Saturday, July 13, 2024

LA’s Wildlife Ordinance edges closer to approval, despite homeowner opposition

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In a win for mountain lions, bobcats and birds, a Wildlife Ordinance designed to minimize the impact of hillside homes on the surrounding environment cleared a major hurdle on Tuesday, June 20, unanimously backed by a key Los Angeles City Council committee.

The L.A. ordinance would limit how much of a homeowner’s property can be covered in structures and requires the use of animal-friendly architecture for new development. The rules would apply to hillside communities between Griffith Park and the 405 Freeway, including Sherman Oaks, Hollywood Hills, Bel Air, Laurel Canyon and Beverly Crest.

The city council Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee’s approval means the plan will now proceed to the full council for final approval.

The decision was met with delight by environmentalists and other supporters, but with anger by some homeowners who fear the regulations will decrease their property values or prevent them from enlarging their homes.

“Over the last few decades we’ve seen development in the hillside scale out of proportion, resulting in unsafe conditions not only for wildlife, but also for people,” said PLUM Chair Katy Yaroslavsky, whose council district includes a significant part of the targeted hills.

She added, “The Wildlife Ordinance presents a critical opportunity to create sensible land use and zoning regulations that would address hillside issues and climate resiliency goals.”

The ordinance would apply to new developments, major remodels of existing homes and property additions of 500 square feet or more. It would not require homeowners to alter their existing properties or apply the new rules to minor renovations.

Nevertheless, the rules sparked pushback from hillside residents, and many spoke out at Tuesday’s meeting. The council chambers filled immediately at 2 p.m. and public comment was cut off after 90 minutes, while dozens of additional speakers–both in support and in opposition–were left hanging outside City Hall.

“I’m a homeowner in the Hollywood Hills and I oppose the Wildlife Ordinance,” said Brandon Williams. “This is going to greatly impact private property rights, this will greatly impact the value of property.”

The most controversial aspect is a requirement that proposed new buildings and additions, including basements, cannot total more than 50% of a lot’s square footage. The goal is to preserve natural habitat and ensure there are enough wildlife corridors for mammals such as bobcats and mountain lions to pass through.

  • In this photograph provided by the National Park Service, a...

    In this photograph provided by the National Park Service, a female mountain lion kitten is shown in Simi Hills, northwest of Los Angeles, Thursday May 18, 2023. National Park Service (NPS) biologists announced mountain lion P-77 recently gave birth to three female kittens in the Simi Hills, in the Santa Monica and Santa Susana Mountain ranges. (National Park Service via AP)

  • A proposed Wildlife District in the Hollywood Hills/Bel Air Hills...

    A proposed Wildlife District in the Hollywood Hills/Bel Air Hills aims to protect critters and restrict mansionization in the hilly neighborhoods between Griffith Park and the 405. Homes in the Bel Air area next to Stone Canyon Reservoir Monday, June 19, 2023. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • A bird flys over as Steven Garcia of the Tongva...

    A bird flys over as Steven Garcia of the Tongva during the celebration of life for the wild mountain lion who died, famous P-22 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 4, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • A proposed Wildlife District in the Hollywood Hills/Bel Air Hills...

    A proposed Wildlife District in the Hollywood Hills/Bel Air Hills aims to protect critters and restrict mansionization in the hilly neighborhoods between Griffith Park and the 405. Homes in the Bel Air area along Beverly Glen Blvd. on Monday, June 19, 2023. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Hollywood Sign sits above hilly neighborhoods between Griffith Park...

    The Hollywood Sign sits above hilly neighborhoods between Griffith Park and the 405. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Many homeowners are opposed to the square footage limit in general and are frustrated that basements count towards the total.

“Many of homeowners have their life savings tied up in their land value and capping below-ground buildable square footage–which does not harm wildlife in a meaningful way–would be devastating to their property values and put many of them in challenging financial positions,” said Archie Obani, a Santa Monica Mountains resident.

Paul Edelman of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy called the ordinance a “godsend” during the meeting and said that the ecosystem in the area is “on life support.”

“This area is a scientific treasure and in order to keep the ‘commons’ alive, and to keep it functioning, all the landowners have to chip in a little bit,” he said, referring to the requirement that property owners only develop half of their lot’s square footage.

Edelman also told the Daily News it’s important to count basement square footage as part of the total limit, because basements can cause soil degradation, harm tree roots and alter the grading of a mountain slope.

The ordinance also calls for a 45-foot building height limit; fences that allow small animals to pass through and don’t harm large animals; tinted windows that prevent birds from flying into them; requirements to plant native trees and vegetation; and a ban on grading land at more than a 45-degree angle.

Other homeowners agreed with environmentalists and shared their support for the ordinance.

“This ordinance will keep L.A. on track to meet its environmental goals, maintain our city’s position as a model for urban sustainability and will make homeowners like me very happy,” said Andrew Weston, a Sherman Oaks resident.

Councilmember John Lee was the only member of the PLUM Committee who was hesitant to send the ordinance to City Council as written and made a motion to send it back to the Planning Department for further study. His motion did not get a second vote and Lee then voted in favor of sending the ordinance to the City Council.

Former Council District 5 Councilmember Paul Koretz, who initiated the process to draft a Wildlife Ordinance in 2014, expressed a sense of urgency in moving it forward.

“We’ve already lost some critical (wildlife) passageways during this 10-year period,” said Koretz, referring to the time the ordinance has been in development. Koretz urged committee members to “take actual legislative action now, to protect the next generation of wildlife.”

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