WeHo targets too-tall projects enabled by legal loophole

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West Hollywood City Council is seeking an antidote to the oversized, out-of-place development projects — enabled by the “Builder’s Remedy” law — which have horrified homeowners on some of the city’s sleepiest suburban streets.  

The projects add to the city’s challenge of promoting housing development while preserving the character and value of residential neighborhoods.

Council on Monday will direct staff to figure out how to deal with the influx of Builder’s Remedy applications submitted by local developers. This decision is in response to the challenges posed by the California Legislature’s Housing Accountability Act (HAA), which limits the discretion of city officials over housing projects that include affordable units.

The Builder’s Remedy

The Builder’s Remedy, although over 30 years old, was recently revitalized by pro-housing advocates and state regulators. It has become a significant factor in the state’s push to meet Gov. Gavin Newsom’s goal of building 2.5 million new homes by the decade’s end. Despite its potential, the Builder’s Remedy has faced numerous legal challenges, with many jurisdictions refusing to process applications, leading to litigation.

The Builder’s Remedy allows developers to bypass local zoning regulations in cities and counties that missed the deadline to submit their Housing Element plans to the state. It lets developers propose projects that exceed height limits, density restrictions or are located in non-residential zones.

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In October 2022, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) clarified that the Remedy would still be available even after a city achieved compliance with the Housing Element, provided the preliminary application was filed during the period of non-compliance.

During the four month window after missing the deadline and winning approval of its Housing Element plan, the city received six Builder’s Remedy proposals — including an eight-story building on Huntley Drive and a 26-story building on Santa Monica Boulevard. 

The HAA requires cities and counties to make one of five specific findings to deny or impose conditions that would make a housing development project infeasible. These findings include meeting or exceeding the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) for the proposed income categories, addressing specific adverse impacts on public health and safety, compliance with state or federal laws, zoning for agriculture or resource preservation, and consistency with both the zoning ordinance and the general plan.

Despite its aggressive use by some developers, no projects have yet broken ground under this law, partly due to its confusing wording and legal uncertainties.

Stopping the Remedy

Recent rulings in Los Angeles County suggest that developers may prevail in court disputes over building and zoning rules, particularly in cities without state-approved housing plans. In two of the three recent court cases, judges ruled in favor of developers, and in the third case, a split decision upheld the Builder’s Remedy but excluded projects in California’s protected “Coastal Zone.”

Lawmakers in Sacramento are also pushing for legislation to clarify and potentially limit the Builder’s Remedy. Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, who authored AB 1893, aims to modernize the law, making its application clear and standardized. The proposed bill includes benefits for developers, clarifications on the law’s application, and provisions allowing developers to bypass environmental reviews and public hearings. However, it also proposes capping project sizes and prohibiting their use in industrial zones, a shift from the current, more permissive regulations.

Attorney General Rob Bonta supports the bill, emphasizing the need for clarity to ensure housing projects move forward rather than getting mired in legal disputes. Another bill, AB 1886 by Assemblymember David Alvarez, would make jurisdictions without certified housing plans subject to the Builder’s Remedy until these plans are approved.

What can WeHo do?

The recommendations on the table for City Council to approve include directing staff and the City Attorney to work with the city’s lobbyist to develop and implement a lobbying campaign in Sacramento to exempt the city from Builder’s Remedy proposals. This is based on West Hollywood’s history of supporting affordable housing. The City Attorney is also tasked with developing a comprehensive strategy to challenge Builder’s Remedy proposals that are inconsistent with the zoning code.

City staff and the City Attorney have already started addressing the impacts of Builder’s Remedy, including discussions with the city’s state lobbyist about possible legislative actions. These efforts aim to ensure that the city’s local authority is maintained while continuing to support affordable housing development.

But the best hope for stopping the Remedy projects appears to be begging.

Council will likely direct staff to meet with the developers proposing Builder’s Remedy projects to find alternative solutions that align with the city’s goals. At this point, however, the city has little leverage; the developers hold most, if not all the cards. 

 
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Harambe's Vengeful Ghost
Harambe's Vengeful Ghost
20 days ago

Considering that the housing shortage is artificial and manufactured by leftists, I don’t really give a damn anymore. Like, these problems are solved by the free market and basic center-right to solid-right values. But no, let’s stack people up on top of each other and pretend that’s totally normal and fine.

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
27 days ago

You gotta love how Wehoans love to cry that “there is a huge housing shortage”, then when a developer legally wants to build any housing, every possible roadblock is put in their way. The reason being the people who are already living here don’t want anyone else crowding up their city. But that doesn’t stop them from literally crying about their fantasy “housing shortage”.

Peter Buckley
Peter Buckley
27 days ago

Common sense is a wonderful attitude, my dear council members, to keep our legal bills down and the population from revolt LOL. But Solly from skyscraper land in Houston who’s vowed to change the WeHo skyline won’t be happy about this!

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
27 days ago

Thank John Heilman for introducing this item for consideration. This is yet another embarrassing failure by City Council and particularly our highly paid professional staff that resulted in this situation. One thing West Hollywood should do is instruct our lobbyist to work to repeal the Builders’ Remedy, which is a huge windfall to developers and is a penalty that is way out of proportion to the supposed “ill”. These projects will leave a permanent scar on countless communities.

Mikie Friedman
Mikie Friedman
27 days ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

quite a few embarrassing failures on the part of our city council! They are so busy chasing their vanity projects, that they don’t pay enough attention to the really important issues! if they hadn’t dragged their feet and missed the deadline, we might not be in this predicament now! Case in point… do we really need an ice rink in West Hollywood Park? That’s what our mayor is concentrating on these days! SMH!

JF1
JF1
27 days ago
Reply to  Mikie Friedman

So true.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
27 days ago
Reply to  JF1

We had a weak Community Development Director who apparently could not convince the City Council that delay could have dire consequences. The City Attorney and City Manager did not seem too concerned even though that is supposedly why we pay them the big bucks. When staff won’t stand up to the City Council what is the point of having all these folks at City Hall.

Dystopian
Dystopian
27 days ago
Reply to  JF1

And you think our City attorney is capable of doing this? Meh.

Stevie
Stevie
27 days ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

This law is been around for at least 3 decades with city updates required every 8 years I believe it is. Thus, Heilman (and all his other lackeys) are just as guilty of being an embarrassment to West Hollywood.

Stevie
Stevie
27 days ago

LOL, poor NIMBY’s, like the poor Republican’s in your state, the Developers hold all the cards now. Karmas a bitch huh?????

Ruth Anne
Ruth Anne
27 days ago
Reply to  Stevie

Really??!? You should ask Westside Communities how that went for them in Santa Monica, or Leo Pustilnikov in Redondo Beach… to name a few

Jerome Cleary
Jerome Cleary
27 days ago

wow

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