No Applause in Venice for the MTA Bus Yard Swap

A message to the City Planning Commission

By Arnold Springer

I want to strongly object to this proposal project. There are many things wrong with it. Too tall, too dense, too out of scale, too greedy, too pushy, too confrontational towards the neighborhood and community.
Specifically I wish to protest the change of zone from M-1 to C-M Zoning. Granting this zone change request gives the developer the opportunity to build a residential project of up to R-3 density. The Venice Specific Plan and the North Venice Neighborhood Plan call out a zoning of RD 1.5.

Comment: I worked on this North Venice Specific (neighborhood) Plan from 1976 following the passing of the California Coastal Act to 1990 when the Specific Plan was adopted. I helped organize scores of neighborhood meetings at which 100’s of residents and property owners listened and spoke, educating themselves about zoning and planning and coastal access issues. I worked as well with other Venice neighborhoods when they crafted their Specific Plans. All of us were under the impression that these plans would organize and regulate future building in their neighborhoods: That they would be respected by Los Angeles City planning authorities.

To me now, this is a matter of respect. You asked us to participate in this community planning process. You spent lots of public funds through the Planning Department and Commission helping us to produce these plans. We worked hard through myriads of meetings and hours of discussion and preparation. We acted in good faith with the City of LA. Will the City now reciprocate and repay us by staying in good faith with us, or disrespect us and disrespect our good will in working with you? This is a test!!!
It comes as quite a shock to see these plans ignored and dismissed, as is the case with this project.

Specifically, all of us in North Venice were aware of the MTA site and the possibility that it would be developed sooner or later. We very consciously decided to attach conditions to the zoning at this site (Q and T conditions) which would restrict the density on any future development to the density of the surrounding neighborhood.

One of the first successful neighborhood initiatives we undertook after the passage of the California Coastal Act was the successful initiation of a zoning rollback in the North Venice neighborhood from R-3 to RD 1.5.

We proposed this zoning roll back to the then Councilwoman Pat Russell. She supported this roll back. At that time we cited two reasons to justify the roll back. First, we wanted to support the Coastal Act, to wit: to do everything possible to “enhance public access to the coast” and specifically to Venice Beach. By lowering density and inhibiting large scale development we hoped to ease the pressure of gentrification, maintain our low and moderate income housing stock, and thereby enhance and insure continued public access.

Since public parking was such a key issue in assuring and enhancing public access, our down zoning relieved pressure on Ocean Front vacant properties (which were down zoned from C-2 to C-1) and thus we hoped to preserve our public access parking.

All of us property owners realized that down zoning would reduce the speculative value of our properties. Nevertheless we enthusiastically supported the down zoning to C-1 and RD 1.5 because it would help achieve our two objects, to wit: Support of the Coastal Acts mandate to local governments to “enhance public access to the coast” and to support the low and moderate incoming housing stock in the Coastal zone.

We filed hundreds of appeals of LA City permits between 1976 and 1990. In all of these appeals we cited the above reasons. We were very successful with the Coastal Commission on our appeals and eventually convinced Los Angeles Planning Department officials to implement our recommendations. The zoning roll back took place, for the reasons cited above; the City started to protect existing coastal access and neighborhood parking and, with the passage of the Mello Act, also to protect our low and moderate incoming housing stock.

At the time in the 70’s that all of us supported the zoning roll back, we argued that the MTA lot should also be zoned RD 1.5. We understood that M zone (industrial) could be changed, at the request of a property owner, to a C zone very easily, and that the C zone (either 1 or 2) carried with it a residential density of R-3. We were afraid that the MTA, which even at that time said it wished to move) would sell to a developer who would try to rezone to R-3.

When we proposed that the MTA lot should be rezoned from M-1 to RD1.5, we were told that the MTA objected to this because then they would be operating a bus yard in a residentially zoned parcel and so would be in violation of their zoning and that they would be open to a law suit (non conforming industrial use in a residential zone) which could have shut down their facility. They didn’t want to be put in that position.

There was some logic to this argument. So as not to confront the MTA we proposed the application of Temporary Q conditions on the lot, proposed that the RD 1.5 designation be put onto the tract maps so that everyone knew that if sold or traded, if the industrial use on the site was terminated, that the underlying zoning would be changed to RD1.5

In this we acted responsibly and respected the MTA’s concerns. Nothing has changed since the T and Q conditions were applied by Councilwoman Ruth Galanter to this parcel, and I don’t see any reason for the Planning Commission to overturn the land use policy adopted by the North Venice Specific Plan and the Venice Specific Plan.

What is the most obvious and appropriate use for this parcel? I would submit, parking. We do have a Beach Impact Zone (BIZ) which was established specifically to address the paucity or shortfall of visitor and residential parking in the North Venice area. Los Angeles City is collecting monies from developers which are supposed to go into the BIZ. Visitor serving parking has been significantly reduced of late by permitted projects on the Ocean Front between Brooks Ave in the south and Rose Ave in the north. I would say that 100’s of public access parking places have been lost as a consequence. Has the LA Planning Department done a survey and produced an accounting of the previously existing visiting serving parking lost to new development in the North Venice area? I haven’t heard of it.

Is the City of Los Angeles doing everything it can to enhance public access and visitor serving uses in the North Venice area? If not, it is in violation of the Coastal Act provisions which mandate enhanced opportunities for public access to the beach and coast.

In sum, I urge you to reject this project as proposed. I urge you to have this project renditioned back to the GRVNC for a hearing and recommendation. And I urge you to suggest to both the current developer and to MTA that they should consider a development more in keeping with the letter and spirit of the North Beach Neighborhood and Venice Specific Plans.

Any project proposed for this site should observe the zoning, density, and height limits set out in the planning documents which I have mentioned, and should give serious consideration to measures which would enhance public access to the coast by making the below street level parking entirely beach public access and residential neighborhood and replacement parking. Although some BIZ parking is included in the RAD proposal, it is not enough to mitigate the losses of beach access parking and neighborhood residential parking being eliminated by this project.

On top of this parking we would all accept and welcome a 30-35 high residential development at RD 1.5 density.

Please keep in mind that the land is worth lots of money, but that the MTA didn’t pay anything for it because it belonged to the City of Venice and was turned over to Los Angeles in the late 1920s. If the parcel was subdivided into 30 x 85 foot lots, about 90 of these could be created and the MTA could sell these, and, at $1 million per lot, capture a windfall profit which it could use to build its new bus terminal at another location, which is its desire.

The City and County of Los Angeles could use the BIZ funds to construct the parking facility, which would pay for itself as part of a parking authority over the years. In this way Los Angeles would demonstrate its support of the public access provisions of the Coastal Act. Meanwhile the above grade lots could be sold to individual developers to construct duplexes. The neighborhood would be willing to consider Mello Act mandated density bonuses for low incoming housing and we would find a developer to develop such a project on site.

Posted: Wed - January 4, 2006 at 02:15 PM