South of Olympic is Under Siege by $1 Mil “Small Lot” Monster Complexes

In Archive by Jill Stewart

Neighbors in the pretty and softly hilly neighborhoods of the Mid-Wilshire District, known for main streets like Hauser, Pico, San Vicente and Olympic, have had it good. It’s not horribly expensive on the dozens of residential streets south of Olympic Boulevard like Orange Grove, Keniston, and Dunsmuir, yet the attractive area speaks to neighborhood pride and a sense of place.

Most of its homes, duplexes and small apartments are architecturally interesting: Spanish Colonials, English cottages, Old World charmers, 1950s low-risers and even adobes. The area, including neighborhoods like Wilshire Vista and Picfair Village, is a comfortable mix of black, white, Latino and Asian residents.

But as activists Carole Miller, Melanie McQueen and Debbie Gaughan explain, the area is coming under stress. As one neighbor says, a developer just north of Pico Boulevard paid $580,000 for a beautiful Spanish Colonial home, leveled it, then offered $800,000 for the Old World home next door — and was refused by an elderly resident. The plan for this now-neglected empty lot is for 9 “small lot subdivision” townhouse-style units.

In Picfair Village nearby, a developer is melding two lots — the two longtime homes now there must go — together for 8 homes. Similar changes are unfolding in nearby Wilshire Vista Heights, and every other charming, working-class and middle-class neighborhood north of the 10 and south of Olympic between Fairfax and La Brea.

People have forgotten, all over Los Angeles, that the Los Angeles City Council pledged that their  “small lot subdivision” ordinance would fuel affordable first-time home-buying on “infill” land where such projects would neatly fit.

But none of that was real. The small lot subdivision ordinance instead handed a high-profit gift to developers: they get to jam as many $1 million townhouse-style units as they can on a bit of land, targeting this housing, whether in Echo Park or Palms, to households approaching the $200,000 income level.

So what? It’s nice to have a few people with money moving in, right?

Well, each new “small lot” complex that appears — in the Mid-Wilshire District, or West Adams, or the San Fernando Valley, or Palms — acts as the point of the frenzied gentrification spear in Los Angeles. The luxury vertical homes cause a very fast domino effect: the landlords nearby jack up the rents along any block where these towering glassed-in cubes — the favored look — get approved by Los Angeles city planners.

Then the owners push out their renters to sell a perfectly good building for razing by a small lot complex developer. That’s not “infill.” That’s neighborhood destruction.

And what about those first-time middle-class buyers the small lot complexes were meant for? A bad joke.

Small lot zoning means free money for land flippers. The land is flipped until a developer finally erects a wildly priced small lot complex, tall and overpowering, next to homes. That “look” is overtaking much of Los Angeles. The City Council allows “small lot” developers to build nearly to the property line, slash the needed parking — and they’re excused from planting a green belt of trees, L.A.’s lifestyle trademark and a necessity for urban livability.

Carole Miller, Melanie McQueen and Debbie Gaughan next to home set for destruction to make way for $1 million condo units.

Carole Miller, Melanie McQueen and Debbie Gaughan next to home set for destruction.

Renters are in the way of the Los Angeles Small Lot Subdivision ordinance. Put this idea on the long list of Los Angeles City Council planning disasters, in which the council members try play the role of land czars, and manage to create the opposite of the results promised.

Right now, the City Council is trying to rewrite its destructive Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance. But don’t expect salvation. All but one member of the City Council takes money — a lot of it — from developers. So the proposed Small Lot Subdivision reform is shaping up to be a non-reform.

“Right now we are awake,” says Debbie Gaughan, who helped lead one neighborhood’s resistance to mansionization developers. In Los Angeles, such developers bid up the land, which in turn pressures out other longtime residents south of Olympic and in other neighborhoods. “We have more than 400 people here saying ‘No,'” says Gaughan, who led the gathering of 351 signatures demanding that the city (their Councilman is Herb Wesson) protect single family homes.

“They call this ‘infill’,” says Carole Miller, another activist in the area worried about new luxury apartments and small lot subdivisions. But as she and hundreds of neighbors have realized, “This is not ‘infill.’ It’s destruction of an established neighborhood.”

Renter Melanie McQueen says some homeowners have talked about being approached by developers about selling their property.

In one area south of Olympic, neighbors heard from one developer who said their project would be affordable housing. But later, prices were said to be in the range of $700,000 per unit. That was a couple of years ago. Now, in these neighborhoods and citywide, the prices have skyrocketed much higher.

McQueen recalls one design shown by a developer that made his towering multi-unit project look as if it would continue to allow sunlight onto the neighbor’s property next door. But the building, utterly out of place on the block, will place the neighbors in hours of deep shadow.

Some neighborhoods south of Olympic have convinced the L.A. Planning Department to create language that could lead to Interim Control Ordinances that, if approved, would put a temporary halt to some of the Los Angeles City Council’s hyped-up gentrification of affordable communities.

But the land-flipping and land speculation is well underway citywide, now that developers know they can jam 8 or 12 or 20 luxury units that sell for $1 million on the site of a four-plex of mere working-class renters who get displaced, or wipe out longtime homes for big mansions.

A few years from now, the pretty and hilly Mid-Wilshire District neighborhoods south of Olympic may not be the wonderful mix of races and architecture that they are in 2016. They may instead be jammed with boxes of humans who paid damn good money to wipe out what came before.



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