LYNN HOOPINGARNER | 8555 SMB: Still Not Ready for Prime Time

Date: January 19, 2023
To: West Hollywood Planning Commission & Staff
From: Lynn M. Hoopingarner, CMC
RE: 8555 Santa Monica Blvd. Hearing January 19, 2023

At this point I have submitted numerous letters on this subject which I incorporate here by reference.  As you know, I live within a couple of blocks of this project and am very familiar with its history over the past 20+ years.  I, like most of my neighbors would welcome a refined, neighborhood friendly, project that addresses key Design Standards for Mixed-Use Projects (ZO 19.36.170)

6.   Design Standards. A proposed mixed-use project shall be designed and constructed to:

                      a.   Be compatible with and complement adjacent land uses;

                      b.   Maintain the scale and character of development in the immediate neighborhood;

Summary of Comments

While the applicant and staff will cite the Housing Accountability Act (HAA) as the reason you must approve this project as presented, they consistently focus on the exceptions and ignore the preamble that states “when a proposed housing development complies with the applicable, objective general plan and zoning standards”…  Does this project comply with ALL the OBJECTIVE STANDARDS?  PC is being asked to make that Finding.  Are there ways to assure (through the appropriate Resolutions) that those Standards are met?  

There are at least four objective standards that are not met based upon my review.  And then there are some additional issues that could be addressed through corrected Resolutions.  

  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.  This is an OBJECTIVE STANDARD.
  1. Lot Merger: Projects spanning multiple zones must comply with respective individual ordinances and this is a DISCRETIONARY decision.  Ownership and lot mergers do not eliminate requirement for compliance with related ordinances.
  1. Interior two-bedroom units: Applicant has stated they will be building this project entirely of concrete (Type I-B) which is a critical component to this approval based upon the objective design and building code standards and should be incorporated in the resolutions such that any changes would require additional PC approvals.
  1. Parking:  Residential parking is comingled with unsecured commercial parking and on exterior of building which does not comply with OBJECTIVE STANDARD 19.36.170.B.3.
  1. Traffic: Resolutions to address this issue are tantamount to meaningless, suggest revision to make something enforceable.
  1. Permeability:  Project does not comply with the minimum requirements, either in terms of the SF required or in terms of ACTUAL permeable space.  OBJECTIVE STANDARD
  1. Green Points: Additional 4,216 SF FAR granted from 8 unavailable Green Points.  OBJECTIVE STANDARD.
  1. Affordable Housing: Notwithstanding the exclusion of the Live/Work units from the required calculations, the five units on the residential lots MUST be provided on the residential lots and the Resolutions adjusted to reflect this requirement.
  1. Utility Easements: There is no indication from SCE as to IF they are willing to abandon their easements and HOW the undergrounding will be achieved without shutting down power to all the neighboring properties or IF the properties themselves will incur expenses relating to the conversion and if so, WHO will pay for it.  Note: Survey is missing all easement identifications.  
  1. Climate Action Plan:  Hmm, where is it?
  1. Construction Noise:  There are no “specific adverse impacts” ooops, there are and they can’t be mitigated.  Now you are being asked to approve “Overriding Considerations” with a nominal sop to a noise wall that COULD be a proper noise wall to truly attempt to mitigate the problem.  This developer stands to make tens of millions of dollars, at a minimum.  They should be required to properly mitigate the identified impacts to the neighboring buildings that will receive no benefits, only harms.
  1. Deliveries:  Still not addressed.  Resolutions, incomplete at best.
  1. Final Points:  Key corrections to Resolutions needed for accuracy, and other items.

Details

  1. Height—staff has stated more than once on the record that other projects in this area have been allowed to use the Sloping Site method under similar parcel conditions but have not once cited a single address or project or identified the similar conditions. To date there is no evidence that this is the case and no explanation as to why this developer, and this developer only, is being allowed to use a methodology that grants an additional 20’ of height where no other project has been allowed to do the same.  Example:  Why were 8623 SMB (Artistree) and the Union Bank building—with EXACTLY the same conditions as Lots 7 & 8—denied the Sloping Site Method? 
  1. 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.  The fact that the corner points of the lots are at the grade of the related parcels does not constitute a slope.  
  1. “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)

Staff is correct in their diagram of how a sloping site would be calculated, IF IT ACTUALLY HAD A SLOPE.  The fact that they are using the “midpoint” is immaterial as there is no slope.

  1.  Lot Merger is DISCRETIONARY

PC can ELECT not to merge a commercially zoned parcel with a residentially zoned parcel if they feel the impacts outweigh the benefits.  The lot merger should not worsen the condition of the related lots in the residential zone.

  1. This project destroys more than 25 trees and at least 3,500 sf of rear yard green space (NOT counting the front yards) and delivers ZERO permeable space and ZERO canopy trees in return.  How does this meet our Climate Action Plan?
  2. Lot merger is NOT providing additional housing, just bigger units.  Especially in the residential building.
  3. Separate zoning districts exist in the General Plan for a reason, including the appropriate treatment of infrastructure and utilities.  
  4. FINDING:  Do the impacts of the merger of these parcels (especially the abandonment of the related ZO) outweigh the benefits?
  1. Interior two-bedroom units: As discussed in my previous letters, under California Building Code (CBC) interior bedrooms with no exterior egress are not allowed (especially for the construction methods indicated in the applicant’s Green Building calculations).  However, applicant has indicated in Exhibit J that they intend to use Type I-B construction (all concrete) which would create an exception to this code requirement.  That clarification is important and it should be imperative to include in the resolutions that All Construction will be performed in compliance with Type I-B construction under the CBC and any changes to that construction would require a return to PC for approval as it will significantly impact much of the design and related requirements. 
  1. Parking

11 Residential parking spaces are either in unsecured commercial areas or outside the building.  Applicant thinks this is about theft (Exhibit J).  It is about PERSONAL SECURITY!  Imagine coming home at night to a dark commercial garage with no gate and no security and having to navigate between parked cars to unlock the security door to get to the residential elevator.  Not too many points of exposure.  How can these unsecured parking spaces be reserved for the “exclusive use of the residents” if any Tom, Dick or Mary can park in them?

Unsecured residential parking in commercial area (olive green)

  1. A2.00 Level 1 — 7 spaces
  2. A2.01 First Floor — 3 spaces 
  3. A2.01-5 Mezzanine Level 1.5 shows one parking space outside the gate along the street.  This is frankly the most absurd and impractical parking plan I have ever seen.  How quickly do you think food delivery drivers will figure out this is a quick place to park for drop-offs?

Applicant has stated that they will add additional gates.  Under the current plans that is physically impossible and since applicant has not amended the plans to indicate how they propose to achieve this security PC has no ability to “guess” what that might look like.  Furthermore, any gates around the vehicles does nothing to secure the person!

  1. Traffic: Much has been said here, needless to say, West Knoll will become even more impassible.  Resolution 2.5 states “The Planning and Development Services and Public Works Directors will review the traffic circulation and parking operations plan at 12 months and 24 months following Certificate of Occupancy to ensure the approved operations are not problematic.”  That is nice. What if they are “problematic”?  How is “problematic” defined? Why no 6 month review? A year is a long time to wait to address “problematic” situations.  Does it come back to PC?  What are the consequences?  Will any of the Bond be held back in case something needs addressing?  This resolution has no teeth, no enforceability.  
  1. Permeability.  Why is this important?  Recharging our aquifers and minimizing rainwater runoff! Recent events highlight the importance of percolation throughout the LA basin.  When there is insufficient soil area to provide the rain to percolate, flooding ensues.  Note:  Permeability requirements are NOT equivalent to LID requirements.  LID relates to the filtration and purification of runoff.  Theoretically that can be done through many methods.  Permeability relates to the ability of the water to PERMEATE the ground and return to ground water.  Applicant is using a bunch of concrete planters filled with soil over a garage to count for their Permeability requirements.  A glass holds water too.  Would you consider that “permeable”?

The average project size on our residential lots is 6,000 SF and they all manage to meet the permeability requirements.  Why can’t this developer, with more than 60,000 SF to work with, accomplish similar permeability?  The easiest solution is to remove the large storage area under the common rear yard space and allow that to be native soil.  This would accomplish 2 goals, permeability AND the ability to plant the required canopy trees in native soil.

Objective Standard:  In the Stormwater Management section of the code 50% of Common Ground Floor Open space must be permeable.  ALSO 50% of all required setbacks, etc.  This project, as currently designed DOES NOT MEET this objective standard.  Thus, the Finding in the Resolutions that this project meets all applicable ordinances is not accurate.

  1. Green Building:  Applicant states they are going to meet 90 points and thus are adding .1 FAR (4,216 SF) to the project which is worth a low seven figures in any development (see p. 5&6 of project plans).  HOWEVER,
    1. GB03 “Plant Deciduous Canopy Trees (min. 36” box, planted in the ground on West & South Elevations” refers to ON THE PROJECT PARCELS, not on city streets.  These 3 points are not valid.
    2. GB09 & GB10 incorporate 20% Flyash in concrete.  The only way to verify if this is done is by PHYSICAL inspection at the time of the concrete pour and/or a review of ALL the bills of lading.  Staff is stating that this will be shown on the plans.  Why does this matter?  This helps the environment but it also adds cost.  This developer will be gaining additional SF but if they skip this requirement the city loses this benefit.  Note: See related discussion about Type I building which would mean entire building is concrete which would substantially increase this cost. 4 points
      1. Resolutions:  Include requirement that GB09 & GB10 be verified on inspection card and/or through submittal of all bills of lading.
    3. GB12 “Use Engineered Lumber or Steel for minimum of 90% of subfloors, sheeting, floor joists, etc.”  5 points
      1. See related discussion about Type I building which is all concrete which means that the building would not qualify for this type of construction at all.  This project does not qualify for these points.
    4. GB54 & GB55 Use FSC Certified wood, etc. for 60% of flooring and all cabinetry.  5 points.  Again, this should be verified on the inspection card or via submittal of materials invoices to planning staff for approval.  Just because it is “indicated on the plans” doesn’t mean that is what is installed.

While Resolution 6.42 states “The project shall include 90 green building points as reviewed and verified during the Building and Safety plan check process. If the project does not meet 90 green building points, the project must be revised to include a reduced FAR by 0.1.”  Again, this is lovely but does not specify HOW the project is to be reduced in size or who the review authority is. It almost appears that Building & Safety would be able to approve this. At least 8 of the green points in this application are invalid.  It is unclear how the applicant could possibly “make up the additional points” given the remaining items available.

A 4,216 SF reduction in a project size should be returned to PC for approval as there are consequences for design, parking requirements, etc. This resolution should be amended to reflect WHO is the review authority and HOW this reduction will be approved.

  1. Affordable Housing.  Applicant is requesting bonuses for providing 5 affordable housing units based upon the residential lots.  However, Resolution 17.3 does not explicitly state that these 5 units must be provided in the residential building.  Nor does it state how these are to be distributed between very low, low, etc.  These are very large, premium units, the affordable housing shouldn’t be shunted into the interior of the commercial property.
  1. Utility Easements:  Is there a reason, after six years, that applicant has not reached an agreement with SCE regarding the abandonment of the utility easement and the related undergrounding of the utilities?  How is it possible to approve a project upon which another entity holds an entitlement?  NOTE:  8500 SMB project was delayed until SCE agreed to abandon the easement there. Also note that there is no Alta survey showing these easements.  The survey provided on p. 7 of the plans does not call it out.

Resolution 6.11 states “The applicant is aware that this property and neighboring properties are currently being served by overhead utilities. The removal of power poles on the proposed project site shall be coordinated with Southern California Edison, LADWP, and the other overhead utilities that may be on those poles shall be coordinated directly with each utility.”  

All very well and good but there is no discussion about the impacts to the neighboring properties, (see comments on lot merger) including 8535 & 8562 West Knoll and the commercial buildings at the corner of La Cienega and Santa Monica.  If the pole behind 8562 is to be removed and the connection remade underground who will pay for this?  What about the interruptions to all of the neighbors due to the disconnection of the power throughout this process?  PC should have documentation in writing from SCE addressing IF and HOW they would abandon this easement and how it will impact the neighboring buildings and/or this project.

  1. Climate Action
    1. Where in the staff report does it speak to the impacts on the residential properties?  There is no Climate Action component, only a green building points discussion.
  1. Green Space.  Once again, a parcel merger does not include an abandonment of all of the related ZO.  E.G. Setbacks.  
  1. Trees
    1. First, the survey provided is extremely inaccurate relating to the existing trees.  By my count on one property alone there are eight trees excluded from the survey at 8565 West Knoll.  There are probably 4 more at 8557 West Knoll.  
  1. A minimum of 25 trees will be removed as a result of this project, none of which is addressed in the non-existent Climate Action Plan section of the Staff Report.  There are no replacements provided and ZERO canopy trees provided for over 60,000 sf of project.  Frankly, this is incomprehensible.
  1. Construction Noise: Resolution 16.2 Mitigation Measure N-1(i) provides for a 15’ temporary noise barrier between the Ramada and the condos at 8562 West Knoll.  But 15’ from what point?  Ground level?  Ground level from SMB? West Knoll?  15’ is barely any protection, it barely covers the ground floor of either building.  It certainly won’t protect any of the hotel rooms or the 2nd story condos.

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.  At a minimum the noise abatement wall should be at least 30-50% taller.

  1. Deliveries:  Resolution 11.7 “Prior to building permit issuance, the project shall include a package delivery area near the loading area to provide for the delivery or large packages to the satisfaction of the Planning and Development Services Director.”  While this is lovely, there is no space without removing parking AND this does not specify if it is for commercial, residential or both AND how the delivery drivers will access the secured underground residential elevator.

Resolution 10.3 Transportation & Circulation “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.”  Again, this does not specify if this pertains to commercial, residential or both and there is no provision at the residential entrance for any deliveries.  Does this apply to moving vans?  Where are they supposed to park?  Does this apply to food deliveries?

How will delivery vehicles delivering to the residential addresses on West Knoll know that they are to go around the corner to SMB, find a parking space and then walk out of the building and around the corner and up the hill to deliver their packages?  NOTE:  The access to the residential elevators from the commercial garage is gated so there is no delivery access.  And once delivery drivers figure out that is the requirement they will be double parked in a hot minute.  Will the neighbors be required to chronically call code enforcement to deal with the congestion?

  1. Final Points:
    1. The Resolutions are incorrect and do not reference today’s hearing date in Section 6.
    2. The Resolutions are incorrect in 2.4 and reference an old plan set.  The plans attached to this Staff report are dated October 6, 2022.  This is rather critical.
    3. There is no resolution that addresses any costs to neighboring properties to re: the undergrounding or movement of electrical poles and connections and who is responsible for the costs.
    4. Live/Work.  Who verifies this is a business? What happens if the business closes but the tenant continues to occupy the space?
    5. There are massive questions around hydrology etc., especially given the most recent rains.  Should there be additional hold backs on the bond to make sure everything has been addressed?  If so, how much and for what period?  All things that should be address with FORETHOUGHT.   

Once again, it is late.  I know how much you enjoy my epistles.  If you have gotten this far the next drink is on me!  

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About Lynn Hoopingarner
Lynn Hoopingarner is the former chair of the West Hollywood Planning Commission. A native of Michigan, she is a Certified Management Consultant® and has owned her own consulting firm since 1992. She is also an avid gardener; the garden at her home in WeHo has been designated a National Wildlife Federation Backyard Wildlife Refuge.

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e-ric
e-ric
16 days ago

Thank you Lynn Hoopingarner for the clarity of your thorough evaluation of the project. It’s appalling that the Planning Department has not assessed and addressed these issues prior to the project arriving at the Planning Commission. Just where does the “scope of work” stop within the Planning Department? Unfortuntely, this is another example of poor assessment not only at the Department level, but the inability of many Planning Commissioners to grasp the concerns and grapple with them. Approving this project unleashes another ill-conceived, under-developed project that is likely to deface an important block and undermine the urban qualities of Weho… Read more »

Koweho
Koweho
17 days ago

The fact that Lynn was forced off the Planning Commission by our current mayor for outlining a very possible scenario that did not disparage anyone will always have me unable to support our mayor in any election. Lynn, please keep up the incredible work you are doing outside of the commission. In fact, you will keep them honest.

Susan J Milrod
Susan J Milrod
19 days ago

thank you Lynn! Please continue to provide us with such insightful and knowledgeable information. what a terrible loss for Weho that Lynn was pushed to resign due to the absurd and abusive political/social behavior of Sepi Shyne and her allies.

Weho Mary!
Weho Mary!
19 days ago

This analysis is ridiculous, needlessly complicated and pointless, particularly the comment about sleeping rooms needing a rescue opening. They changed the construction type so that they can use exception 1. So what? Let them make the change and move on without the needless back and forth. This shouldn’t hold anything up at this point. This is why building anything in West Hollywood is difficult and expensive, and excludes everyone except people with Soon-Shiong amounts of money.

Koweho
Koweho
17 days ago
Reply to  Weho Mary!

It is spot on, all true and by the book. Sorry that upsets you.

David Abrams
David Abrams
16 days ago
Reply to  Koweho

City staff reputed very many of these points during the hearing. It’s all a ploy to confuse and ultimately delay the approval of a project which Ms. Hoopingarner doesn’t approve.

Koweho
Koweho
15 days ago
Reply to  David Abrams

Refuted yes, but not disqualified. Big difference.

Learn to Say No
Learn to Say No
20 days ago

Stand up and say NO on a project deserving to be rejected. That is why you are sitting on the Planning Commission to make hard decisions. Allowing city staff to demean themselves by lobbying the commissioners seems reprehensible.

Precedents
Precedents
20 days ago

Using bad precedents of past problematic projects to endorse poor conditions of this project make a mockery of the entire review process.

Agony
Agony
20 days ago

Total agony going to such great lengths for years and tonight for hours to discuss a project devoid of inspiration that puts one to sleep. Someone please put it out if it’s misery and the neighborhoods as well.🙄🙄🙄

Really...
Really...
20 days ago

Lynn should have never resigned. What a loss for WeHo.

John Arnold
John Arnold
20 days ago

Thank you, Lynn!!

Last edited 20 days ago by John Arnold
Manny
Manny
20 days ago

Don’t worry, this Planning Commission is incapable of making decisions one way or another.

WeHo Native
WeHo Native
20 days ago

Oh Lord, Lynn – give us a break. We all know you’d go to any length to stop a project over 2 stories tall to keep your “village.” Your record on the Planning Commission shows that you’ve harassed and bullied the staff and developers on any larger project planned in the city.

David Abrams
David Abrams
20 days ago
Reply to  WeHo Native

—slow clap—

Koweho
Koweho
17 days ago
Reply to  WeHo Native

Everything she states and outlines follows current codes. The developers know this, so why offer up something that does not follow. If the codes are seen as out of date, then the city and planning commission should change them.

Tom
Tom
20 days ago

Please run for council. Please?

Careful Evaluations
Careful Evaluations
20 days ago
Reply to  Tom

Lynn Hoopengarner is an invaluable asset speaking as a private citizen. The Planning Commission could learn a great deal from her analysis which is clear and without bias. Each and every project she has interjected her observations on have been the better for it.

Please be aware that Lynn’s resignation from Planning Commission was the result of efforts by current Mayor Sepi Shyne to silence and or punish her while advocating for better projects that actually improve neighborhoods regardless of which residents live in the vicinity and/or what functions a venue caters to.

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