Posted: Sunday, August 14, 2016 – 11:26 PM
By Victoria Talbot
The Hillside Development Ordinance is slated to come before the Beverly Hills City Council Tuesday evening as an Urgency Ordinance. City officials expect a high turnout of developers and their agents and residents who support the proposed ordinance to preserve their neighborhoods.
The City has received a high volume of communication from the public. At a June 30 Planning Commission meeting, over 50 individuals commented in support and opposition. As of last Friday the commission had received over 100 pieces of correspondence, including a petition in support of the ordinance signed by 80 individuals and a letter signed by 13 residents of Lago Vista Drive, one of the 14 streets identified as less than 24 feet wide.
One legal team representing the properties commonly known as the Aquilini Project, AKA the Loma Linda Trust for 1184 and 1193 Loma Linda, went so far as to accuse the City of violating the Owner’s due process rights in a thinly veiled threat. Aquilini’s two projects on Loma Linda under current standards incorporate a by-right 3,000 cubic yard earth removal on each property simultaneously, with additional excavation used as “fill,” are substantially built off the level pad and incorporate terracing, according to plans at the City.
Developers have used several loopholes in current building codes to construct palace-sized homes on postage stamp lots by creating “level pad” area using layer-cake terracing and adding square footage by building well out over the pad. In Beverly Hills the threshold for triggering an R1 review on the project is a uniform 3,000 cubic yards of soil, even on narrow streets of less than 24 feet in width.
On these streets, a haul truck restricts any other vehicle from accessing the street; someone is forced to back down. Additionally, on Loma Linda, there are two blind turns, a condition that is not uncommon in the Hillside area.
The ordinance would give the City and the public more oversight and more protections. In Bel Air, the City of Los Angeles has adopted a 1,500 cubic yard haul limit in the hillsides, which was initially in Beverly Hills’ draft proposal. But after the appearance of a cadre of developers and their facilitators at the June 30 Beverly Hills Planning Commission meeting, the limit was arbitrarily changed by the Planning Commission from the recommended 1,500 to 2,000 cubic yards.
In the past few years, residents and planning officials have become all too familiar with the impacts of this kind of development. In Los Angeles, the City has created an Interim Control Ordinance to address those impacts and to slow development. Two accidents on Loma Vista that killed LAPD officers by runaway construction vehicles underlined the importance of mitigating construction impacts in hillside areas.
The City of Beverly Hills passed an interim urgency ordinance July 29, 2014, to prohibit the expansion of the level pad area in the Hillside zone, but due to administrative failures (and follow-through) and concern over what was, in effect, a moratorium on building off the level pad, it was not renewed and thus, expired in Sept. 2014, according to the background material in the City Council agenda.
“The proposed ordinances do not prohibit development in the hillside,” said Attorney Ben Reznik. “They simply provide better protection and review through a process that is more public.”
The ordinance is also intended to take into consideration resident’s concerns for the safety of their streets and their homes, and their ability to live in those homes with some measure of peace.
The ordinance proposal that will be under discussion Tuesday evening grew out of the Beverly Hills Planning Commissioners concerns over property owners’ increased excavation and exportation of earth, reliance on grading and construction of off-pad retaining walls to inflate the pad size and create ever-larger projects, the heightened noise, traffic and parking impacts from truck hauling, over-sized mass and scale of development from off-pad construction, terracing on the hillsides, loss of natural contours and neighborhood identity and slope destabilization, according to the agenda report.
The City Council, “shares the concerns raised by the Planning Commission, and finds that the grading of hillsides and construction of retaining walls to facilitate larger development warrant legislation to address those concerns,” reads the agenda. “The City Council wishes to protect the status quo by limiting off pad development and terracing of hillsides, while new Hillside development standards are being adopted.”
“The City Council finds and determines that there is an immediate threat to the public health, safety, or welfare.”
Thus, the ordinances are presented as urgency ordinances, and if passed with a 4/5 majority of the council, will go into affect immediately.
City Attorney Larry Wiener has recommended that Vice Mayor Nancy Krasne and Councilmember Lili Bosse recuse themselves from participating in portions of the discussion and voting on those portions of the ordinance because, according to his review, the location of their residences could be construed as a conflict of interest.
To accommodate Wiener’s concerns, the ordinance will be broken down into two parts.
Vice Mayor Krasne and Councilmember Bosse will be asked not to participate in the discussion regarding the dimensions for qualifying a level pad being proposed to discourage terracing just to inflate the pad, and the development of more than 1,000 square feet off the level pad. However, they may take part in the discussion on 2,000 cubic yards of import/export as a threshold for R1 review on streets less than 24 feet in width.
The two council members may also participate in the discussion on the grandfather clause determining the start date and vesting of projects.
Attorney Reznik and two other law firms that spoke to the Courier disagree with Wiener’s interpretation of the FPPC law.
“As for the fact that two council people have been advised they must recuse themselves due to a conflict of interest, I am in total disagreement with the analysis. The law is to the contrary,” said Reznik. “These property ordinances deal with health and safety issues and do not increase development rights. Therefore, any argument that council members who live in the Hillsides would benefit financially is wrong and misdirected.”