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SB 50 garners support from NWWNC amid concerns over city planning, affordability

Both Senate Bill 50 and the Transit Oriented Community program proposed by Los Angeles City Council seek to densify housing around major transit hubs, like LA Metro bus and train lines. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Milan Mohanty

April 7, 2019 11:48 p.m.

A California senate bill may lift height restrictions on residential buildings near transit lines if passed.

Buildings in the Village are generally limited to 40 feet, according to the Westwood Village Specific Plan, the master document for Westwood Village. If Senate Bill 50 is passed, local ordinances preventing the construction of denser and taller housing near single-family homes may be removed in areas near major transit locations, including some bus and train stops.

The North Westwood Neighborhood Council voted in support of the bill at a council meeting Wednesday.

Ryan Snyder, a member of the NWWNC who teaches an urban planning course at UCLA, said he thinks the bill offers a solution to the prevalent issue of affordable housing in Westwood by encouraging the construction of affordable housing near transit areas.

“It’s important that the city see that there are people in Westwood who think that the affordable housing issue is big and that converting some single-family residential neighborhoods is a big part of that solution,” Snyder said.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents Westwood and surrounding areas, proposed a resolution opposing SB 50.

Koretz said in a press release he thinks the bill focuses mainly on real estate commercialization and takes away planning powers of local governments like the LA City Council.

Alison Simard, a spokesperson for Koretz’s office, said she thinks the bill would overtake and slow down the progress their office has made in regard to transit-oriented planning.

According to the resolution, the bill would override Measure JJJ, which set affordable housing requirements and hiring restrictions to favor local workers on residential projects. The measure also created the Transit Oriented Community Affordable Housing Incentive Program, which aims to encourage more construction of affordable housing near transit lines.

Unlike the senate bill, the TOC program was crafted specifically for Los Angeles neighborhoods and does not extend into single-family neighborhoods. The program also aims to keep the expanded development within commercial districts, according to the resolution.

The TOC program is also tailored to each specific community while the implementation of the senate bill is not as clearly defined, according to the resolution.

The LA Department of City Planning also created the Transit Neighborhood Plans program in 2012 in partnership with LA Metro. TNP aims to build residential areas and jobs around Metro’s transit network, according to Metro’s website.

Simard said she thinks the senate bill would forfeit LA City Council’s control over city planning.

“SB 50 would stamp out the TNP and TOC work and replace it. We have been working on it a couple years down the line,” Simard said. “We can’t deny upzoning – you’ll have a whole block of one- to two-story homes and in the middle of it a seven-story building.”

Simard also said she thinks upzoning would lead to negative environmental impacts because the buildings would create heat islands that would contribute to climate change.

She added she thinks there are too few required affordable housing units in the new buildings.

“It is not affordable housing,” Simard said. “Developers want a return on their investment.”

Laura Lake, a member of the Westwood Homeowners Association and a board member of a nonprofit public safety advocacy group called Fix the City, said she is against the bill because she thinks it will cause density-related issues, such as slower emergency response times and increased traffic.

“It’s deceptive and a threat to public safety and quality of life of people in the community,” Lake said.

Lake said she is against the bill for safety reasons, specifically related to Emergency Medical Services response times.

“The response time is really only five minutes 40% of the time and density will only make that worse when disaster strikes,” Lake said.

Snyder said because of the increased amount of people living in proximity to transit lines, there would be less density because they will be using transit lines. He said despite a potential increase in the number of people who live near transit lines, the bill would not make these areas denser because the transit lines would allow residents to get around the city more efficiently.

“More people would live near transit, school and their jobs, ” Snyder said. “You have people using transit who wouldn’t normally.”

Lake said she does not think this will necessarily be the case because not everyone will use the transit lines.

“It will increase traffic congestion because not everyone will take the rail line,” Lake said. “They may need to work elsewhere.”

Snyder said the bill would lower rent rates for students in the area surrounding the new residential buildings, even if the newly constructed buildings are expensive.

“The market is horrible for affordable housing right now. There is a high demand for housing and an undersupply which leads to high prices,” Snyder said. “But when there is more supply, that should lower the prices.”

Lake said only 7% of the new residential buildings would contain low-income housing units.

“It’s a Trojan horse in the guise of providing low-income housing units, but only provides 7%,” Lake said.

Lake also said the rest of the units will be luxury housing which she thinks would drive up the price of other housing.

However, Snyder said he thinks the bill is necessary for addressing the lack of affordable housing.

“(SB 50) is a blunt planning tool, but it’s a drastic measure to help with affordable housing and climate change,” he said.

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Milan Mohanty
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