Sustainability takes center stage as the City of Los Angeles ushers in a new era with three new and, to some Angelenos, controversial ordinances mandating all-electric buildings, ridgeline protection, and wildlife preservation. While the City’s residents generally support embracing a greener future and responsible urban development, there are concerns by some homeowners and stakeholders that in its rush to address climate change, biodiversity, and wildlife protection, the City may be overstepping its bounds.
All-Electric Building Ordinance
Last year, in a significant stride towards sustainability, the City of Los Angeles passed All-Electric Building Ordinance No. 187714, requiring all new construction within city limits to be fully electric. The new ordinance mandates all new buildings and residences be equipped with all-electric systems.
The ordinance, which took effect in April of this year, marks a significant shift away from gas-powered appliances and systems such as stoves and cooktops, heaters, dryers, furnaces, water heaters, and fireplaces. New gas hookups and the piping of natural gas or propane for any of these uses are now prohibited.
While the new all-electric requirement promises to reduce indoor air pollution and pave the way for a greener future, some homeowners are wary of the implications on their utility bills. As electricity takes center stage, it’s only natural to anticipate higher electric costs in the future.
The mandate does offer an exemption for restaurants, allowing them to retain gas-powered cooking appliances. However, for other new development projects, the City remains steadfast in promoting an all-electric approach to new residential and commercial buildings.
For homeowners who prefer gas cooking, all hope is not necessarily lost, as the ordinance can potentially be amended through engagement with local City Council members. By voicing their concerns and advocating for an amendment to permit gas cooking for residential spaces, homeowners can influence the trajectory of the ever-evolving energy landscape. Still, they must speak up or risk their interests going unrecognized.
Ridgeline Protection Ordinance
The proposed Ridgeline Protection Ordinance No. 11-1441-S1 sets forth regulations to safeguard ridgeline areas’ natural beauty and integrity, mandating new setback, height, and grading limits. The pilot area for the ordinance would cover approximately 4,500 parcels, bordered by the 405 Freeway, Laurel Canyon, the Mulholland corridor, and Sunset Boulevard.
The ordinance creates a Ridgeline Protection (RP) Supplemental Use District (SUD) consisting of two levels of protection referred to as Ridgeline Protection Level 1 (RP1) and Ridgeline Protection Level 2 (RP2). RP1, the more restrictive of the two, aims to protect the physical integrity of ridgelines, with location and height limitations of new developments; RP2 imposes height limits on new developments to preserve the visual integrity of ridgelines.
The ordinance doesn’t apply the Ridgeline Protection SUD to any specific property but instead provides the regulations that can be applied to ridgeline zones via Community Plan updates or targeted zone changes. Likewise, these proposed regulations aim to foster a harmonious coexistence between urban development and the surrounding ridgeline environment.
Key among the ordinance’s provisions is the restrictions applied to structures within 50 feet horizontally and vertically from a ridgeline. With a dedication to preserving the visual integrity of the City’s ridgelines, the maximum height of structures within these zones will be limited to 18 feet. Similarly, the ordinance will introduce further setbacks and grading requirements to ensure a more sustainable approach to development.
Although the ordinance will apply only to new developments and not existing structures, some homeowners have expressed concerns about the impact and scope of the regulations. The classification of all parcels in the pilot area as RP1, without the inclusion of RP2, has caused frustration among residents who believe their parcels are incorrectly classified. There is also concern about the potential negative impact on current homeowners, including resale value, financing, and restrictions on repairing or rebuilding their homes.
The proposed ordinance had its first public hearing on June 17, 2021, where stakeholders and residents had the opportunity to voice their insights and concerns. The ordinance must now go before the Los Angeles City Planning Commission and the Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) before going to the City Council for final approval.
Wildlife District Ordinance
The proposed Wildlife District Ordinance No. 14-0518, first introduced in 2014 by City Councilman Paul Koretz, seeks to limit the environmental impact of new developments around the Santa Monica Mountains and Griffith Park to protect and preserve the City of Los Angeles’s natural resources, native biodiversity, ecosystems, and wildlife connectivity.
The proposed ordinance would regulate standards for lot sizes (structures cannot cover more than half the total square footage on a property), trash enclosures, and fences; it would also set lighting requirements. The ordinance includes limits on impervious surfaces by counting such features into the total calculation of lot coverage; these surfaces include hardscapes, sport courts, and more.
In addition, a structure’s basement area is included in the maximum residential floor area allowed. In addition to new height limitations, the ordinance also seeks to lessen the impact of landform alterations and soils by prohibiting grading on slopes exceeding a 100% natural grade, counting grading activities currently exempt from the calculation of grading maximums.
The ordinance will increase the types of trees that qualify for enhanced protection and impose additional tree planting requirements when removing existing trees. Planting invasive plants will be prohibited while planting native plants will be required along with new developments. Additionally, bird-safe glass treatments will be mandatory for areas over 40 square feet to help reduce bird strikes on windows.
The proposed ordinance will apply to new construction; major remodels with R1 and R2 zones will be exempted from the lot coverage standards. Furthermore, rebuilding non-conforming structures damaged or destroyed by a natural disaster will not qualify as new construction or a major remodel project.
Any development projects within wildlife resource zones or their buffers would require a biological assessment of the site and may be subject to a site plan review. Moreover, projects over a certain size or in proximity to identified resources will have to apply for a site plan review.
Although the boundaries of the proposed wildlife ordinance apply only to the area in and around the Santa Monica Mountains and Griffith Park, it is anticipated that once the ordinance goes into effect, other areas within the City of Los Angeles will be subjected to its restrictions.
Supporters and wildlife advocates claim that development in these areas has long been unchecked and unsustainable for many reasons, including wildfire risk. Opponents contend that easement requirements and deed restrictions will upend home values and property rights and decimate the local housing market.
RLB Architecture is a high-end architecture and design firm that provides custom design, planning, drafting, and construction administration services for projects in the Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Malibu, Santa Monica, and other Westside communities. Richard L. Blumenberg is the proprietor.
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