3/12/09
City of Los Angeles Planning Department Holds Community Meeting with Oaks Residents on new Permanent Regulations

Blake Kendrick, Jon Tanury and Kevin Keller of the City’s Planning Department led a public workshop on Monday, March 2nd to solicit comments from residents of the Oaks regarding proposed planning department regulations for the Oaks. The proposed permanent regulations are a direct outcome of the Oaks Interim Control Ordinance which has been in place since May 31st, 2008. The Oaks Homeowners Association initially approached the Planning Department, asking that it help develop the ICO in order to curb out-of-scale development in the Oaks. For more information on the ICO and its history you can go to this page.

The March 2nd meeting was a first step on the road to creating permanent regulations, and thus the Planning Department was very much in listening mode, looking for input from homeowners and residents. 


An example of out-of-scale development in the Oaks

Ms. Kendrick explained that the focus of the new regulations would be to prevent the development of homes whose size is out of scale to the lot where they are sited. She explained that the tool planners would use to control house size is called Floor Area Ratio, or FAR -- the ratio of house size to lot size. (For example, a 2000 square foot home on a 10,000 square foot lot would have an FAR of .20; a 10,000 square foot home on a 10,000 square foot lot would have an FAR of 1.)

She provided handouts to illustrate how neighboring cities regulate home size with FAR. The information on these handouts - which are available as a .pdf file here - was researched within the last year, so it may not be absolutely up-to-date any more, but it shows quite strikingly the magnitude of the difference between regulations in other jurisdictions and what is currently allowed under the Los Angeles Hillside Ordinance. All of the listed cities allow FAR’s between 0.25 and 0.50. The current temporary regulations contained in the Oaks Interim Control Ordinance use a sliding scale which ranges from 0.37 for a 4,000 sq ft lot and 0.187 for a 20,000 sq ft lot. The Hillside Ordinance allows FARs of up to 3.0, or about 9 to 16 times times what is allowed in the Oaks ICO. Factoring in typical setback requirements, that would allow construction of a whopping 24,400 sq ft home on a 10,000 sq ft lot, or a FAR of 2.44. (For reference, the average lot size in the Oaks is 10,743 sq ft and the average home size is 2,414 sq ft.)

While there were a few people in the audience who expressed opposition to new regulations, the majority of neighbors were surprised at what would be allowed were there not an ICO or permanent regulations in the Oaks. 

The current FAR regulations in the Oaks ICO are based on the average FAR of all of the 763 existing homes in the Oaks. In general, the existing homes in our neighborhood on relatively small lots (approx. 5,000 sq ft) have higher FAR’s than those on larger lots (8,000 sq ft and greater). The current ICO mimics that pattern of FAR’s, thus discouraging the construction of very large homes on small lots, while allowing the construction of large homes on large lots. It is likely that the planning department will propose an increase in FAR for very large lots to allow construction of larger homes on those lots.


A graphical representation of the FAR limits imposed by the ICO

Ms. Kendrick explained that what the City calls “Q” and “D” conditions could be used to implement the permanent regulations. Construction projects normally requiring building permits would be checked for conformance by the building department plan checker. No special approvals, public notifications, fees, or special hearings would be required if a project conformed to the requirements of the permanent regulations. This is very similar to how the ICO is implemented.

The evening also included detailed discussions of other parameters that could possibly be included in the permanent regulations:
• Increasing setback requirements.
• Limiting the amount of excavation (there are currently no limits, only permits required to haul out large amounts of land, and these permits are almost always granted).
• Height limitations, and requirements to terrace or “step back” homes could help prevent overly tall houses built right on the street. 

Environmental issues such as the effect of fenced yards and a home’s “footprint” were also discussed. The prevailing sense in the end was that very simple regulations focusing on FAR are what are needed.

One neighbor asked what might happen to someone living in a home that did not conform to the new ordinance, whose home was destroyed by a force of nature. Could that homeowner rebuild his home back the way it was even if it did not conform to the new ordinances? The planning department representatives indicated that would most likely be the case.

Finally, Blake Kendrick extended an open invitation to all Oaks residents to join any future focus group and workshop meetings. Anyone interested in attending should contact the Planning Department’s Jon Tanury at (213) 978-1214 or jon.tanury@lacity.org. The city will mail out invitations to some of the meetings. The process will culminate in a series of formal public hearings.

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