Written by Dick Platkin
HOW THE LAWS FAILED US-On paper the fight against the mansionization of Los Angeles’s neighborhoods has been won. After a decade of tough skirmishes at City Hall and in local neighborhoods, Los Angeles now has legally adopted anti-mansionization planning policies and citywide ordinances. At the policy level, the Los Angeles General Plan, its 35 Community Plans, and the City Planning Commission’s “Do Real Planning” policy declaration all support restrictions on mansionization — the process of real estate speculators demolishing older single-family homes and then replacing them with over-sized, out-of-character suburban-style spec houses.
Another victory was the City Council’s adoption of the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance (BMO) in 2008 and the Baseline Hillside Mansionization Ordinance several years later.
But, as anyone who drives through vast swaths of Los Angeles can plainly see, the mansionization process never stopped, and it is now in overdrive. Based on these simple, observable facts, the adopted mansionization policies and their implementing ordinances are strictly ornamental.
To, therefore, figure out exactly how the City of Los Angeles still manages to approve McMansions despite these adopted policies and ordinances, anti-mansionization advocates initially determined that the culprit was the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance’s itself. After all, this ordinance was sabotaged by last minute exemptions and bonuses unsuccessfully opposed by the President of the City Planning Commission and the Director of City Planning.
We have since learned, however, that there are two other, little-known processes that assist the construction of McMansions. The first one is Building and Safety’s publicly inaccessible procedures for reviewing McMansion building permits. This is the critical moment when Building and Safety dishes out the bonuses and exemptions that allow the construction of McMansions. The second process is the Department of Building and Safety’s totally deficient – and outright scary — oversight of house demolitions.
While we have little doubt that the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance (BMO) only works until that moment when local real estate economics reach a mansionization tipping point, we now understand the actual process is more complex. This is why amendments to eliminate those fatal, last-minute BMO loopholes, are only the first step.
The second step is also essential, making the internal review and enforcement processes of the Los Angeles Department of Building Safety transparent to the public. More