Minding Our Ds and Qs… What’s re:code LA really up to?

on May 08, 2014

re:code LA is a five-year project to create a new, more streamlined Zoning Code for the City of Los Angeles. Given that the current Zoning Code was adopted in 1946, the document has continually been modified by planners working to make its standards more relevant to the issues of the time. These amendments and patches have mounted over the years, to the point that over 60% of properties in the City are covered by some additional zoning overlay. Among these extra regulations are specific plans, community design overlays, and historic preservation overlay zones (in addition to many others). Although these regulations are valuable to the areas they protect, they add complexity and increased potential for conflicting standards to the development process. One of re:code LA’s key goals is to simplify the current standards, and ultimately incorporate many of the best practices found in these other regulatory documents into the base zones that apply citywide.

Given the long-term nature of the project, it is important to clarify what is and is not going to take place as part of re:code LA. Below are some common misunderstandings about re:code LA, followed by clarifications about the purpose and scope of the project.

 

Is re:code LA upzoning the City?

No. re:code LA is not upzoning the City.

re:code LA is exploring what new zoning designations might be more appropriate for the needs of a 21st century Los Angeles. Along those lines, some potential base zones might be geared toward high-rise residential development, or toward medium-density, townhouse-lined streets. Others might focus on rural, equine-friendly communities or on the preservation of existing neighborhood characteristics. For example, while the zoning code will include regulations for high-rise buildings these regulations will not be applied in every neighborhood.

re:code LA will be creating a palette of new zones, but no rezoning of parcels will ever take place without the engagement of property owners and without public hearings. At that time, stakeholders will be able to offer input on which of the citywide base zones should be applied to properties in their areas. In some communities, such as Boyle Heights and Downtown, re:code LA and the community plan updates are happening simultaneously. In these locations, stakeholders might have the exciting opportunity to apply the new base zones to locations in their community. Down the road, all community plans going through an update will be able to include the new zone categories. Eventually, the current zones may no longer be needed, as they may be replaced by new zones created under re:code LA.

 

Is re:code LA rezoning all of Los Angeles?

No. re:code LA is not rezoning all of Los Angeles.

re:code LA is creating a new palette of zones that stakeholders will be able to choose from during the community planning process. Many of these new zones will be compilations of regulations that already exist in adopted specific plans, overlays, and the like. Incorporating these standards into the base zoning can improve development citywide. In some cases, where current community plan updates coincide with the re:code LA project, some of the new zones will be applied to real parcels sooner rather than later. These communities include Central City, Central City North, Boyle Heights, and the areas included in the current Transit Neighborhood Plans initiative. Any effort to apply new zones through methods other than the community plan update would take place as part of another initiative, and not through re:code LA.

 

Is re:code LA getting rid of adopted specific plans?

No. re:code LA is not getting rid of adopted specific plans.

The purpose of a specific plan is to provide an area with more customized zoning regulations that go beyond the standards established by base zoning. Most often, these targeted requirements relate to height, design, landscaping, signage, uses, and the like. In Los Angeles, there are many communities that have benefitted from standards imposed through specific plans, but there are just as many that go without the added protections they afford.

We want to learn from what we’ve done in the past. With this in mind, re:code LA will be pulling specific plan elements that are relevant citywide or in multiple areas, and incorporating them into the base zones. With these higher standards built into the base zoning, some specific plans may indeed become superfluous. During the community plan update process, stakeholders living in such specific plan areas might choose to adopt the new base zones, as these will accomplish specific plan visions by-right, and with less paperwork. Specific plans will not be going away, but we may not need as many in the future as we do now. 

 

Is re:code LA increasing density around transit?

No. re:code LA will not be increasing density around transit stations.

As Los Angeles continues to expand in population, there is a strong and increasing need to develop new housing. If we, as a City, collectively decide to maintain existing single-family neighborhoods, potential settings for denser development are limited.

Areas near transit, where residents do not necessarily need cars, are desirable locations for new housing development. Higher-density development is frequently located near transit stations because it can promote walkability and transit ridership, provide more people with close access to jobs and amenities, and decrease traffic impacts on already-congested streets. As Los Angeles embarks on the 30/10 initiative to complete 30 years’ worth of transportation infrastructure improvements in only 10 years, there is even more reason to encourage housing and lifestyle options near transit.

With transit infrastructure improvements and planning to encourage new growth near transit, we need the tools to help make this happen. re:code LA’s role is to create zones that provide the opportunities for the right kind of development in the appropriate places, such as making new development around transit more compatible in scale and character with the neighborhood. New zones for transit-adjacent areas might include gradual height stepbacks in order to provide better transitions between new development and adjacent lower-intensity buildings. New zones can also provide more targeted land use controls, meaning that development in the area will be much more predictable for neighborhood residents. While re:code LA might create zones that orient development toward transit, it will be up to community and transit neighborhood plans to apply those new zones to real parcels. re:code LA can create the ‘menu,’ but which zones to ‘order’ is decided through other planning processes.

 

What can re:code LA do about parking?

Los Angeles is gradually freeing itself of its car-centric popular image, investing in mass transit networks, expanding bike lanes, and promoting more pedestrian-friendly environments. Policymakers are also recognizing that parking is expensive, and that high parking requirements tend to translate into higher rents for residential and commercial spaces. Parking requirements can sometimes even hinder some types of new businesses (like restaurants) from opening because there may not be enough space on some lots to provide the required parking. At the same time, the City understands that some neighborhoods are not near transit or have a unique dependence on vehicular access that should be considered.

re:code LA presents an exciting opportunity to reexamine parking requirements in certain areas. Some locations, like Downtown or areas adjacent to new transit stations, might be ideal testing grounds for innovative parking practices. Among these potential approaches is the local Cornfield Arroyo Seco Specific Plan, which removes minimum parking requirements in certain areas. Such policies could positively improve streetscapes by removing the need for large surface parking lots, allowing buildings to be built much closer to the sidewalk, and improving the diversity and affordability of housing options available to residents. These types of decisions, of course, will be considered in much greater detail over the course of the project, and will be open to public input along the way. It is also worth noting that two members of the re:code LA Zoning Advisory Committee (ZAC) are recognized authorities on parking policy, and their insights over the course of the project will be integral to its success.

 

What can re:code LA do about eldercare and community care facilities in single-family neighborhoods?

City Council recently formed an Ad Hoc Committee that will explore ways to promote better design compatibility between eldercare facilities and their surroundings. In other words, these guidelines will create an additional layer of neighborhood character protection for single-family areas.

Although often likened to eldercare facilities, licensed community care facilities are regulated at the State level, while eldercare facilities are overseen locally. While it is true that community care facilities in California of six or fewer residents may locate in single-family zones, city governments have more discretion in deciding where facilities of seven or more residents may be built. The City Council Ad Hoc Committee mentioned above is currently looking into ways that Los Angeles can regulate these larger facilities.

What this all means is that while re:code LA will not directly address eldercare or community care facilities, it will be part of a broader discussion about the uses that should take place in different zones in the City.