More green space, shorter buildings and additional parking were just some of the requests made by West Hollywood residents at a town meeting held Monday night regarding the General Plan.
About 100 people gathered in for the two-hour meeting. It was the final workshop before the City Council votes on the plan in September, and one urged by Councilman John D’Amico.
The city’s first meeting regarding the General Plan was held in February 2008, with 200 people in attendance. Subsequent workshops were held in November 2008, January 2010 and July 2010. Additionally, the city conducted focus groups in March 2008 and held several neighborhood meetings in September 2008.
After a short presentation, residents broke out into four groups—eastside, mid-city, westside and overall city—to talk about their concerns. After 45 minutes of discussion, each group reported back to the rest of the residents.
Residents have their say
Residents are happy with the city the way it is, they said. They like the urban village nature of the city and do not want to see that altered by taller buildings along Santa Monica Boulevard. Three stories, possibly four, are as high as they want to see them go. “Five is too high,” said one resident.
They say taller buildings will block the views of the hills and create shadows on the streets.
Attendees worried that if the city clusters new and taller buildings along major transportation corridors (La Brea, Fairfax and La Cienega), the other parts of town will suffer.
Residents are not especially concerned about increasing population density. “We’ve lost over 2,000 residents in the past 10 years. There are lots of condominiums sitting vacant. Why do we need to add more?” said one resident.
The city was severely criticized for not improving infrastructure, especially creating more parking. “How can we be talking about adding more people when those who are here can’t find places to park?” asked a mid-city resident.
Residents also want more green space in the city, some suggesting creating parks on the tops of parking decks. They also want to see more trees planted along Santa Monica Boulevard.
Spine of the city
The main focus of the meeting was mixed-use buildings—retail and residential in the same building—along Santa Monica Boulevard. As D’Amico told residents in his opening remarks, “Santa Monica Boulevard is the spine of our city. It’s our backbone, so we want to get it right.”
Current zoning laws allow for 45-foot tall buildings (four stories), but if developers meet certain other requirements, they can get a “bonus” allowing them to go as high as 70 feet (six stories).
One alternate proposal for the General Plan as currently written would see eight- and 11-story buildings along La Brea, five and six stories on Fairfax and Crescent Heights.
About 25 percent of those attending said this was their first meeting regarding the General Plan meeting. They said they came out because they care about the city.
City Planning Manager John Keho initially sat in on the groups, but stepped away when he found people looking to him as running the group. “It’s empowering to let them reach a consensus on their own,” Keho said.
Other ideas mentioned in the various groups include creating bike lanes by eliminating parking along Santa Monica Boulevard, starting a free or low-cost trolley to run the length of Santa Monica Boulevard and charging a toll for cars using the street.
Some residents also encouraged the city to create incentives for landlords to improve existing apartment buildings, rather than tearing them down to build luxury condominiums.
The question of how affordable housing would be affected by the General Plan was raised. D’Amico responded that affordable housing is based on the projects built, not where they are built.
D’Amico’s reaction afterward
After the meeting concluded, D’Amico told Weho Patch, “Tonight was the best of what West Hollywood has to offer, lots of people participating and making. This a really great city,” he said. “It’s very exciting for me that people really like to participate here and that they’re not afraid of their points of view.”
D’Amico also urged residents to contact each city council member to make their views known. “In the next 45 days, we’re going to pass this General Plan,” D’Amico said. “This is their last chance.”
Councilwoman Abbe Land was in attendance for the first portion of the meeting. Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Prang was there for the entire meeting. Mayor John Duran and Councilman John Heilman did not attend.
White paper presented
Immediately before the meeting began, former City Councilman Steve Martin held a short news conference to present a “white paper,” a position paper suggesting changes to the proposed plan.
“There’s a lot of talk about what we want West Hollywood to look like, but a lot of what we have in West Hollywood now, we want to preserve and that’s not happening in the current General Plan,” said Martin speaking for a coalition of residents who worked on the position paper.
“The current General Plan is going to encourage a lot more density along Santa Monica Boulevard, a disregard for existing housing and exacerbate the issues of traffic," he added. "What we tried to do is come up with different ways and different suggestions to help the City Council craft a document that we can all live with.”
Many of the suggestions in that white paper were what residents mentioned later in the meeting. Other suggestions in the paper included mandating green construction for all new buildings, requiring solar panels on buildings over two stories, and having tighter parking standards for new buildings (no tandem parking at residential buildings, no “shared parking” at commercial buildings).