Opinion: A Perfect Storm on WeHo’s North Kings Road

“Riddle me this,” a Batman nemesis might ask if he was watching the mother of all droughts unfold across California’s geographical and political landscapes. “How can West Hollywood meet state-mandated emergency water restrictions with dozens of large-scale projects beginning construction or pending approval?”

Okay, that’s not exactly a riddle, and I’m not exactly Batman. But I do know the answer. Put a time-limited moratorium on all new construction citywide so we can re-examine priorities for urban development and density.

This would conserve millions of gallons of water until the rains come again and mandatory water usage cutbacks are lifted. It’s perfectly legal – the City Council has the authority under state law – California Code Section 65858, which allows for an immediate moratorium on new building.

It only takes a quick look at the city’s online tool for tracking all commercial and residential developments to see the potential water savings. There is a stunning – and almost shocking – number of projects proposed or well underway in West Hollywood.

‘Untrammeled’ Appetite for Development

During public hearings associated with the adoption of the city’s housing element, West Hollywood citizens repeatedly questioned – and found disturbing – the level of development throughout the city.

The larger point at issue here goes directly to what has been characterized by some as an “untrammeled” appetite for infinite growth and development throughout California. Millions of gallons of water will be needed to build these developments, both large and small. Given that some of them are questionable, we need to re-examine the issue of development, whether it is residential, commercial or recreational. A moratorium on new construction is the appropriate first step towards accomplishing such a review.

Water has always been a seminal issue in California. Whether this is the worst drought in a century or a millennium, it is incumbent upon us to re-examine our priorities with respect to urban development and density.

As useful as the online tracking chart is, the city falls woefully short when it comes to actually conducting the due diligence that determines (1) what the cumulative impacts are of so many developments, (2) how development will affect residents, and (3) whether the aging infrastructure underneath our streets can accommodate more growth.

North Kings Road Under Siege

A perfect storm of development, density and denial is forming over North Kings Road that illustrates why a moratorium is needed. Four new apartment buildings are proposed for a three-block area between Waring Avenue on the south and Santa Monica Boulevard on the north. Together, they would add 130 new units to an already densely populated area; eliminate any scarce street parking that might still be available; and tax an already creaky infrastructure far beyond current capacities.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 1.36.45 PMThis illustration – adapted from the Infomap tracking tool – illustrates the vortex that’s forming now. One of the four buildings in particular is the poster child for this unplanned, unsound and unsafe situation.

The proposed 826 N. Kings Rd. apartment building, with 34 units, is representative of what, in the face of this unprecedented drought, has become emblematic of an outdated ambition to foster unrestrained growth in California. As a density bonus project:

• It has taken full advantage of numerous concessions that allow it to be so outsized and under-parked that it threatens the existence of two of the city’s most important historic sites, the world-renowned Schindler House and the historic Charlie Hotel (site of Charlie Chaplin’s writing studio), and
• It threatens the city’s ability to ensure the public safety and delivery of services such as fire and ambulance, and it cannot even ensure that the building can be successfully completed and occupied as water delivery may not be guaranteed to new developments.

The 826 building would be far larger – at five stories – than any other structure in the extended neighborhood. Its design also is out of character with the low-profile buildings in the area.

City Planners’ Denial Kicks In

It gets worse, though. The Planning Commission says an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) isn’t needed for the 826 building – or for any of the other three proposed projects for that matter. Each was reviewed individually without any consideration whatsoever for overall traffic impact, increased water usage or whether building sites are home to any threatened or endangered species.

In what universe is an EIR not conducted for four developments that literally are within a few yards of each other?

Off-street parking is another area where city planners are in denial. The city is exempting developers from providing the number of off-street parking spaces required by the Zoning Ordinance. The 48-unit, mixed retail and residential development at 8350 Santa Monica Blvd., for example, is getting away with only 70 spaces when 86 are required.

Planners aren’t requiring any parking at all for the “affordable” units in this building. Somehow, they’re operating under the belief that the low and/or moderate income occupants of those units don’t have cars or guests or care givers or deliveries.

California’s worsening water crisis obviously demands innovative solutions and greater flexibility by city planners. We don’t need Batman to solve the development and density issues residents of both affordable units and market rate units face citywide – but we do need for the City Council to do the right thing. Tough times require tough measures.

We’re asking the City Council to require an Environmental Impact Report for the proposed 826 N. Kings Rd. apartment building and to impose a citywide moratorium on all new construction until there’s a plan in place that balances development and drought issues. The City Council meets May 4 when the 826 N. Kings Rd. building is on the agenda for review.

Cynthia J. Blatt is a resident of North Kings Road and founder of United Neighbors for Responsible Development, a grassroots coalition that is appealing the Planning Commission’s favorable recommendation of the 826 project.

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jimmypalmieri
7 years ago

Ms. Blatt……water was such a concern for 826 kings as you screamed to the people….BUT TODAY YOUR BUILDING HAD JANITORS SPRAYING WATER OVER YOUR ENTIRE PROPERTY CLEANING SIDEWALKS DURING A DROUGHT. WHAT A FRAUD YOU ARE.

Robert Switzer
Robert Switzer
7 years ago
Reply to  jimmypalmieri

@jimmypalmieri — What a nasty, inappropriate and foolish comment, calling Cynthia Blatt a fraud because “janitors,” more likely gardeners I suspect, were allegedly washing down sidewalks at her building, when you know very well that it’s the homeowner association’s board of directors that’s responsible for the conduct of employees, contractors and vendors. I doubt that she’ll be any happier to learn of this circumstance than you were to witness it. If only you could have found a more helpful way in which to report it, rather than use a red herring to distract everyone from the real and overriding issue,… Read more »

jimmypalmieri
7 years ago

I live on Kings road. I’d like to thank the people who grandstanded with their terror tactics of no water, (Duran said it best by saying 826 will be the least of our worries when no water hits Los Angeles) and what amounted to nothing less than a fairytale of “the no parking” nightmare that would happen if this building , THAT HAS Enough parking, were to be built. Now you have won an appeal, to not have affordable units on site. THIS WAS NOTHING BUT NIMBY. The threat of caregivers not having access to their charges, the flip flop… Read more »

Disco Dan
Disco Dan
7 years ago

Permit parking has become a joke. Someone who lives on an adjacent street, mercifully found a parking space on the street I live on because she could NOT, despite a parking permit, find a space on the street where SHE lives ! And in these 30+ years of “cityhood” how many of the city council members have to find street parking? I think the answer is ZERO ! My landlord deprived me and my late mother of a designated, rear of building, parking space (which I had since I moved into my apartment in 1978) for some six years. It… Read more »

Lynn
Lynn
7 years ago

Hello again Cynthia: After reading your appeal, it is clear that you put great effort into it and that you are requesting a favorable outcome based on a cumulative approach of issues all of which appear to be in compliance with the code as written. Having followed this project with interest since its presentation at HPC, it seems apparent that the architect produced a project of extreme sensitivity in terms of esthetic and functional use. Several architects have expressed opinions on perceived problematic issues in the current code which they wish were otherwise. However until you, me, your immediate community… Read more »

Lynn
Lynn
7 years ago

Hello Cynthia: Having thoroughly read your appeal, I realize that you have put an extensive amount of work into it. It would seem as though your approach is hopeful in obtaining an appeal based on a cumulative list of assertions rather than a specific focus. Also having followed this project from its early stages and knowing of the conscientious effort of the architect to provide an appealing project reaching a high level of aesthetic and functional value, all efforts appear to be in compliance with the code. Numerous architects have commented that the code in its present form presents several… Read more »

Shawn Thompson
Shawn Thompson
7 years ago

Will the residents of West Hollywood be ignored one more time when they ask for their city not to be used to make a few people rich at the cost of the quality of life of many, in another forced density project? The odds are that they will be ignored. But their is hope, that maybe on this project things can shift. It will will play out this Monday Night at City Council Good luck to you! Many came before you and lost in front of our council when these 5 individuals ignored the residents present and approved one more… Read more »

Lynn
Lynn
7 years ago
Reply to  Shawn Thompson

@Shawn: News Flash! Other than building one’s own private domicile, commissioned or public projects, developers ARE speculators. That’s how things get built and that is how communities evolve . They do so according to a plan which you or I or anyone can endeavor to change. Better to work with rather than against the decision makers.

Lynn
Lynn
7 years ago

Hi Cynthia: While I am familiar with the proposed potential project at 826 Kings Road, I am unclear as to the focus of your appeal. While I am sympathetic with some of the conditions stated, could you please state three main points that would validate your request for an appeal? Thanking you in advance.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
7 years ago

The census population numbers don’t seem to jive with the number of new units built since 1990. While there were a number of rent controlled apartments that have been demolished to make way for luxury condos that may have been one for one replacement or even less, but there has been plenty of new housing built on Santa Monica and on empty lots as well as multi-unit buildings built on the sites of former single family units. Either we have a couple of thousand empty units or someone’s stats are just not right. But the building permits do not lie.… Read more »

Disco Dan
Disco Dan
7 years ago

As a 36+ year resident in WeHo, this city WAS very special but NO MORE ! My landlord recently used the dreaded and horrendous ELLIS ACT (and if you do not know what this is, GOOGLE it). So, five days before my 72nd birthday next April, I will be “kicked to the curb.” I reside near Santa Monica and east of Fairfax. In my neighborhood, I have seen too many single family homes razed to erect a multi-condo. As I write this, there are four single family homes in the block just north of me to be demolished to make… Read more »

Showbiz Lady
Showbiz Lady
7 years ago

Well be do have to grow somehow. Thank god they are not building the megaglopolus crap they are in central Hollywood. My friends all want to move here and they love West Hollywood. There has to be a solution. Heidi Shink says that “West Hollywood is more than just a place to live, it’s an idea that any one from anywhere can come here to be their best self.” I presume that means she feels in fairness we should try to accommodate those who want to be here. West Hollywood is special. We have to find ways to grow and… Read more »

One of Cassandra's Snakes
One of Cassandra's Snakes
7 years ago

@Randy…west Hollywood IS dense, many in the city don’t want it to get worse.

U.S. Census Los Angeles: 8,092.3 Persons per square mile.
West Hollywood: 18,229.5 Persons per square mile.

Read it and weep.

Guy Privaton (@guyprivaton)

@ Gus – thanks
@ Randy – good point, density verses traffic

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