:

Los Angeles Times:
Steve Lopez; A Case Study in L.A.’s Crumbling Infrastructure

Bloomberg Businessweek:
L.A. Faces $15 Billion Bill as Pipes Spring Leaks

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Subway Construction Update: A United Front

Subway Construction Update:

Beverly Wilshire and La Brea/Hancock
Homeowners Associations
Endorse MMRA Position on
Nighttime, Sunday, and Holiday
Subway Construction

Beverly Wilshire Homes Association and the La Brea/Hancock Homeowners Association have both approved motions endorsing the policy of the Miracle Mile Residential Association on work hours exemptions for subway construction.

MMRA President James O’Sullivan and Vice President Ken Hixon met last week with the board of directors of both neighborhood associations and shared the MMRA’s position that no variances from work hours regulations should be granted for nighttime, Sunday, or holiday subway construction until such time that all three organizations have had an opportunity to meet with the contractors for the project and satisfactorily resolve all questions and issues regarding noise and vibration.

La Brea/Hancock residents living near La Brea and Wilshire and Beverly Wilshire residents near Fairfax and Wilshire have already experienced sleepless nights from utility relocation work at these intersections. The unanimity of the board members of both organizations in adopting motions endorsing the MMRA’s position reflects how deeply the impact of subway construction is felt in adjacent neighborhoods.

“Metro is always shrugging off the impact of subway construction by dragging out the old adage that you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs,” MMRA President Jim O’Sullivan remarked. “Our retort to that has always been that the Miracle Mile is a neighborhood – not a frying pan. And now it’s clear that the Beverly Wilshire and La Brea/Hancock neighborhoods don’t care to be a frying pan for Metro either. It’s a united front now.”


The MMRA’s ongoing petition campaign to stop nighttime, Sunday, and holiday subway construction continues to gather signatures as more and more people experience the disturbances ensuing from the utility relocations currently underway in the Miracle Mile – which have served as an unpleasant preview of coming attractions.

Metro will not listen to us – and our concerns over 10 years of 24/7 subway construction – if we don’t make our voices heard:

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LACMA: The Sky’s the Limit • Commentary by Greg Goldin


[Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.]

 

LACMA: The Sky’s the Limit

Commentary by Greg Goldin

[Editor’s note: Last month, LACMA Director Michael Govan announced a proposal to build what he hopes will be a Frank Gehry designed skyscraper on Wilshire, across from the museum’s campus. This project would serve as a sort of exclamation point to LACMA’s plan to bridge Wilshire with a new museum designed by the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.]

It may be another decade or so before the Purple Line extension is complete, and riders emerge from the subway stop at Orange Grove and Wilshire, but the oncoming train is already changing the landscape at the west end of the Miracle Mile. If the money can be found, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will inflate a glass kidney bean off the backside of the former May Co. building and LACMA’s oil-slick-inspired $650 million-and-counting blob will ooze its way out of Hancock Park to bridge Wilshire and occupy their Spaulding parking lot. Just added to complete the troika of architectural razzle-dazzle could be the city’s tallest skyscraper, rising above the Wilshire/Orange Grove subway portal.

The hotel and condominium tower, presumably designed by Frank Gehry, would also have LACMA galleries, with a new architecture and design museum, as well as Gehry’s own archives. LACMA head Michael Govan told the Los Angeles Times, “I’m jealous that New York has a Gehry tower [left] and we don’t. My dream is some beautiful piece of architecture with an architecture and design museum at the base, which would add to Museum Row.”  Never mind that much of Museum Row is being decimated in no small part owing to LACMA’s maneuvering the subway portal onto the very block where buildings housing the A+D Architecture and Design museum and two other private art galleries must now be demolished to make way for subway construction.

LACMA owns approximately one-quarter of the 350-foot frontage on the south side of Wilshire between Orange Grove and Ogden, and hopes to forge a development deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority [Metro], Millennium Partners, and landowner Alan Sieroty before the subway construction site is reconfigured as yet another relentlessly dull Transit Oriented Development.

The LACMA chieftain’s instincts may be right – nobody wants another badly-designed building above another badly-designed subway portal – but Govan’s not taking any chances by trying to sell architecture solely on its own merits. Instead, he put a politically correct spin on the proposal. Once Metro opens the block for development, he said, “We know that density is the key to urban living and to the maximization of mass transit — and key to the environment. And so for all the right reasons, this is the right place” for a high-rise.

Thus, Govan shrewdly positions his “dream” as a civic virtue. No one believes this more than LACMA itself, which, like the Museum of Modern Art in New York, would become a major real estate developer. The reassuring urban planning rhetoric is meant to neutralize any opposition by making naysayers into nabobs opposed to leveraging a multi-billion investment in public transportation.

While no one doubts that some kind of building will rise once Metro pulls its construction trailers and tunnel boring machinery off the site, LACMA’s ambition is as naked as it is vainglorious. A Frank Gehry skyscraper, looming directly across the street from LACMA’s main galleries, would be, like Trajan’s Column in Rome [right], a triumphal commemoration of the museum’s self-conceived importance not just in the surrounding neighborhood or city – but in the global marketplace of art.

By adding Gehry to the list of Pritzker Prize winning names on the museum’s all-star roster (Renzo Piano and Peter Zumthor being the other two), the museum will have clothed itself in the raiment of “great buildings.”  Who, indeed, will ever again question the eminent stature of a cultural institution that once made the mistake of building an unfashionably dated and decidedly Hollywood version of the Kennedy Center and dared to call it a landmark destination.

The William Pereira designed LACMA campus, circa 1965.

This, indeed, is an essay into the ways in which the rich and powerful need to express the glories of so much accumulated money and power. Culture is the playground of the moneyed classes – whose wallets, and egos, are the ripe targets of the monument builders. What better way to supply a secular crown than with a building, by a world-renown architect, which bears your name?Nothing new, actually, is happening here with this proposed skyscraper.  From infancy LACMA has regarded itself as not only separate, but also above the status it retains as a publicly funded and owned art institution.  Embossed in the public record is the dirty secret that when the County Museum of Art spun itself off from its parent, the Natural History Museum, the new museum’s board of trustees first aim was to leave Exposition Park for the greener (as in, the color of money) environs of the Miracle Mile, then quaintly situated on the Westside – which nowadays, along with the money, has moved much further west.

When County Supervisor John Anson Ford offered the newly separated art museum a downtown plot of land – speculation is that the site was atop Bunker Hill, where the Catholic Cathedral now sits – LACMA’s board rejected the plan. “[I]t was recognized…that the location…would not attract the enthusiasm of potential donors from the west side.”

This quote, from the board minutes of January 21, 1958, was the sort of blunt comment made by civic leaders before the present era of milquetoast public relations statements. The museum’s leaders could not fathom leaving Exposition Park – and its surrounding black ghetto – only to be thrust into a downtown neighborhood populated by the city’s poor and elderly and black and Native American citizens. Westside money was hardly going to flow toward a location redolent of the city’s intractable underclass.

And, so, the museum spent several years lobbying G. Allan Hancock [right], the wealthy oilman who’d given the county the park that bears his name and contains the La Brea Tar Pits. Repeatedly, they tried to convince him to cede a piece of the 23 acres for their art museum, although it had been Hancock’s express wish to build a “fossil museum” dedicated to displaying the park’s unique Ice Age finds. In 1959, Hancock finally relented, agreeing to give the art museum 7 acres, and no more. The moment the plans for the new museum were unveiled – the William Pereira designed complex that is now destined to be demolished – LACMA began its long effort to aggrandize pieces of the park.

Time and again, LACMA sought to nibble away at the park that Hancock deemed should be permanently set aside for public enjoyment and scientific exploration. In the late-1960s, an attempt by the museum to expand further into Hancock Park met with a global protest. From Kenya, Louis Leakey, the world’s most famous paleoanthropologist and archaeologist, urged the museum to halt its plan, saying that no one would consider building atop a site where the first evidence of mankind was discovered, so why would they build atop the largest outcropping of Ice Age life anywhere on the face of the Earth? That effort flopped, but 20 years later the Bruce Goff designed Pavilion for Japanese Art was completed, taking another bite out of the park.

By then memories had faded, along with the county assurances that Hancock’s final wishes would never be violated. But LACMA never stopped eyeing the park. The first iteration of Zumthor’s modern design for a new museum covered – literally – several of the tar pits themselves. Only when the Natural History Museum, which administers Hancock Park, strenuously objected did LACMA retreat and come up with this latest version spanning Wilshire Boulevard.

In a sense, all of this is prologue, evidence that from the moment LACMA left Exposition Park to the present, an arrogant self-regard has been the chief characteristic of the museum’s stance. Now, in projecting its skyward dreams in the form of a Gehry tower, LACMA demonstrates all of its inherited insouciance, that blithe unconcern that comes with believing your own message and knowing that when you’ve got the money and the power to back it up the sky’s the limit – or maybe not. Actually, there are no height limits along Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile.

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Greg Goldin is the coauthor of Never Built Los Angeles and a curator at the A+D Museum. From 1999 to 2012, he was the architecture critic at Los Angeles Magazine. He is a longtime resident of the Miracle Mile and was featured in the MMRA Channel’s YouTube presentation: The Miracle Mile in Three Tenses: Past, Present, and Future.”

For additional information:Los Angeles Times:
LACMA, Metro Discussing New Museum Tower on Wilshire Blvd.

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MMRA Declares War on McMansions!

MMRA DECLARES
WAR
ON McMANSIONS!

The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] has launched a three-front battle to stop mansionization. The Miracle Mile has become an easy target for builders of McMansions due to the fact that surrounding neighborhoods have successfully thwarted such development by becoming Historical Protection Overlay Zones [HPOZ] or Reduced Floor Area Districts [RFA].

A “super-sized” home under construction at 808 South Ridgeley Drive has galvanized the community [see "before" and "after" photos above]. Such development presents a clear threat to the historic fabric, scale, and livability of the Miracle Mile. After consulting with residents, real estate professionals, and other land use experts, the MMRA Board of Directors has concluded that, indeed, the Miracle Mile is a prime target for speculators looking to make a fast buck by demolishing older homes and replacing them with McMansions. Immediate action is critical to protect our community.

Because of the urgency and fluidity of this situation, the MMRA Board of Directors has developed a three-pronged effort to stop mansionization in the Miracle Mile:

Reform the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance [BMO]: 

The City adopted the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance [BMO] in 2008 to prevent McMansions, but developers have skillfully exploited loopholes in the ordinance to circumvent restrictions on height and square footage. This resulted in a surge of mansionization in the Beverly Grove and La Brea/Hancock areas. Desperate to stop the destruction of their neighborhoods, these communities pursued becoming Reduced Floor Area Districts [RFA] to plug the many loopholes in the BMO.

Homeowner and residential associations, as well as other community organizations, have recently increased the pressure on the City Council to fix the BMO so that RFAs would not be needed to stop mansionization. Having an ever-growing number of RFAs created throughout L.A. would strain the already threadbare resources of the Department of City Planning. Reforming the BMO would protect Los Angeles neighborhoods and save the taxpayers money.

The MMRA has been lobbying City Hall to enact speedy reform of the BMO. The City Council Planning and Land Use Management [PLUM] Committee held a public hearing this month that attracted a large showing of community representatives clamoring for revisions to the BMO. The PLUM Committee gave the Department of City Planning a month to come back with suggestions on how to change the ordinance.

The MMRA is closely monitoring the actions of the PLUM Committee and will continue to exert pressure to eliminate the loopholes in the BMO.

Creating a Reduced Floor Area District [RFA] in the Miracle Mile:

Should the City Council falter or fail to eliminate all of the loopholes in the BMO, it is the consensus of the MMRA Board of Directors that the Miracle Mile should immediately seek the protections of RFA status. A Residential Floor Area Overlay district [RFA] is a zoning tool available for single-family residential neighborhoods to tailor citywide size and height development regulations to the particular needs of the community.

At its next meeting on September 4, 2014, the MMRA board will assess whether sufficient progress has been made by the City Council to reform the BMO. If – at that time – there is no evidence of movement towards substantial reform of the BMO, the MMRA will launch an outreach and petition campaign to create the Miracle Mile Reduced Floor Area District. The MMRA would pursue the same regulations contained within the Beverly Grove RFA, which was instituted in October 2013. [Click here to read the Beverly Grove RFA.]

An RFA can be created in much less time than an HPOZ – and time is of the essence in stopping mansionization. Hopefully, reform of the BMO will make this step unnecessary.

Creation the Miracle Mile Historical Protection Overlay Zone [HPOZ]:

The Miracle Mile is currently being subjected to a tidal wave of new development – mansionization is just one aspect of the many threats our community confronts. The MMRA created an HPOZ Committee last May to explore HPOZ protection for the Miracle Mile. The committee was instructed to do fact-finding, seek the input of residents and property owners, and report on how an HPOZ might be designed and implemented.

Although the committee’s work is in the preliminary stages, it is already apparent that an HPOZ is the only means available to ensure the historic continuity, appearance, and scale of our community. An HPOZ would help to level the playing field that is heavily weighted in favor of real estate speculators and developers – and the politicians who depend on their campaign contributions.

The push for an HPOZ has just begun in the Miracle Mile and it could take anywhere from two-to-four years to complete the intricate process of creating an HPOZ.  So, although an HPOZ would be the most effective way to stop mansionization – as well as institute design standards that would preserve the fabric of our neighborhood – it is not a “quick fix.”

Reform of the BMO and/or the creation of a RFA would stop mansionization and buy the community time to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of an HPOZ. Mansionization must be stopped now – or there will be even less to preserve.

For additional information:

MMRA Newsletter [May 2014]:
Mansionization Threatens Miracle Mile

MMRA Newsletter [July 2014]:
Los Angeles Times Finally Starts to Report on Mansionization Story

 What’s your opinion? 

Miracle Mile Residential Association launched an online survey last May to solicit residents’ opinions regarding mansionization and the creation of an Historical Preservation Overlay Zone [HPOZ] and/or Reduced Floor Area District [RFA].

Take the “Mansionization–RFA–HPOZ” Survey

Read the survey results…

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