As many of you know, this project has been in process for over a decade. For those of you new to all of this the short explanation is city code did not allow for projects spanning commercial and residential unless the parcel(s) were 60,000 sq.ft. or more. This project did not qualify. After going through the EIR process twice, in 2019 the applicant asked to pull the project and purchased the final residential parcel on West Knoll in order to comply with the minimum sq.ft. At that point it became a new project (this is where differences of opinion begin) and they were required to start over with the EIR and submit new designs to incorporate the additional parcel. For reasons not explained, the applicant was not required to have a scoping meeting for the new project with a new EIR so the process began without additional input from the community.
Unfortunately, the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) was not released until sometime Sept. 1 –with no notice to the interested parties. Years ago, I requested that all EIR documents be delivered to Commissioners immediately upon availability so that there is adequate time for review. This unfortunately did not happen here and for the public we have had less than a week since the staff report was released to review thousands of pages—not very “transparent.” Frankly, this hearing should be continued to give everyone sufficient time to review all of the materials submitted.
I also find if fascinating that throughout my five years on PC, staff and the applicant insisted that my property was within 500’ of these parcels and therefore I had to recuse myself from all deliberations on this project. However, now that I am no longer on PC, I did not receive the required public notice for those living within the 500’ radius because the company hired to calculate and deliver notices deemed my property outside the radius. Funny how that works.
This is a 10 year-old, dated design that has basically not changed since first submitted more than a decade ago (I still have the plans from 2013) and does NOT reflect the reality of changes in WeHo or the world over the past decade. It does not reflect changes in how people live and work, accommodate outdoor dining or the exponential increase in home deliveries and rideshare, etc.
Meanwhile the staff report cites multiple times that, “The existing buildings on the subject site are in disrepair, underutilized and do not assist in achieving the goals and policies of the City”—that is on the owner. They have spent $0 on these properties in the past decades and their failure to maintain properties should in no way be an “incentive” to PC to approve this project. This has been used as an excuse multiple times throughout the city and all it does is incentivize developers to let properties fall into disrepair in order to expedite approvals.
While I, like most of my neighbors, agree that it is long past time to develop this property into a neighborhood friendly mixed-use project with lots of housing and neighborhood serving businesses, I disagree that the project before you meets many of our city codes in either letter or intent.
To that end, throughout the staff report what is unclear in each section is what version of the code is being applied and thus guiding your findings. Here is the timeline as best as I can recreate it:
Originally Submitted in 2012
Deemed complete September 11, 2016 (that locks in the appropriate code)
Refiled new project 2019 with sufficient changes to require new EIR
When was this new project deemed complete?
What code applies to which findings given two different deemed complete dates?
If I were voting on this project, I would want the findings to reflect WHICH code was being applied from what dates and what was the specific language being used for the finding. In many areas if you go online and look up the code in certain sections that is NOT what is being applied to this project.
The next question I would ask is, are ALL the specific code elements from the same date in time? If not, why not? I realize state law can supersede the city’s ordinances but it should be crystal clear to all exactly what is being applied and why.
The answers to those questions may or may not have an impact on some of my questions/issues (note: this is not a complete list given insufficient time to review all the documents):
1. Height: Incorrect height calculations resulting in a 74’ tall building (instead of 55’) from the ground at Santa Monica Blvd—not including 12.5’ roof projections resulting in a project 20’+ taller than otherwise permitted.
2. Hydrology: barely 500’ away the city is spending $500,000 to dig up Westbourne to remediate water AT GROUND LEVEL. If ground water isn’t a problem for this project who is going to indemnify the city when neighboring buildings subside or experience other problems?
3. 12 Live/Work Units were excluded from unit counts for purposes of affordable housing calculations resulting in less affordable housing for the city.
4. Affordable Housing
a. Calculations are incorrect due to the exclusion of the Live/Work units
b. Minimum of 5 affordable units required in residential building
5. Illegal two-bedroom units resulting in incorrect parking and other calculations.
6. Projects spanning multiple zones must comply with respective individual ordinances
7. Loading/delivery zones for residential building
a. Incorrect parking calculations based upon incorrect bedroom count
b. Residential parking comingled with unsecured commercial parking
10. Green Points: Additional FAR granted from unverified Green Points
11. Construction: Noise and other disruptions
14. Additional Notes
My apologies, this memo is long but, as you know, there is a great deal of content to cover.
1. Height Calculations
By far the biggest objection to this project has always been that it exceeds code height and is out of scale with both the zoning and the neighborhood in both height and massing. Far out of proportion with the neighborhood and fully 20’ feet taller than would be approved under the correct height calculation.
a. Precedent: A brief review of the history of projects in this area of north SMB shows that the “Sloping Site Method” (SSM) has NEVER been used for any project. In fact, staff has historically insisted that other projects that attempted to use SSM, be categorically denied and returned to the primary methodology, “Parallel Plane Method” (PPM). The short explanation. If a property is flat, you can ONLY use the PPM and start from ground level and go up to the maximum allowable height (in this case 55’) for the entire project. If this method was used there would be a 55’ tall building on SMB and 55’ residential building on West Knoll.
This project is on 8 parcels, the majority of which are flat except the eastern most commercial property which is split into a street level store front and an elevated rear (flat) parking lot. Exactly the same configuration as at 8623 SMB (now the Artstree) and at the Union Bank building which were both required to use the PPM. Can staff give any example of a project in this area of SMB being approved with the SSM? Why is this developer, and this developer only, being allowed to use the SSM when no others were allowed to (including the Palm project and Trader Joe’s) and thus gain an additional 20’ in height?
In fact, the code states explicitly in:
“19.20.080 Height Measurements and Exceptions
B. Height Measurement.
2. Sloping Site. This method of establishing heights on sloping parcels is intended to ensure compliance of structures on sloping parcels as closely as practicable to the height limit provisions of this section, in a manner that considers the design of efficient spaces within proposed structures.” (emphasis is mine)
b. Existing Grade: The existing grade is flat. 75% is flat and parallel with SMB, the balance is flat and raised about 15’ above SMB in the rear parking lot. All surfaces are flat. There is no slope. There is no sloping site. The choices are “natural” (long gone hillside) or “existing” grade. Existing grade is FLAT.
c. Developed Site: What is further implied by this section is that the existing “natural” site slope will continue to exist and thus the SSM is a mitigant to the loss of building height. If the original hill was still there and the developer was limited to 55’ on SMB and then had to draw a straight line across to the back of the building there would only be about 20-25’ of building height left on the back side. Thus, the SSM lets you have 55’ both front and back and then cut the front 1/3 off at an angle to decrease the mass on the street side. THAT IS NOT THE CASE HERE. This developer is removing the remaining elevated portion, thus leveling the entire SMB parcels making them flat and thus creating a flat plane that would require the Parallel Plane Method. There is no remaining slope to be mitigated. There are examples sloping hillsides across West Knoll that have a “natural grade”, e.g. the vacant lot east of the Chamberlain, but that is not the case on these parcels.
d. Inequitable treatment: These parcels are not tied and can be sold independently. Even after entitlement, this applicant could peel off these parcels and sell them individually. The buyer of the “collar and leash” parcel would clearly be subject to the Parallel Plane Method as a stand-alone property as it currently exists. Why is this developer being given preferential treatment? Approvals must be made based upon the SITE, not the Applicant.
Recommendation: Finding cannot be made as the objective standard of the appropriate height calculation has not been utilized.
This is a complex issue and yes, we should rely upon the “experts”. However, the experts cited in various reports have failed to acknowledge the required, ongoing dewatering at multiple existing projects within one to two blocks of this project AND that there is a $500,000 excavation and drainage project going on right now on Westbourne Dr. just 500’ from this project right now due to groundwater seeping through the road way. How is that possible?
a. Resolution 6.15 states that “On-site drainage systems shall outlet directly into the adjacent public storm drain system.” Yet the hydrology report provided by applicant says there is no need for drainage.
b. Resolution 6.29 states “this property is located in an area that historically has a high ground water table, where the depth to groundwater has been 10 feet or shallower … and the discharge of any groundwater into the street gutter will not be allowed.” Thank you staff for including this, but that clearly is an indication of the potential issues.
c. The real issue is, who is going to indemnify the city WHEN the water that is pushed back and around from the mat slab “bathtub” that is this project’s foundation and erodes 8562 West Knoll, the Ramada or 8535 West Knoll, etc.? Will and should the city establish a current baseline on the structures of these buildings in order to monitor any ongoing subsidence for these projects?
3. Live/Work Residential Units
On p. 8 of the staff report asserts:
“The proposed mixed-use project is subject to the Housing Accountability Act (AB 1584) as the project floor area is 70% residential. The lack of housing is a critical problem that threatens the economic, environmental, and social quality of life in California and this project will add 111 additional residential units, including 17 affordable units, and 12 live/work units to the City’s housing stock.” (emphasis is mine)
Then on p. 9 it asserts:
“live/work is a commercial use and is not characterized as a residential use even though it includes a housing component.”
L.A. County Building Code adopted by the City of West Hollywood, states in 419.2 Occupancies: “Live/work units shall be classified as a Group R2 Occupancy.” LACBC Code defines Group R2 as residential occupancy with all of the related health and safety code incumbent for residential occupancy. (see also item 4 which speaks exactly to these safety issues)
The Building Code is based on the health, safety and welfare of the public and there is no waiver or reclassification process thus the city must process the plan check as a residential use.
Resolution 6.8 says “All live-work units shall comply with the CA Building Code Section 419” How does this reconcile? I see that in the 9/12/22 amended resolutions staff has added reference to WHMC Section 19.36.160. Which version? The current version requires that L/W be at street level.
Recommendation: Call these what they are, studio apartments, revise residential unit counts, related findings and affordable housing calculations prior to approval and address the proper LACBC.
Staff has strived to address some of these issues through Resolution 8.18 “Prior to building permit issuance, the live/work units shall indicate furnishing scenarios to indicate how the dedicated living and working spaces will function as a collective and how they are distinguished from other residential units in the building to the satisfaction of the …Director.” That is nice but my next question is “or what”? These are studio units.
4. Affordable Housing
a. Project’s Live/Work Residential Units not included in Affordable Housing Calculations
Recommendation: As residential units (see above), require an adjustment in the affordable housing calculations to reflect the 12 Live/Work units and thus the additional affordable units required in the project approval.
b. Affordable Housing in Residential Building
Per staff’s calculations on p. 11, the applicant is receiving a height bonus on the residential building for providing 5 affordable units.
Recommendation: The Resolutions should thus reflect the requirement that these 5 units be provided in the residential building and not the mixed-use building.
5. Illegal Two-bedroom Units
By Code, all bedrooms must be located on outer exterior walls to provide for life safety operations and rescue in the case of a fire. They must also have adequate storage for clothing. By my count there are at least 30 2-bedroom units that are situated in the center of these units with no egress and no closet and thus only qualify as one-bedroom.
Staff has acknowledged this issue with Resolution 8.16 “Prior to building permit issuance, the applicant shall reconfigure the unit plans per applicable Code revisions to make sure all legal bedrooms in each unit have a minimum of one (1) egress window to the outside with access to natural light and air to the satisfaction of the Planning and Development Services Director.” HOWEVER, this is devolving the responsibilities and purview of the PC to staff and removing it from the transparency of the public process. Furthermore, how can PC make findings and approve a plan that is acknowledged to included illegal elements?
6. Projects Spanning Multiple Zones
By code, projects must meet design requirements for each zone. In this case the project, as deemed complete in 2016 must comply with required residential setbacks for each existing lot. For example, 15’ in the rear yard. This project does not meet those objective standards. This section could go on for many pages but this is more than enough to require that this project be continued until it complies with all of the relevant codes.
7. Loading/Delivery Zones
This project provides NO loading or delivery zones for 111 residential units on an extremely narrow street:
· Package delivery (Fed Ex, UPS, Amazon, etc.)
· Meal delivery (by the time the person double parks, gets into the building, calls up to the resident, goes up the elevator, delivers, goes back down, it is a solid 5 minutes for EVERY delivery x how many units every night?)
· Ride Share (people are NOT going to go down the elevator, and around the corner to stand on SMB to wait for cars, they will expect pickup and drop-off in front of their door on West Knoll)
· Moving vans (111 units are going to turn at least a couple of units every month. There is NO room on the street for moving vans)
Unfortunately, there is nothing in our code at this time to address these very important issues but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be addressed in the design.
Note: The hotly debated 84-unit project at Fountain & Fairfax had two delivery stalls and a driveway redesign to address some of the delivery and ride-share issues and PC still debated if that was really adequate.
Resolution 10.3 says “Deliveries and loading/unloading is prohibited on any streets. All loading and deliveries must be conducted in the required loading areas within the parking garage.” What is not specified is if this is commercial, residential or both (grammar can be corrected later). It will take Amazon/Fed Ex/UPS exactly two trips to figure out that it is faster to double park on West Knoll, pop into the residential entrance and drop off than to use the SMB Commercial entrance, walk through the parking lot, elevator, etc. Is it realistic to expect code enforcement to deal with that?
Recommendation: HIGHLY recommend to applicant to revisit parking to address the delivery issue—especially in light of the excess residential parking in the project (see 9 below).
b. Commercial: Resolution 10.4 states “Prior to building permit issuance, the plans shall demonstrate how the loading/unloading functions are operating on-site within the parking garage to the satisfaction of the Planning and Development Services Director.” First, I am assuming this refers to Commercial operations but once again, this is because the plans are insufficient, unclear and is asking PC to devolve their responsibilities to staff and remove this from the transparency of the public process.
The traffic from this project on West Knoll will permanently disrupt the entire neighborhood. There are three driveways directly opposite proposed West Knoll residential driveway. I have no idea how the Healthy Spot will survive 2-3 years of having their driveway blocked during construction. As for the ongoing operations, once again, the building should be set back, the street widened and delivery drop off provided OR better yet, provide for it inside the building.
No provision has been made for Athens staging of residential trash pickup on West Knoll. Pulling those large bins onto the street and then the trucks picking up effectively shuts down the street and/or blocks parking spaces for long periods of time. The staging trucks often pull the binds out an hour or more before pickup.
Commercial Valet: Resolution 10.5: “All valet attendant staging and valet attendant parking operations shall be conducted onsite, within the subterranean parking garage, with the exception of valet attendant
drop-off in the designated public right-of-way locations alongside the project site.” Where? There is no designated such space on the plans on p. A2.01.
While resolution 10.7 is lovely and restricts the size of delivery vehicles inside the building, what happens with the VERY large restaurant delivery trucks for Sisco etc? What about moving vans?
a. There are no calculations for parking in the staff report—just a total.
See 4 above for incorrect unit size. Why the excess parking for the non-existent two-bedroom units? The outline in the resolutions includes
b. 12 residential spaces segregated into unsecured commercial parking zone.
c. There is NO guest parking for 111 units. While the HAA may give the developer a “bye” on this, seriously 111 units with no guest parking? There is NO street parking available.
Who is going to be given one of the 12 unsecured parking spaces? Will any of these be assigned to the affordable units?
d. The parking calculations in Resolution 10.1 do not indicate any required inclusions or set-asides for the carpool/vanpool carveouts indicated in 10.8, 10.9, 10.10. AND, 10.8 does not include any requirements for the 60 potential live/work employees.
e. Not parking related but, seriously, you have to go down into the basement, slide between some parked cars (with who knows who is hiding between them) in an unsecured garage to turn your back and unlock a door to get your packages and then walk back out with them?! How long will it take a couple of bad actors to figure out this is where the packages are? You think porch pirates are bad, wait until they learn about this.
10. Green Points
Applicant is requesting an additional .1 FAR (floor area ratio) for complying with 90 Green Points. However, it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t ask some “green” questions:
a. 3 points. 3 canopy trees IN GROUND. These trees are supposed to be on the PROJECT site on the south and west sides. There are none. I can only see one on the east side in the parkway and 2 on SMB in the parkway. Resolution 6.31 requires the installation of street trees. This is NOT included in the required trees for Green Points.
b. 2 points. 80% of kitchen vent hoods vent to outside. This looks to be very difficult given that most of the kitchens are positioned in the middle of the units. Should be verified by inspector.
c. 15 points. Exceeding Title 24 energy code by 15%. This is significant and should be included on the Inspection Card.
d. 5 points. Engineered lumber subfloors, etc. Again, this should be verified by inspection.
e. 1 point. Water Efficient toilets. Resolution 6.21 references “ultra low flush toilets”, how does this correlate to the green points
I won’t enumerate all of the items but applicant is making some fairly aggressive (and expensive) statements that should be independently verified at time of construction.
Recommendation: Staff has included Resolution 6.42 which requires Building & Safety verification of the Green Points but it should include a requirement that ALL of the elements are on the Inspection Card to be certified during actual construction. What is not clear from this resolution is the “or what” on how the FAR would be reduced by 0.1, which is a great addition to the resolution but difficult to see how it might be enforced AFTER the construction is substantially complete.
The staff report states on p. 9 that:
“There is no objective evidence suggesting the proposed project will create a specific adverse impact on public health or safety if the proposed density is maintained, and there is no objective evidence that shows the potential impacts of the project cannot be successfully mitigated.”
However, on p. 23 they state that the FEIR found that:
“…no feasible mitigation was identified that would reduce the temporary construction period noise impact to a less than significant level.”
Sooo… No adverse impacts that can’t be mitigated EXCEPT the one that can’t be mitigated and requires a Statement of Overriding Considerations. PC is being asked to make a finding around that tortured statement.
There is so much more to discuss around this issue, I will leave it to others but the mitigation plan should be part of the approval—not an afterthought—and should include the community directly. This is going to go on for three years minimum.
I realize that as a housing project PC has limited ability to address design at this point, however, given that this project clearly needs some significant corrections, it would be an opportunity to address some additional improvements:
a. The West Knoll commercial corner of the building is sharp and neither reflects the curve of the corner or the street as it curves upward. By curving (and maybe even putting a door on the corner) it would activate this space and make it much more inviting. It would also be a nod to its neighbors down the street such as The Face Place. As is currently designed it is a sharp shard of glass projecting into the narrow pedestrian pathway and is not at all inviting.
b. The west wall facing pedestrians as they pass the Ramada eastward is a solid concrete bock for 30’ both vertically and horizontally. The architect could wrap that corner retail space in glass and invite in the pedestrian instead presenting them with a solid wall. I added the pedestrian to this image to give you a sense of what this will look like as you talk towards it. At eye level you will see nothing but concrete.
c. This project will be many millions of dollars and the related 1% onsite art project has no home as currently designed. While the actual art is the Arts Department purview, some thought should be given to WHERE it is going to be installed and how it might incorporate with the design of the building as part of the design process—not just an afterthought.
d. Some more observations. Not well thought out floor plans.
e. Staff has attempted to address a few of these design issues through Resolution 8.17:
“Prior to building permit issuance, the building shall be revised to include passive design
elements (such as architectural projections, extended eaves, fins, screens, buffers, solar
canopies, and/or vegetative roofs), which would reduce energy demand and consumption
to the satisfaction of the Planning and Development Services Director”
However, this has once again stripped PC of its purview and responsibilities and said “don’t worry your pretty little head about these decisions, we will take care of them for you, and by-the-way, ignore anything the public might have to say on these issues.”
a. The landscape plans are incomplete, inaccurate and don’t match the renderings.
i. The plans do not show what will be planted where. The plant palettes are the same on every floor, including 24” box trees that there is no place to plant them. (see L-1.3)
ii. The planters filled with plants across the front façade (see A1.15, A1.16) are not called out on any of the landscape plans.
b. The few locations where trees can be planted, on the interior courtyard, nothing is specified. (L-1.1)
c. The green wall on West Knoll has NO hope of surviving the traffic and people pulling out plants within arm’s reach—especially since it is right next to a very narrow sidewalk that the city has not insisted on widening. Once dead this is a solid concrete wall. (A1.19, A1.20)
d. ALL of the proposed ornamental trees on West Knoll are Redbuds. Seriously? Once again. These are deciduous trees—they have no leaves six-months out of the year. Specifically in the winter when the leaves are most needed for rain water capture. This is just lazy design.
e. I could go on and on but really, Horsetail on sidewalk planters? It is native to river’s edge, high water requirement plant! These plans are an insult.
Recommendation: Require applicant to provide complete and accurate plans prior to approval.
14. Additional Notes
a. Will the elevators with access to the live/work level have key only access to the above residential floors? If not, this is a severe security risk in a residential building with open public access.
b. EV charging. In a state moving to 100% electric in a very few years this project is VERY under-designed for necessary EV charging stalls.
c. Why are Resolutions 6.27 and 9.11 the same?
I have been asked what I think should be built here. A project that complies with our code in both letter and intent that is 55’ tall, accurately reflects a correct affordable housing count, a lively and activated streetscape and storefront environment, well designed units with on-site residential delivery, true open space (not carveouts in walkways) and required residential rear setbacks and ideally, onsite native soil with a few canopy trees to replace all that will be removed on the existing parcels. This has the potential to be a truly stunning design that integrates beautifully into the neighborhood and becomes a destination address for both visitors and residents.