Council votes 4-1 to battle Builder’s Remedy

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City Council in a 4-1 vote on Monday approved Councilmember John Heilman’s proposed measures to address projects allowed by the Builder’s Remedy in West Hollywood.

Projects allowed under the Remedy can exceed typical height limits on buildings and have less parking. The size of the six projects in the works have infuriated residents. 

Heilman addressed the meeting with an introduction to his proposal and the rationale behind it:

“The Builder Remedy exists for a lot of good reasons. Unfortunately, there are cities in California that have done everything possible to thwart the construction of housing, especially affordable housing, in their communities. …

But I don’t understand why the Builder’s Remedy should have any applicability to the city of West Hollywood. We have consistently supported the construction of housing. We have actually been recognized by the state for being a pro-housing city. We have been a leader in terms of protecting, creating, and developing affordable housing from our very earliest days. We’ve had a strong Rent Control Ordinance to protect in-place tenants long before the state started allowing density bonuses for affordable housing. The city of West Hollywood had a very strong inclusionary housing ordinance that required developers to set aside 20% of new units for low and moderate-income housing.

We also created a nonprofit Community Development Corporation to develop permanently affordable and supportive housing, and we have supported other nonprofit entities such as the Gay and Lesbian Center, Alternative Living for the Aging, and others who are also providing affordable housing to our community. As a city, we have often met or exceeded our RHNA numbers, and we have consistently worked in partnership with the state to ensure that we have a strong and compliant housing element.

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Both the language of the Builder’s Remedy and the legislative intent behind it suggest that it shouldn’t be applicable to a city which has consistently been a leader in housing development. What the item before us tonight does is it directs our staff to continue our work with our lobbyists in Sacramento to remedy this situation and to clarify that the Builder’s Remedy should not be applicable to our city in our current situation. …

Secondly, this item directs our staff to regularly update us and the community on the status of the projects which have been proposed as Builder’s Remedy projects, and to make sure that both our City Attorney and our city staff are looking for all available options for dealing with these projects and protecting our community.

During public comment, residents like Jamie Francis raised issues regarding the excessive scale of potential developments, like the astronomical density and height that some projects might achieve without proper local ordinances. The lack of enforcement against non-compliant uses such as short-term rentals via platforms like Airbnb was also criticized, highlighting the gap between legislative intent and local realities.

Speakers from the community, including Frank Afari and Michael Violandi, voiced specific environmental and structural concerns. Afari pointed out the environmental risks associated with high-density projects, particularly in areas with high water tables, predicting potential sinking and damage from extensive excavation work. Violandi expressed fear about a specific Builder’s Remedy project on Huntley Drive, predicting severe impacts on traffic, air quality, and noise, which could drastically alter the living conditions and safety of the neighborhood

Olga Yuran argued for the protection of neighborhood charm and the community fabric, which are perceived to be under threat from aggressive development policies. The conversation reflected a deep-seated concern about maintaining the balance between necessary growth and preserving the unique attributes that define West Hollywood’s residential areas.

Johnny Nicoloro shared a personal narrative about the impacts of the Builder’s Remedy projects on long-term residents like himself. Living in a rent-stabilized unit, he faced the threat of displacement due to new developments. He criticized the effectiveness of the Builder’s Remedy in addressing housing issues, noting that the displacement of residents from rent-stabilized units does not justify the minor increase in affordable housing units, which often come with a significant increase in market-rate housing.

Mana Khakaf highlighted the logistical challenges and potential negative impacts of new developments, such as increased strain on water, sewage, and power infrastructure. She emphasized the need for careful consideration of infrastructure capabilities before approving large-scale projects, particularly those that might exacerbate existing issues like flooding and electrical instability.

Robert Steloff, representing the Tri West Huntley Coalition, criticized the economic disparities engendered by Builder’s Remedy projects, pointing out that the high rents associated with these new developments do not constitute affordable housing but serve more as a financial boon for developers. He urged the council to consider the broader implications of these projects on community affordability and cohesion.

Judy Swan shared a personal testimony about the physical damage her home sustained from nearby construction, highlighting the real and immediate impacts of large-scale development on individual residents.

Gail Sanes pointed to ongoing legal challenges against the Builder’s Remedy, arguing that it was not yet established law and advocating for West Hollywood’s exemption from these state-level housing mandates. 

Chris Gallagher, a long-term resident and renter on Huntley Drive, shared his personal plight under the potential repercussions of the Builder’s Remedy. He emphasized that the developments being proposed under this remedy are not genuinely about affordable housing but are geared towards replacing long-term residents like him with luxury housing developments, effectively altering the neighborhood’s character.

Zekiah Wright, a resident and attorney who uses they/them pronouns, acknowledged the challenges posed by the Builder’s Remedy, particularly its ability to override local council decisions. They expressed concerns about the high costs of potential litigation against this state-mandated policy and recommended focusing on collaborative solutions with developers rather than pursuing costly legal battles.

“My fear is that if we go down this path, especially with recommendations two and three, that fighting this law will cost us,” Wright said. “That fighting this law will be too high; that with litigation being tied up in court for years, we’re spending hundreds of thousands to millions of tax dollars potentially to fight this.”

Andrew Solomon, speaking in solid support of the Remedy, warned that West Hollywood could face similar costs and legal setbacks if it chose to challenge the Builder’s Remedy, advising the council to consider the broader implications of their decisions on the city’s pro-housing reputation.

“You’re essentially asking Lauren (Langer, city attorney) to figure out a way to break the law, as one attorney put it to me,” Solomon said. “Not even Beverly Hills has a council-established policy against the Builder’s Remedy. The very existence of this item tonight on the agenda weakens the city’s position whenever there is a future lawsuit against the city, and there will be. This item shows clear evidence of bias against the law, even if you’re opposed to Builder’s Remedy projects, which the majority of people here are tonight.”

Kimberly Winnick, a lawyer, said she spent three hours in a legal education class discussing this very topic, highlighting ongoing legal challenges and legislative reviews of the Builder’s Remedy. She emphasized the importance of engaging with the law constructively, looking for legal pathways to modify or potentially find exceptions to the current housing laws that are affecting West Hollywood uniquely.

Victor Omelczenko stressed that West Hollywood had already been proactive in integrating affordable housing within new developments, well ahead of state requirements, which unfortunately, the one-size-fits-all state policy fails to recognize. He also noted ongoing efforts by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks to modify the Housing Accountability Act to potentially reduce the mandated percentage for affordable housing in new developments from 20% to 10%.

Heilman, responding to community concerns, clarified that the agenda item was not about circumventing state laws but rather about seeking clarity and possible amendments to those laws to better reflect the unique context of West Hollywood. He highlighted the need for state legislation to recognize the proactive efforts of cities like West Hollywood in providing affordable housing.

Vice Mayor Chelsea Lee Byers, who voted against the proposal, expressed reservations about seeking exemptions from state housing laws, citing concerns about complying with statewide objectives for housing production. She referenced comments from state housing authorities that emphasize the need for cities to adhere to established laws without seeking loopholes or exemptions, thereby underscoring the importance of collaborative approaches to address housing shortages.

‘This specific way of addressing this, as it comes to us as an item, is demonstrating a bias towards the projects that are before us, and I do not think that risking something as serious as litigation by the state at a time where they are taking that role, of suing cities, as seriously as they are, is a valuable use of our time,” Byers said.

“The point of the Builder’s Remedy is to hold bad actors accountable, and I’m not clear how our affront to this process now is not participation in that bad actor approach. It’s deeply unfortunate that we are in this scenario now, but I do not think that this is the path out of it.”

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

Good, maybe this will help curtail that monstrosity going on Wetherly, and a lot of other too big to fail succeed projects.

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
24 days ago

I do find it rather queer that Chelsea Byers objects to any attempt to challenge this state law that has unfairly impacted our tiny already densely populated 1.9 square miles, an area already committed to affordable housing, while simultaneously leading an organization that calls for challenging laws and structures they find objectionable. The hypocrisy is truly breathtaking. I’m thrilled that the other four on council decided to engage in some beautiful trouble on our behalf. Let’s lawyer up!

Uron
Uron
25 days ago

It’s curious how suddenly city council is willing to fight tooth and nail about State of CA’s overreach when it comes to the Builder’s Remedy issue. A couple of years ago, the council voted AGAINST appealing the same type of state overreach when it came to developers of building affordable housing (AB435). The argument which they were going to use in that case was that the city was already doing a great job with its RHNA numbers, but voted not to pursue it. I imagine the state overreach (which allowed developers to build overly tall monstrosities, with inadequate parking and… Read more »

BrownEyedBoy
BrownEyedBoy
25 days ago

Zekiah, hon if we can afford ice skating rinks and multi-million dollar dog parks, WeHo can afford to take some egregious developers to court.

Robert Steloff
24 days ago
Reply to  BrownEyedBoy

Thank you!! Indeed!! And Council Member Heilman wasn’t even suggesting or recommending litigation BTW, it was to pursue an active path of a logic-based fair & reasonable rebuttal.

West
West
26 days ago

Not a fan of Heilman personally, but this item was needed. However, seeking an exemption for West Hollywood doesn’t go far enough to protect local control for all jurisdictions. Local communities have a right to determine their housing strategies for themselves, without the State imposing their prefab solutions to problems caused by their own failed economic policies. A comprehensive national plan to limit the corporate buyout of housing stock by global investment firms like Blackrock and Vanguard— like that proposed by RFK Jr— would more readily get to the root of the problem, as would a local ordinance to the… Read more »

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
25 days ago
Reply to  West

So are you saying we should have no State laws, or are you saying each individual City can decide which State laws to abide by, and which State laws to ignore? Which one is it? It’s one or the other.

West
West
25 days ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

I’m saying this is a just BAD State law to begin with.

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
25 days ago
Reply to  West

That may or may not be true, but the issue is it is the law, and Weho must follow it. The good news is maybe we get some luxury housing for new millionaires to the city. And as a bonus, we may be rid of some dead weight freeloaders, who I hope move to affordable Blythe, California.

Robert Steloff
24 days ago
Reply to  West

Correct!!

JF1
JF1
26 days ago

Too little…too late. And please God…let Byers be a one and done.

Bastian
Bastian
26 days ago

We’re in this situation because Meister, Shyne, D’Amico, and Erickson voted to delay the previous housing element plan, how about taking some person responsibility? Here’s a plan, use some of that budget surplus for the past few years you’re all patting each other on the back about to purchase some of these 6 parcels for 100% affordable housing at more reasonable heights operated by WHCHC in exchange for reducing the height of the Wetherly Palms project, now you’d be solving multiple problems.

West
West
26 days ago
Reply to  Bastian

That’s an interesting proposal, I’m curious to hear what Steve Martin makes of it?

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
26 days ago

The “Builder’s Remedy” is the wrong remedy for any community! While I understand the legislature wanted to have some consequences for cities that ignore their obligation to provide affordable housing, the Builder’s Remedy is an absurd and excessive “punishment”, at least as it is currently written. WeHo needs to join other cities both in court and in lobbying Sacramento to repeal the Builder’s Remedy NOW!

West
West
25 days ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

Thanks for weighing in

Robert Steloff
24 days ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

Thank god for brains & someone who is logic-based!!! Thank you!!!

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
26 days ago

John Heilman thinks West Hollywood is “a pro housing city”? Has he missed the Council meetings for the last 40 years? Residents who are already here don’t want new people clogging up their neighborhoods. They put every possible NIMBY roadblock in the way of building new housing, with their typical complaint “this proposed project will destroy the character of the neighborhood”. The Builder’s Remedy project we are talking about wants to build lots of new housing, and as usual, people are against it. So which is it? We’re pro housing, or we’re anti housing? What hypocrisy in this City. It’s… Read more »

Morty
Morty
26 days ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

What you fail to understand is the issue is “affordable housing” not housing. We have tons of new apartments all over West Hollywood. The Huntley project for example will provide 10 low or moderate income apartments in 3 years if we are lucky. Currently, the same parcel of land has 8 low income rental units including one occupied by a veteran. These 8 people will now be forced to leave their affordable housing and where do you suggest they move to? How does this really address our affordable housing issue? If this building was all low or moderate income housing… Read more »

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
25 days ago
Reply to  Morty

No dear, I’m pretty sure I know what’s going on here. What you fail to understand is fair market housing pays the bills around here, not so-called “affordable housing”, which we don’t need. But as the law requires, I agree with following the law. In this case, the City failed, and there are consequences for that, within the law. Got it? Where do I suggest the 8 people “forced to leave their [“affordadable”] housing? How about where they can afford to live. Maybe Blythe, or Baker? Do you think there is some Constitutional right to live anywhere you want, regardless… Read more »

Morty
Morty
25 days ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

Sorry dear, I don’t think you know what you are talking about. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be costing the democrats the presidency not me. Hopefully there is a big floor fight at the convention in Chicago and they pick someone else who won’t lose to Donald Trump. My vote goes to Governor Josh Shapiro. No incumbent will win with a 38% approval rating.

Robert Steloff
24 days ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

As far as paying bills around here, I believe the City of West Hollywood has a rather formidable budgetary surplus as in previous years generated by current tax payers! We have yet to fill any of the new projects currently in development & construction. And as far as attitude is concerned, SHAMEFUL you would attempt such a poor extrapolation of political tarnishing with a grade-1 level comment- And no, I don’t know who Morty is, I just hate stupidity!

Robert Steloff
24 days ago
Reply to  Morty

Amazing, another logical human being, thank you for carefully explaining with such diligence to WehoQueen🤦🏻‍♂️🤦🏻‍♂️

voting
voting
26 days ago

Chelsea Byers is a hazard to our community. Her thought processes are confused, making her decisions bizarre and laughable to reasonable people.

After suffering through Shyne and Erickson, the city will need an enema to clear itself when Byers continues to defile the once-respected office of mayor.

Jim Nasium
Jim Nasium
26 days ago
Reply to  voting

The prepared speech sounded like it was manufactured by some bad AI app, or worse.

Robert Steloff
26 days ago
Reply to  Jim Nasium

I believe you’re thoroughly correct, & in this case, AI was Solomon @ your service.

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
26 days ago
Reply to  Jim Nasium

Chelsea Byers shows up to every meeting with her votes a fait accompli. She could just phone it in with her speaker on mute as those manufactured remarks are the result of failing to listen and hear anyway. She is not doing the work of the people who call West Hollywood home.

JF1
JF1
26 days ago
Reply to  Alan Strasburg

And she’s only lived here for a nano-second and she’s deciding what’s best for West Hollywood. How screwed up is that?!

Peter Buckley
Peter Buckley
26 days ago

Wow, Andy Solomon, the carpetbagger from Texas who swore to “change the fabric of our city as a ‘straight’ guy”, is just the worst. He doesn’t care about monster buildings on other people’s streets but fought vigorously to stop short term rentals in his own building.

Andrew Solomon
Andrew Solomon
26 days ago
Reply to  Peter Buckley

I agree, he’s awful!

Ruth Anne
Ruth Anne
26 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Solomon

or just uninformed?

Morty
Morty
26 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Solomon

I thought it was interesting that you were texting Chelsea Byers telling her what to say.

Peter Buckley
Peter Buckley
26 days ago
Reply to  Morty

Great to know she’s his puppet.

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
25 days ago
Reply to  Morty

Shocking that the city attorney continues to have nothing to say about the level of private communications occurring during so-called “open meetings”. This should be a city-wide outrage. Time for it to be made so.

Robert Steloff
24 days ago
Reply to  Morty

We thought so too! We’ll need to verify whether the Brown’s Act allows for this communication.

Robert Steloff
26 days ago
Reply to  Peter Buckley

The hypocrisy of wannabe politicians, politicians, & self-serving initiatives never ceases to amaze. Happy to see Solomon towing the line in this dept.🤦🏻‍♂️

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
26 days ago
Reply to  Peter Buckley

I love when people like him throw out the NIMBY label until they become a NIMBY themselves. Selective hypocrisy. Awaiting the snark…

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
26 days ago
Reply to  Peter Buckley

Did you somehow think he was running a charity? I presume you get paid from profits from some business/entity, which tries to generate as much income as they legally can. But you don’t want others to do that. I get it now. Someone wants to invest in our city, and you’re against it cause they are not as perfect as you want them to be. Do you prefer blight and decrepit housing rather than nice new modern housing?

Peter Buckley
Peter Buckley
26 days ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

Solly is the ultimate NIMBY by forcing his building to not allow rentals under a year. That means if his neighbor gets an assignment out of state for 6 months, they can’t rent it out to pay the bills. You think that’s fair?
That’s him and his attitude to protecting his own interests, aka NIMBY.

Robert Steloff
24 days ago
Reply to  Peter Buckley

Contradictions & hypocrisies of modern day society, anything can be anything, everyone can be right, no one can be wrong, WOW, what a GD world!!

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