A photo of the Downtown skyline at night.

Preliminary Draft Zoning Code Release - Introduction to the New Zoning System

on August 21, 2020

City Planning has been hard at work the last few months putting the finishing touches on the zoning regulations for the Downtown Community Plan update, and we're excited to announce the first public release of the new Zoning Code, the Preliminary Draft Zoning Code. As part of this release, we'd like to provide a quick introduction to the new zoning system we've developed to help realize the established visions in our General Plan and Community Plans.

This new draft Zoning Code is being incorporated across the Downtown Community Plan (DTLA 2040), which will be the first Community Plan Area to apply the new zoning system. The draft Downtown zones can be accessed using the story map. Following Downtown, the Boyle Heights Community Plan team will release a draft using the new Zoning Code. After Boyle Heights, the Harbor team, the Southeast and Southwest San Fernando Valley, and Westside teams will soon thereafter apply the new zoning system as part of their Community Plan update rollouts.


What is zoning? Zoning determines the size, shape, design, and location of buildings in a given area. If cities were living organisms, zoning would be their genetic code. As genes determine people’s height and eye color, zoning dictates the land use rules at the local level. Through our local zoning regulations, we are able to transform our broad policy goals into property-specific requirements. If you'd like to learn more about zoning we've written more detailed articles about what it is and the different approaches being used throughout the country.


The current zoning code is the result of decades of amendments and supplemental layers of land use regulations that were added on top of the existing regulations to achieve particular outcomes to go beyond what the prior zoning laws could accomplish. Two-thirds of properties in the City of Los Angeles are currently subject to "overlays" (shown in dark grey in the image below) — a patchwork of regulations that are applied to properties uniquely across neighborhoods and geographic areas.

In the City of Los Angeles, we are undergoing a comprehensive revision to our zoning approach, in order to craft tailored regulations that meet the diverse needs of our communities. In an effort to minimize the need for these exceptions, City Planning has developed a new and modern framework to regulate the use and development of land across the City of Los Angeles. The proposed DNA for our new zoning is comprised of five key components: Form, Frontage, Development Standards, Use, and Density.

A diagram of the new zoning system

While Form, Frontage, and Development Standards address the built environment, Use and Density refer to the allowable activities on any given site.


Form Districts determine how big buildings can be. For example, some Form Districts only allow construction of short buildings, while others permit taller ones. Form Districts are one of the ways a Community Plan can better regulate the scale of buildings along a street — establishing limitations on the size and shape of buildings.


Frontage Districts determine how a building appears from the street. Much of each neighborhood’s special character is created by our experience of a building’s relationship to its streetfront. Frontage Districts ensure that new development is consistent with the feel of a neighborhood — establishing a certain aesthetic by determining building elements, such as windows, entrances, and parking location.


Development Standards Districts regulate things like pedestrian and moter vehicle access, required parking spaces, parking design treatments, and on-site signs that differ for different parts of the City. For instance, Development Standards Districts in Downtown may not require any parking. Other Development Standards Districts may include a range of requirements for a minimum amount of parking that must be provided depending on the proposed uses.


Use Districts determine what kinds of activities are allowed on property. Each Use District regulates the kinds of uses that are permitted on a property — making it clear which have limitations and which ones need special review. For instance, one residential Use District could be designated specifically as a single-family neighborhood, while another residential Use District could also allow some limited, neighborhood-serving businesses uses--think corner markets.


Density Districts regulate the number of residential units allowed. If a site is zoned for greater density, it means more residential units can be built on that site, whereas lower-density zoning means fewer units.



The result of the new, first-of-its-kind modular approach to zoning in Los Angeles is a more responsive code that adapts itself to the wide variety of needs throughout the City. Combine the different districts in any number of ways to create tailored zoning solutions that make a community's vision a reality. As new Community Plans are developed and adopted, new zoning regulations will be developed. The first Community Plan to implement the new zoning string will be the Downtown Los Angeles Community Plan. To learn more about the Downtown Los Angeles Community Plan and the community plan update program visit our Department website.

In August 2020, City Planning published a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that addresses both the proposed Community Plan as well as the new Zoning Code. A public comment period of 75 days will be provided for those who wish to comment on the environmental analysis and conclusion of the Draft EIR.

Please note that City Planning is releasing this Preliminary Draft as it is key to comprehending the Downtown Plan implementation. We anticipate making further refinements to the Preliminary Draft of the New Zoning Code. Please stay tuned for the next version--the Public Hearing Draft of the new Zoning Code-- in the upcoming months, which will be City Planning’s proposed draft of the new Zoning Code on which we will receive most substantial public comment. In the coming months, City Planning will be soliciting feedback on and further refining the draft Downtown Community Plan and Preliminary Draft Zoning Code. This feedback will be used to make further refinements in future revised drafts. A Public Hearing will be held to solicit additional comments and feedback, after which a final draft of the new Zoning Code will be presented to the City Planning Commission.


In an effort to centralize the sources of information regarding the various planning initiatives currently underway, City Planning has been consolidating the various project websites into our official Department website. While some of the material from this project website has been carried over, the team has been working with our IT staff in preparing a new location for you to obtain the latest information for this project. Please keep an eye out for future updates letting you know when our project officially migrates to the Department website.