San Fernando Valley residents rally to support planning reform measure
STUDIO CITY >> Hundreds of luxe apartments threaten to replace a post office in Woodland Hills. High-rise condos threaten to tower over homes in North Hollywood. A parking garage threatens to tie up commuter traffic in Studio City .
Each proposed San Fernando Valley project has been given the go-ahead by Los Angeles politicians and planners to get around city zoning rules, critics say, in a broken planning and land-use system that favors developers over residents.
“The process is broken,” said Blair Thompson, of Sherman Oaks, now fighting massive development proposed around the iconic Sunkist building near his home of more than two decades. “The average citizen — the people, the neighborhood — are railroaded.”
He was among the more than 100 people Saturday to attend a Valley Town Hall meeting in Studio City to rally for a Neighborhood Integrity Initiative — an anti-development measure set to appear on the March 2017 ballot.
The initiative, spearheaded by Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the Coalition to Preserve L.A., aims to reform a “pay-to-play” planning system while putting a moratorium on major projects.
If approved by voters, the measure would:
• Force Los Angeles to update its general plans for development, now decades out of date, with community input. Builders would then be required to follow them.
• Require planners, and not developers, to pick the consultants who write environmental impact studies.
• Place a two-year halt to approving any major projects, including the common practice of “spot zoning” that now grants builders exceptions to rules regulating height, density, parking and more.
Backers say the initiative would fix a system in which developers cut cozy deals at City Hall to get projects approved that don’t conform to community zoning. When residents find out, they say, it’s too late.
“We find out about these things long after deals are cut — back room meetings at City Hall,” said Jill Stewart, campaign director for the Coalition to Preserve L.A. “Developers are handheld until it’s ready for prime time with the public.”
The two-hour town hall at the historic Sportsmen’s Lodge — itself subject to a court battle over a controversial retail development proposal — drew residents from across the Valley.
Some objected to a controversial plan to tear down hundreds of trees at the landmark Chase Knolls garden apartments in Sherman Oaks to make way for additional units.
Others objected to a massive NoHo West development to replace Laurel Plaza in North Hollywood. Or the mega “live, work and play” developments planned to replace the Promenade mall and Rocketdyne plant in Warner Center.
Across Los Angeles, they say, luxury housing is being built to displace residents.
“The far reaches of the Valley are still suburbia. … A nice place to raise kids,” North Hills resident Jay Beeber said. “What they have envisioned for this, starting in Woodland Hills, is a Manhattanization of the Valley.”
The Valley, which helped launch Proposition 13 and Proposition U, passed by voters in 1986 to halt commercial development, will be key to the initiative’s passage, proponents said.
“The history of reform began in the San Fernando Valley,” said Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowner Association. “Political action starts in the Valley. It aims to change this city.”