By: Mark Kenyon
Photos by: Volker Corell
The MWHA has been before the East Los Angeles Area Planning Commission three times in the last few months; and has lost at each of these three hearings. To understand how unusual this is I need to recall for you a bit of history. MWHA does not comment on, let alone appeal the vast majority of land use cases. Over 90% of proposed projects are by-right and conform to our Specific Plan and other regulations, so there is no need or reason or ability to object to most of these projects. But, in five to ten percent of the cases there are issues raised that are of concern for one reason or another. In the last few years, the increase in the number of proposed projects, as well as a much more permissive City process, has led to the MWHA commenting on more projects and, unfortunately, having to appeal more often than ever in our history. In the past, we have almost always prevailed in the appeals we have pursued - partly because we pick our battles carefully and partly because we always make sure that we base our arguments on facts and not emotions.
Unfortunately, the City appears to have concluded quite literally that there is no project that they won't approve. Whether it is the Planning Department, the Area Planning Commission, the City Council or the Mayor, the rule of the day is to move projects through the system as quickly as possible. It appears that two factors may be at work. The first is that in the name of the very real need for more housing – for which our General Plan has, in fact provided – the City appears to be going out of its way to guarantee developers increased profits at the expense of the health and safety of those of us who have chosen to put down roots in communities such as Mount Washington. The second appears to be the local manifestation of the weakening of our political systems caused by how and how much money is injected into these systems (think PACs and Super PACs and Citizens United). The result is that you can expect to see more development near where you live, with greater impacts and with any concerns you might have falling on deaf ears.
The MWHA Land Use committee is working to combat these trends by continuing to pursue our appeals. Currently, we have two appeals pending before the City Council and we will need the support of our members in order to have any chance of prevailing Downtown. When the hearings are scheduled (and we may only get three days notice) we will need as many support letters as we can marshal, and to get as many of our members to the hearings as possible (these hearings, of course, are during the daytime and at City Hall).
Our two pending hearings are on the following issues: the first is the five-house project on Ganymede and asks the questions - does our General Plan have any meaning? Can the City ignore the General Plan requirements on population density and continue to provide what it acknowledges as inadequate infrastructure? The second one is on Crane Blvd and asks the questions - can the City ignore the plain language and intent of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and not disclose and analyze all potential impacts posed by projects? Or, can the City assume that its Municipal Code requirements reduce these impacts to below a level of significance without any analysis?
The two appeals referenced above, Ganymede and Crane, were our first two strikes at the Area Planning Commission. The third occurred this past month on the 9-house West Point Project. These projects are similar to Ganymede and Crane and have infrastructure concerns as well as lack of adequate CEQA analysis. The Hearing was well attended by the affected neighbors (and our members) and there were excellent facts and testimony provided by all of us. But, in the end, even our clear and incontrovertible evidence was no match for unsubstantiated opinion, as long as that opinion came from the City. For example, we provided evidence from the City's own Fire Code that the roadway system servicing the West Point community does not meet the minimum standards as set by the Fire Code, but this was easily trumped by a generic letter obtained by the developer from Fire Department, which is given to all projects (and is based on the assumption, which is not true in hillside communities, that all City streets meet the minimum City Fire Code standards). Of course, if the Fire Department had had a proper CEQA analysis of fire safety, as we had requested, for the specific West Point area, the Department might have made a more informed and therefore different decision. We are waiting for the final Commission report to be published before deciding whether or not to appeal these projects to the City Council on a CEQA basis.
Finally, other communities in the City are noticing the degree to which the City is ignoring our General Plan, CEQA and other planning and land use rules. They have begun an initiative process to put many of these issues before the voters. I urge you to educate yourself on this process and to consider supporting this effort. We will have more about this initiative in this space and at our meetings in the near future. For more information see:http://www.aidshealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Initiative-FINAL.pdf.