OpEd: 2024 ushers in an unprecedented battle for our neighborhoods

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When West Hollywood was founded in 1984, the new City Council developed housing goals and local zoning ordinances. Incorporated into the City of West Hollywood’s “Housing Element” is this quote:

  1. Maintain and enhance the quality of the housing stock and residential neighborhoods.

However, in March 2021, the City Council failed to send a Housing Element to the state for approval. The failure to submit an on-time Housing Element opened the door to a city that you won’t recognize in years to come. The botched delay allowed developers to bypass local zoning ordinances under the “Builder’s Remedy” and construct 8-story, 50-unit buildings on any residential parcel.

The Housing Element was due on February 12, 2021.  At the March 21 city council meeting, Mayor Meister, Mayor Pro Tem Erickson, Councilmember Shyne, and former Councilmember D’Amico voted against staff’s recommendation to move forward with the corrections suggested at from the prior Housing Element meeting. It took a year, until March 2022, before the Housing Element would be submitted to the state. Councilmember Heilman, re-elected in November 2022, pushed for the Housing Element’s completion. The City Manager, City Attorney, and City Council had all turned a blind eye to the most important issue facing our neighborhoods.

For almost one full year, developers were allowed to file applications for developments that did not comply with local zoning codes. Last month, we were introduced to the first of these out-of-scale developments with an 8-story building shown above on Huntley Drive: 50 units, 8 stories high, with only 28 total parking spaces, towering over a single-family home next door in an R-2 zone.

Can you imagine the faces of city staff in the Planning Division when plans were submitted to build an eight-story complex at 651-657 Huntley Drive? And then again on Edinburgh. And then again.

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The ‘Builder’s Remedy’ could significantly impact every property that is unlucky enough to be its neighbor. The values of condos or homes would be severely compromised. Shadows will block sunlight, and with less than one parking space per unit, parking will become scarce in any of those neighborhoods. The quality of life for those living next to these eight-story, 50-plus unit buildings will be forever compromised.

Is it a coincidence that all three planning members who participated in the March 21, 2021, agenda item to confirm the Housing Element are no longer employed in West Hollywood? Long-term Economic Development Director John Keho has retired. Robyn Eason, Planning Manager has left, and Senior Planner Rachel Diamond is no longer employed in West Hollywood. However, the consequences of this oversight will affect many neighborhoods indefinitely.

But this dragged on for 10 months. City Manager David Wilson made the fatal mistake of not pressing to get this back on the agenda in front of the City Council. In that March 2021 city council meeting, the city council was instructed to come back in 60 days with a new Housing Element and recommendations from staff on what parcels or lots could be up-zoned to meet the housing goals. vIt’s January 2024 and that up=zoning conversation has still failed to be presented to the City Council for discussion. It’s an epic failure of the management at City Hall.

WEHOonline submitted a public records request on December 5th, 2023, for the number of developments that were submitted to the Planning Division during the period of March 2022 to February 2023. The normal time to receive an answer to a public records request is 10 days. The City Clerk asked for an extension to compile the data. It’s been almost a month.   It appears there is much data to compile.

Essentially, the City of West Hollywood has ceded its vision for our neighborhoods and lost control over local zoning laws and the protection of our neighborhoods.   
5.C. PROTECTING INTEGRITY OF RESIDENTIALLY ZONED PARCELS –

8-story tower awakens wrath on serene Huntley Drive

‘Builder’s Remedy’ effects on WeHo is result of City Council oversight on Housing Element

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JF1
JF1
1 month ago

And they are building a 7 story tower in the neighborhood between SM Blvd and Sunset just east of Doheny.

Paul
Paul
1 month ago

The neighbors on Huntley will be suing the city and the developer of this 8 story project. This will be in litigation for years.

Jerome Cleary
1 month ago

Don’t forget originally when the Gateway project was presented at LaBrea and Santa Monica there was a Phase 2 housing tower element that disappeared over the years and now no one says anything about it.

Morty
Morty
1 month ago

We had a new house built 3 doors down on Huntley with a basement. For almost a year they were pumping the water from the basement level so they could pour the concrete. The house is completed and we still constantly see water in the street being drained out by their sub pump. This was just one level down. The developer with this proposed 8 story building wants to go 2 levels down with subterranean parking. Good luck to them and the adjacent neighbors. This building will be a total nightmare to build. I would also like to know where… Read more »

Stephen
Stephen
1 month ago
Reply to  Morty

I don’t get why developers in this area are still clueless about how there’s an underground river beneath WeHo.

Lynn Hoopingarner
Lynn Hoopingarner
1 month ago

One important question is why Council and the public were not immediately informed the minute the first Biilder’s Remedy project hit the Planning Desk. Why was staff hiding this? To my knowledge there are multiple such projects and the first we heard about it was at the Huntley project neighborhood meeting less than a month ago.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
1 month ago

Unfortunately the builder’s remedy was a known factor to the City Council in March, 2021, but they kicked the can down the road for sixty days, which at the time did not seem like a big deal. But from there it got delayed further as the Council’s agenda was filled with crucial social justice issues, appointing a canine mayor and debating scooters. Community Development staff was apparently in no hurry to get back in sixty days. While there is plenty of blame to go around, former community development director John Keho was supposed to be in charge and City Manager… Read more »

david
david
1 month ago

Thank you Lynn Hoopingarner! Your knowledge and foresight is so appreciated and respected. I wish City Council and Planning Commission members would actually start to listen to your wisdom. Everyone wants West Hollywood to continue to grow but not by ignoring common sense and ignoring the concerns of the residents. I don’t hear anyone at West Hollywood trying to rectify the Builder’s Remedy Policy that California mandated. Im tired of hearing council meetings and planning commission meetings that The City’s hands are tied and don’t want to get sued. Why not push back and demand developers build within the guidelines… Read more »

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
1 month ago

I am sickened by this.

Elections have consequences.

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
1 month ago

Every problem in the city goes back to rent control. If people who lived here could actually afford to live here, we wouldn’t have a bunch of poor entitled freeloading renters demanding neighborhoods look the way they want, at the expense of new modern valuable desirable housing prospective new residents want, and who also can actually afford to live here. Too many poor people not paying enough taxes, not patronizing local businesses, we end up with what we have now. I know it’s a shocking concept, but how about live where you can afford to live.

Uninformed
Uninformed
1 month ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

Seems as though the claims you are making are not exactly valid. Would you be advocating that a person or people that moved to West Hollywood under the Rent Control Ordinance, that was/were unaware of the ordinance simply volunteer to now contact their landlord and offer to pay market rent?

voter
voter
1 month ago

I have long felt that the City Council members other than Meister and Heilman are completely incompetent grifters. I would rather that a group of sixth graders were making decisions on my behalf, assuming they were immune to greed and political ambitions.

WeHo Mary!
WeHo Mary!
1 month ago

I, like you, think that building these huge developments in a neighborhood of 1-2 story buildings is awful. We live in the great State of California, however, and she is demanding that everyone build more affordable housing. There has to be a compromise here. Why not encourage housing along main thoroughfares like Santa Monica Blvd, instead of going to City Council meetings and opposing projects in these locations? In this scenario, the housing quota is satisfied, the impact to residential neighborhoods is reduced and everyone is happy-ish!

Uninformed
Uninformed
1 month ago
Reply to  WeHo Mary!

This was the logical and obvious choice. It was adroitly ignored by Community Development Director Keho and the City Council who apparently fail to have a grasp on this issue. It seems Councilmember Meister was in favor of pushing the limits, inspired by other cities, and didn’t understand the consequences of failing to approve. . The City of Beverly Hills is in a similar situation now embroiled in litigation.

Dumb and Dumber
Dumb and Dumber
1 month ago
Reply to  Uninformed

Councilmember Meister was hoodwinked into agreeing to ask the State for a 1-year extension–the “brilliant” idea of former council member D’Amico. Further, the City Attorney Langer failed to protect we citizens by not advising the upper management of the dire consequences we would face. Seems in retrospect we should nickname them Councilman Harry Dune and Attorney Mary Swanson.

Uninformed
Uninformed
1 month ago

Councilmember Meister hoodwinked? Are you stating that Meister asked the opinion of Atty Langer and was ill advised? Would like to review the video of that council meeting as I don’t recall the specific interaction between Meister & Langer. Do you happen to know the date?

Capote123
Capote123
1 month ago
Reply to  Uninformed

Lauren Langer speaking on consequences of missing housing element deadline at Weho City Council meeting Mar21/22 starting at 3:03 (search YouTube)

Last edited 1 month ago by Capote123
Capote123
Capote123
1 month ago
Reply to  Uninformed

And Rachel Dimond and John Weho from Planning at the Feb7/22 City Council Meeting 3:32

Capote123
Capote123
1 month ago
Reply to  WeHo Mary!

And this proposed development isn’t really contributing to more affordable housing. Demolishing 8 existing rent stabilized units, to build 5 low or lower income units, 5 moderate income units and 40 market value units.

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