PLANNING WATCH - California State law requires every city and county to adopt a General Plan with eight elements (chapters). In the case of LA, most elements are ancient, and one required element, Environmental Justice, is completely missing. The one exception is the Housing Element. Despite City Council adoption in 2022, this element, too, is up for grabs.
LA’s General Plan elements and their adoption dates:
Land Use consists of LA’s 35 Community Plans. Their adoption dates range from the 1990s to 2023. In 2017 the City Council directed the City Planning Department to update the 35 Community Plans every six years, and Planning is now updating 17 of them. The remaining 18 plans do not have a start date.
Mobility - 2016
Safety - 1996. In 2021 City Planning submitted a draft Safety Element to the City Council. As of October 2023, there is no record of Council adoption.
Conservation - 2001
Noise - 1999
Open Space - 1973
Air Quality - 1992
Environmental Justice - The State Legislature adopted this mandatory element in 2016.
Seven years later Los Angeles has not even mentioned it.
Housing - 2022 Despite its recent adoption, many community groups are calling for reductions in its excessive upzoning programs.
Housing is the most current and controversial General Plan element. Despite its 2022 adoption, it, too, is up for grabs. Many community groups oppose its widescale upzoning and construction of apartments in single-family neighborhoods.
Despite their opposition, widescale density increases are already underway. In California, all houses can add three Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s), including a stand-alone 1,200 square feet house. In effect, all single-family houses can be replaced with duplexes. Furthermore, California Senate Bill 9 (2021) allows homeowners and developers to demolish houses, subdivide cleared lots in two, and then build a duplex and three ADU’s on each half. Ten separate residences could replace one house.
Despite these new statewide laws, there are few ADU’s and SB9 duplexes in California, including Los Angeles, but developers have their foot in the door.
United Neighbors calls for amendments to the Housing Element: The community groups that criticize LA’s new Housing Element are members of United Neighbors. They argue that the State has imposed an RHNA up-zoning requirement on Los Angeles for 255,000 housing units, yet LA’s Housing Element calls for 1,400,000 new housing units. United Neighbors further contend that 255,000 units can be accommodated on commercial corridors, and there is no reason to further up-zone single-family neighborhoods. If this happens, they predict it will create incompatible land uses, as shown in the rendering above. While United Neighbors has presented sound arguments, they don’t fully answer these eight questions:
- Why has City Hall’s over-compliance with new State up-zoning requirements made LA’s homeless crisis worse?
- How often will the Housing Element’s upzoning programs precede local Community Plan updates? When this happens outside the planning process, how will new houses and apartments have sufficient electricity, water, and other municipal services?
- How does upzoning translate into more housing? At present LA's commercial corridors already permit apartment buildings that qualify for density bonuses. Nevertheless, developers built few by-right apartments on these parcels.
- Won’t developers continue to build McMansions in single-family neighborhoods, instead of legal apartments, duplexes, and ADU’s?
- Since LA's population is declining, and California’s Finance Department forecasts population decline through 2060, who would rent these new, expensive 1,400,000 housing units?
- How would new affordable housing be funded since HUD and CRA public housing programs no longer exist? If through unmonitored density bonuses, only a token amount of desperately needed affordable housing would appear.
- Why would developers apply for density bonuses once the City Council adopts up-zoning ordinances? Up-zoning gives them extra height and density up-front.
- Since upzoning increases land and housing prices, won’t it result in more homelessness?
Hollywood Community Plan: In addition to these challenges to the citywide 2021-2029 Housing Element, the situation is worse in Hollywood. The City Council adopted the Hollywood Community Plan in March 2023. It is already subject to three lawsuits. Furthermore, Hollywood’s new Councilmember, Hugo Soto-Martinez, has proposed four amendments that must be added to the Hollywood Update prior to its implementation:
- Add affordable tenant protections, including relocation assistance, for renters forced from their homes.
- Prevent any net loss of affordable housing units in new developments.
- Expand affordable housing covenants from 55 years to 99 years.
- Promote equity and consistency in the plan area through additional affordability requirements.
Next steps: Will the adopted Housing Element and Hollywood Community Plan bend to pressure from lawsuits and public lobbying? It happened in 2012, and it could happen again. Stay tuned to CityWatchLA as these stories unfold.
(Dick Platkin is a retired Los Angeles city planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatchLA. He is a board member of United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles (UN4LA). Previous columns are available at the CityWatchLA archives. Please send questions and corrections to [email protected].)