Tuesday, March 31, 2009

City of Los Angeles: Green Building Program


As you may already know, the second implementation date for the Green Building Program is May 1, 2009.  Effective this date, residential and residential mixed-use buildings 50,000 square feet or more, 6 stories or less and 50 units must meet the intent of LEED at the Certified level. 


A public workshop is scheduled for April 23, 2009, where we will discuss the second phase of the program and review the accompanying changes made to the existing Green Building Clearance Compliance Guide. 

For more information, please contact:

Deborah Kahen | Citywide | Department of City Planning 
City of Los Angeles | 213 978 1395 | deborah.kahen@lacity.org


Monday, March 30, 2009

"Performance Audit of the City of Los Angeles Planning Conditions for Development."

Dear AIA/LA POC member:  FYI, please find attached City Controller Laura Chick's report entitled "Performance Audit of the City of Los Angeles Planning Conditions for Development."

This may be an issue that you'd like for me to look into further, in case it should inform an advocacy position for 2009 AIA/LA Legislative Day at City Hall.  If so, please let me know.

In short, the report states:

The City of Los Angeles has not established an adequate process for reviewing, approving, and overseeing development projects that ensures that the final project conforms to the intent of the decision maker. No single City department manages development projects from the project review through project construction and completion. The Department of City Planning does not manage other City departments' review of proposed projects, and does not actively monitor compliance with the projects' conditions of approval once the building permits have been issued. In the absence of a single point of management, development projects can materially change during the project plan review and project construction and completion, resulting in the final project being different from the project as it was approved by the decision maker.   

-Will Wright
Director, Government & Public Affairs.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

AIA/LA Great Streets/ Green Streets

AIA/LA Great Streets/ Green Streets
Notes from the March 11, 2009
Roundtable Discussion: Architecture and Zoning Along the Boulevards: Can We Have Both/And?
as part of a series of AIA/LA UDC Livable Boulevard Discussions
In the February AIA/LA Urban Design Committee discussion on Livable Boulevards we touched on the shape, size, density of buildings, particularly new development, along the Boulevards.  In March we discussed how zoning regulations impact this development.  Current zoning regulations typically allow for larger development on a site than the existing and surrounding buildings.   As land costs increase, it becomes especially important to developers to maximize the size of development, to help also make the most out of the substantial investment.   How can this larger development fit into its lower-scale surrounding context? Where does architecture fit in?  We discussed the challenges and opportunities these conditions present to architects and developers to create great design and architecture.
Roundtable Panelists: 
Claire Bowin, AICP, City Planner, City of LA Planning Department
Richard Corsini, AIA
, Principal, Corsini Architects
Emily Gabel-Luddy, AICP,
Chief Urban Designer. Urban Design Studio, City of LA Planning Department
Hank Koning, FAIA,
Principal, Koning Eizenberg Architecture; Vice-Chair, Santa Monica Planning Commission
Lorcan O'Herlihy, FAIA,
Principal, LOHA (Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects
Eric Olsen, AIA
, Principal, Thomas P. Cox: Architects, Inc.
Simon Pastucha, AICP
, Principal Urban Designer, Urban Design Studio, City of LA Planning Department
Mott Smith,
Principal, Civic Enterprise Associates
Pat Smith, ASLA, AICP Principal, Patricia Smith, Landscape Architect
Questions we started off with:
1- How can zoning regulations be helpful or hurtful to development?
2- What challenges are developers facing when it comes to zoning, building an attractive building, etc?
3- What are the opportunities and challenges for architects, working within the code and within the zoning envelope?
4- How do we get projects that result in great architecture, that relate to the surrounding content and maximize return on investment?

Panelist (HK) acknowledged that one of the biggest challenges that architects face is that zoning codes are complicated and that there is a disconnect between zoning and building codes. Height limits are a big issue that can be too limiting to the creation of good development.  Incentive structures need to be developed to trade increased height for inclusionary housing. Other barriers include narrow lots that cannot accommodate parking requirements and attractive building articulation.

Panelist (EGL) described that she finds the Los Angeles zoning code challenging and frustrating to work with, because it is inherently a "suburban code."  Although the City is going through the code in certain places like downtown LA and revamping it, the entire thing presents a barrier because of its suburban character.  The downtown model is a good precedent because it is flexible, but also provides a definite framework.

Panelist (SP) described the code as a huge net that captures everything that you don't want. In that way it is effective in that it describes what you don't want to see, and works to regulate against that. The code must be strategically altered so that instead it incentivizes good design.  It needs to be reconfigured so that it allows and encourages positive change in the City.  The City of Los Angeles has so many diverse neighborhoods and areas and currently the code is too general to deal with each of the distinct areas with a fine brush.  Unfortunately, current planners that may have the creativity to pose better solutions have police power rather than the ability to develop creative solutions.

Panelist (LO) described how a city like West Hollywood is in fact a good study case that manages to promote positive change, rather than just limiting and restricting everything.  LO discussed a project his firm designed on Formosa, where they worked with the City of West Hollywood to provide a pocket park along one side that the city would then own and maintain.  In return, there was some flexibility regarding setbacks- the building moved to one side reducing the side setback- and Allyne Winderman confirmed that there was additional support from the city.  This is possible for a smaller city like WEHO, that can afford to take over the pocket park and properly maintain it- this would likely not be possible in the City of LA.  The developer found that the units were sold at higher rates due to the park amenity.

Panelist (RC) said that while most planners and architects who engage in these sorts of conversations understand that the code needs to be changed so that it no longer follows a suburban model, the general public often does not.  In many neighborhoods, the community has in fact a suburban vision and identity for the neighborhood.  It is often this challenge that's difficult to reconcile.

Panelist (PS) acknowledged that it is harder to address and improve the code for the Boulevards, as compared to a place like downtown, where code improvements are easier, since its one big district.  PS also mentioned that historic conditions, prior to current parking requirements and height restrictions, helped create some of the neighborhoods we love, and stated we should focus on creating great places rather then simply regulating development.

Panelist (EGL) said that community members who come out typically to oppose (any and all) development need to understand that the City is indeed serious about conservation, about limiting height and conserving development in certain areas and it is not all about increasing density everywhere.  The Adaptive Reuse ordinance allows for the re-use of existing structures without requiring the project to come up to new parking standards.  This ordinance has allowed for significant redevelopment of downtown, which many historic structures adapted for newly renovated housing units.  She suggested this may be revisited for applicability to other scenarios.

Panelist (MS) brought up two key problems. First, that there is a certain lack of trust in the outcomes.  The intent versus the realized product is often different and this causes distrust.  Second, that we plan using words and numbers, but in reality everything happens in 3D.  This means we use a broad brush for things that are delicate and specific.  The difference between what we want and what we get is a huge one.  The typical urban parcel size of 50 x 150 presents great challenges, especially in terms of parking. Trying to satisfy parking requirements on this size lot, doesn't leave very much room to design and create an attractive and articulated building on the rest of the site.  Its not the developer's fault that buildings often get built out to their zoning envelop, instead it is the result of the code, especially parking regulations that dictate the design of the site.  Developers don't want to do the worst thing, they want to do the expedient thing. Its best, then, to make the best thing, the expedient thing, to create a code and incentive structure to encourage the types of designs that we DO want.  Pasadena's parking solutions were brought up as successful models for sharing parking, which more places should adopt.

HK adds that its not just commercial corridors and districts that can benefit from parking strategies such as shared parking and park-once lots, but also residential districts; people WILL walk to their car off site.  He pointed to a development in Brea where a public parking garage adjacent to residential development also serves the residential development allowing for less parking to be built in the neighborhood.

SP reiterated that parking defines the development process.

Other parking and traffic ideas: congestion pricing, slowing traffic in front of businesses, reveal the true cost of parking.

MS explained that the code also has to be designed for the mediocre architect, rather than the visionary who will push the boundaries of the code and keep the greater good in mind. The code needs to be structured so that there are some foolproof requirements that will improve the design of all projects.

HK described how the fees that architects receive for their work, do not permit them to be fully visionary.  Competitive bidding for projects means that firms and architects are stooping to get the work. The fast pace and low fee means that vision and innovation is put on the back burner.  He pointed out a study that had been done that confirmed that low bidding led to more mistakes and greater cost of construction.

CB asked the group whether fixing parking requirements, removing barriers and addressing constraints within the zoning code alone would be enough to get good architecture and the entire group agreed that no, this would be just a start and then regulations, guidelines, etc would have to be introduced to ensure it.  CB also described some of the new models being introduced in the Cornfields Area Specific Plan (CASP) a plan that allows more density in an area served by transit.  The CASP included the possibility of trading development rights, requiring parking to be unbundled for shared parking, and capping the parking in a certain area.

EGL also acknowledged that the disconnect between city departments (eg. DWP, Fire Department, Building Department, Planning) as another barrier to navigating and streamlining the development and permitting process.  There are encouraging signs: LA Planning Department staff worked closely with LA DOT on the Downtown Street Standards and Guidelines.  This required lots of detailed fieldwork, complete conversations with DOT and the City Engineer to develop simple cross sections that everyone agreed to.  These can now be delivered as a surgical insertion.  In addition, Planning has been reaching out to DWP on Community Plan update efforts.  DWP, Fire Department and Building Code all impact architecture.  Current 12 + 2 effort is an effort to streamline development process and get departments to better collaborate.

MS suggested that perhaps as part of the SurveyLA work, surveyors should gather historical precedents to inform ways that buildings have been articulated and ways that density has been dealt with. This would be an excellent resource for architects and city planners.  MS suggested that before making things mandatory we should first start by making things possible.

EGL described how we must think of proportionality when we are thinking of where to allot density.  Does the corridor have 1 transit line or several? A one-size-fits-all does not work.  It seems that often it is not the height that people despise, but rather the traffic that the new development brings with it, that most bothers neighbors. This brings us back to the notion that parking and consideration for the car rules the design of our urban realm in more ways that we'd like to admit.

There was also much discussion, and back and forth with attendees.  Some additional points included:

·      When a community speaks out against height, often what they really oppose is increased density that will increase traffic.

·      Looking at mobility in a different way- using models that measure people movement rather than car movement

·      Because of decades of dashed community expectations, there is a severe lack of trust in government and in developers leading to frequent community opposition.  Important to set realistic expectations for the community.

·      How does one bus line constitute a transit corridor?  David and Laura, members of Venice Community Coalition called for realism in identifying "transit corridors".

The discussion was very interesting, as it seems that there is a consensus between planners, designers, developers and residents on the big-picture issues. While there remain differences in personal preferences, it seems clear that our current planning model needs improvement.

1.    The existing LA zoning code is inadequate in its ability to produce consistent results. Too many variables, such as FAR restrictions, parking, lot size, combined with developer financial and vision goals lead to a large disparity in built results. Only by utilizing additional design guidelines is it possible to implement urban design visions.

2.    Much positive mention was made of urban design/planning efforts using innovative approaches to achieve high quality built environments. All quoted efforts, including Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Downtown, amongst others, where confined to a very limited areas associated with a strong planning effort. The larger parts of our city seem to suffer under the implementation of the zoning code without mitigation.

3.    While architects and urban planners have great knowledge on urban design principles such as walkable neighborhoods or mixed-use developments these ideas are not necessarily achievable on a citywide scale.

Hillside Area Definition and Proposed Hillside Area Map

The Hillside Area Definition and Proposed Hillside Area Map (CPC-2008-4683-CA) will be on the March 26, 2009 City Planning Commission Meeting (item number unknown at this time).  The staff report and other related documents are posted on the Department of City Planning website (http://cityplanning.lacity.org/).  


Note: The file linked above is large and may take some extra time to download.  The map contains parcel lines for the entire city in order to allow the general public to zoom into their neighborhoods and determine whether their property will remain within the proposed Hillside Area boundaries, or if the designation is proposed for removal.  Instructions for how to use this map more effectively can be found on the link below.


The meeting will start at 8 AM, and will be held at:

Van Nuys City Hall
City Council Chamber, 2nd Floor
14410 Sylvan St.
Van Nuys, CA 91401


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Los Angeles River Improvement Overlay District (LA-RIO)

Thank you for your continued support and interest in the River Improvement Overlay (RIO) and Los Angeles River Improvement Overlay District (LA-RIO).

This notice is to inform you that the ordinances were unanimously approved by the City Planning Commission on February 12, 2009.  Next, they will be heard in a joint meeting by the Planning and Land Use Management Committee and Ad Hoc River Committee on March 23 after 3pm in Room 1060 of City Hall.

For a copy of the LA-RIO, please visit cityplanning.lacity.org > Proposed Ordinances, or click here:
(Please note that the table of contents link to each Section)

If you should have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me

Deborah Kahen | Citywide
Department of City Planning
City of Los Angeles | 213 978 1395