The five-story residential and retail complex planned for La Tijera Boulevard will include 140 apartments
By Gary Walker
For Westsiders, it’s become a familiar story — developer plans project, neighbors complain it’s too big.
But in Westchester this week there came a new twist: the Los Angeles City Council getting involved and, according to one city leader, approving a project to keep it from potentially growing any bigger.
The proposal before the council on Tuesday was a five-story, 140-unit residential and retail complex at 7407 S. La Tijera Blvd., for which the Del Rey-based real estate and development firm TriCal Construction utilized a state density bonus provision.
The plans approved by council members in a 10-3 vote — Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents Westchester, among the yes votes — are for a denser project than TriCal originally proposed, but only because that initial proposal was rejected by the city Planning Commission.
The commission’s rejection, grounded in concerns about the livability of 15 proposed basement units and interference with pedestrian use of an adjacent sidewalk, opened the door for TriCal to appeal to the City Council and rethink the project, Bonin said.
Along the way, several voluntary traffic mitigation measures that were crafted to satisfy neighbors’ concerns fell by the wayside.
Planning Commission members made a “very bad, ideological decision” by rejecting the earlier TriCal proposal, Bonin said. “The commission was negotiating against my constituents.”
But a council vote against the project, Bonin concluded, would have opened the door for an even larger version.
“If the City Council rejects this project, I am thoroughly convinced the developer will come back with a ‘by-right’ project that does not need any approval from the city,” he said.
The TriCal project, near the San Diego (405) Freeway, contains 227 parking spaces and 26,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, according to documents.
More than 300 nearby residents participated in a survey that had identified density and traffic concerns.
Kimberly Fox, who lives adjacent to the project on 74th Street, said she was disheartened by the use of Senate Bill 1818 —a 2005 state law that allows density increases based on inclusion of affordable housing units, of which TriCal’s project will have 13.
SB 1818 “has become the default strategy in the city’s planning department,” said Fox.
Bonin said his office will look at ways to soften the law’s impacts but said the city doesn’t have jurisdiction over the state.
“SB 1818 is well-intentioned, poorly written and frequently abused by developers,” the councilman said.
Fox also took issue with the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa’s decision not to mention neighborhood opposition in its community impact report to the Planning Commission, and how the ingress and egress for the development will be located on 74th Street instead of on La Tijera.
“If we could have preserved one of the curb cuts on La Tijera, that would make a big difference in traffic,” Fox said.
Others, however, see the project as a benefit to the neighborhood.
“La Tijera at 74th Street is the opening gateway to Westchester, and this project provides an opportunity to make this corner visually beautiful and symbolically important to our community,” Yvonne Fok-Ginderson, who sits on the neighborhood association board of the nearby Alicante Townhomes, wrote in a letter to neighborhood council members. “This is an excellent opportunity to address housing needs in our community while also improving the aesthetics of the neighborhood.”
Fox is worried the council’s approval opened a floodgate.
“We now have a precedent for something that is inappropriate in our neighborhood,” she said.