The Los Angeles Department of City Planning is updating the city’s housing plan without the participation or full knowledge of many of its residents, especially in the Westchester/Playa del Rey area, according to some Playa del Rey and Westchester residents.

A recent notice to residents of West Los Angeles announced the first local public workshop for this housing element update, on Thursday, April 24th — for which public comment closed just days later — Wednesday, April 30th — scant time to respond to or understand the impact of this wide-ranging plan.

Nate Kaplan, communications deputy for Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, said hard copies of the Housing Element update were available in March and were placed in both the Westchester and West Los Angeles council offices, along with flyers for the community workshops.

All of the Neighborhood Councils were notified through the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) list that the city planning department utilizes, said Kaplan.

The full draft is available on the Department of City Planning Web site, and it consists of several hundred pages of information, illustrations and maps, enough to keep even the quickest reader busy for some time. To view it on the Web go to cityplanning.lacity.org and click on “Draft Housing Element Update 2006-2014.”

The invitation to attend stated, “Come to a workshop in April, your voice matters,” and “You are invited to a housing workshop in your community to review and discuss ideas for meeting Los Angeles’s housing needs” of the General Plan, the “blueprint for meeting the city’s housing needs and guiding where housing will be built across the city’s neighborhoods.”

With little to no notice, and a task force consisting of attorneys, real estate developers, other business interests, affordable housing advocates and advocates for the homeless, how much does the average homeowner’s voice really matter?

What sense does it make to force developments in areas such as Playa del Rey and Westchester and remove existing businesses to make room for affordable housing, knowing that developers want to charge the high rents they can demand because of the proximity to local beaches, rates which lower-income residents might not be able to afford?

The Housing Element draft Chapter 3, Inventory of Sites, states that “The Mayor and City Council have adopted and budgeted for an aggressive program to revise the 35 Community Plans (which together make up the city’s land use element) on a regular basis in order to implement appropriate zoning and land use incentives that will facilitate such development in each of these locations.”

So, the mayor and the City Council have an “aggressive program to revise the Community Plans any time they want to change zoning and land use incentives.” How secure does that make residents feel?

Who was on the Housing Element Task Force, you might ask. Anyone from the Westchester/Playa del Rey Neighborhood Council? No.

There is one representative from the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council and one from United Neighborhoods Council, the latter seemingly only a Web site for neighbors to link on and share information.

The task force was comprised of 48 members, with two co-chairs, one from the Department of City Planning and the other from the Affordable Housing Commission.

Companies represented on the task force included Bank of America; Van Tilburg, Banvard & Soderbergh (architects); Bet Tzedek Legal Services; Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles; Local Initiatives Support Corp.; Los Angeles Housing Partnership; Brown/Meshul Inc.; East Los Angeles Community Corp.; Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles; Fannie Mae; Strategic Action for a Just Economy; Latham and Watkins, LLP (governance implementation); Los Angeles Conservancy; Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness; Inclusive Homes; Little Tokyo Service Center; A Community of Friends; the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation; Coalition for Economic Survival; Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce (attorney from a real estate practice); a public counsel; Valley Industry and Commerce Association; California Community Reinvestment Corporation; Los Angeles Family Housing Corporation; Koning Eizenberg Architecture; Craig Lawson & Co., LLC (land use consultants); Beverly Hills/ Greater Los Angeles Association of Realtors; The Lee Group (Lee Homes pre-development/land acquisition); Paul Hastings Co. (global real estate group); Natural Resources Defense Council; Century Housing (finances affordable housing); Mercy Housing California; Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice; McCormack Baron Salazar (management of urban residential communities); Law Office of Kim Savage (housing for the disabled); Enterprise Community Partners (affordable housing); Central City Association of Los Angeles; Building Industry Association/Southern California Greater Los Angeles/Ventura Chapter; Alliance for a Livable L.A., Livable Places; Corporation for Supportive Housing; Beyond Shelter; Shelter Partnership, Inc.; AMCAL (commercial real estate); Union de Vecinos (promotes civic participation in Boyle Heights); Southland Regional Association of Realtors; and the Southern California Association of Non-profit Housing.

One of the primary issues in Playa del Rey, according to local residents, is a plan to remove the commercial/retail stores along Manchester Avenue between Gulana and Delgany Avenues, replacing them with multi-family housing for low-income people and seniors.

These businesses include Blockbuster, Dogstar, Playa Postal, Beach Pizza, Diane’s Nails, Yum Yum Donuts, a launderette, a beauty supply and others.

In addition, say residents, the city wants to construct more housing on 83rd Street where the Elks Lodge parking lot is located.

One resident, Nora MacLellan, wrote a letter to Naomi Guth, the contact for public comments on the proposed housing element.

MacLellan wrote, “Within the last few years three large apartment buildings were built, with one currently under construction. The first was at Manchester Avenue and Pershing Drive — formerly an apartment complex and restaurant (Acapulco) — replaced with a huge apartment building with much higher rental rates.”

“At Manchester and Falmouth [Avenue], we used to have a JT’s Restaurant and the Tokai Bank, now replaced with a huge apartment complex with high rental rates. The apartment complex being built on Manchester at Delgany — we used to have a lovely apartment building there — was replaced with a larger, denser, higher rental rate building.”

MacLellan also said that a 35-plus-unit condo building, which received variances because the developer is putting in “low-income” units, is being built on Manchester east of Gulana Avenue.

“Oh, they have ‘low-income units’ but I wouldn’t be surprised that the rental price of those units equals the price of the units that once were at the sites,” wrote MacLellan.

Another city-owned project that Westchester/Playa del Rey residents and businesses have to contend with is LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) also mentioned by MacLellan as “the biggie and again, the biggie.”

Her letter refers to the first expansion in the 1970s when “we lost over 14,000 residents’ homes, two schools, a couple of churches and many businesses in Westchester and Playa del Rey. Now LAX wants to move the northern runway further north from 100 to 600 feet and extend the runway further into our communities, and we will again lose more businesses in Westchester, not to mention a loss of quality of life.”

The unfortunate aspect of this housing element and the proposed reconfiguration of LAX is that the City of Los Angeles — of which Westchester and Playa del Rey are part — forces changes upon residents under the guise of business improvements for the city, ignoring the fact that the city is made up of small communities that are weary of being taken advantage of for the “greater good” of business interests in the rest of the city.

Some residents wish the City of Los Angeles looked out for its residents and businesses, as does Santa Monica, seen recently trying to regulate air traffic which some feel poses a potential danger. While we all need the services of these airports, the rights of individuals versus continued growth require recognition.

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