The L.A. City Administrative Office (CAO) is proposing an 18,000 percent increase in the cost of filing an appeal to the City Zoning Administrator from the current $89 to $16,097.
The City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) was scheduled to review the CAO proposals at its April 6 meeting, but that meeting was cancelled. (City Council File 09-0969-S3). The CAO’s “Comprehensive Fee Update” was initially scheduled to be considered by the PLUM in early February but has been continued at every meeting since.
A number of neighborhood councils and resident groups have filed comments on the CAO’s “Comprehensive Fee Update.”
On March 26, the Pacific Palisades Community Council sent a letter to PLUM board members, with a cc to Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Mike Bonin.
PPCC wrote: “The Westside Regional Alliance of Councils opposes the proposal by the City’s Chief Administrative Officer (Rich Llewellyn) to raise the fee for a citizen (or a community group, such as an HOA) to file an appeal of any city land use (or Building & Safety) decision, from the current $89 to the discriminatory amount of $16,097. This amount has no basis in reality and will prohibit the majority of stakeholders in the City of Los Angeles from having meaningful access to any city land use appeal procedure. We urge the PLUM Committee to reject the proposal of the City’s Chief Administrative Office to raise the appeal fee as referenced above.”
Why would the City consider a fee hike that would basically stop appeals?
A letter written by resident Thomas Donovan in 2017, and which has now, in April 2021, been submitted to the Council File, explains why that increase is unfair.
“On 8/7/17, the L.A. City Administrative Officer recommended that appeals fees regarding land use decisions by the Planning Department be raised from $89 to $13,538. This is against Planning’s recommendation that it be raised only to $271.
“This increase appears to be designed to eliminate most if not all non-applicant appeals of Planning decisions. At the least, it is a negotiating tactic to increase appeal fees to an unfair level. This is similar to a poll tax enacted to prevent certain citizens from voting.
“I served on the WLA Area Planning Commission from 2009 to 2016 and I can aver that many appeals to the WLA APC were made because of deviations from City law by the Planning Department. This is why many appeals were granted by the WLA APC during my tenure. The proposed fees will effectively deprive residents of the right to seek redress for unjust planning decisions. This is an anathema to the democratic process and a significant attack on the rights of non-wealthy City residents.”
Highlands resident Harris Leven said in an April 14 email to CTN that “Tom’s letter is as valid now as it was in August 2017.” He added his experience fighting the Highlands eldercare project.
“The Zoning Administrator’s decision approving the project was issued on January 26, 2018, and appeals had to be filed within fifteen days or in the eldercare project’s case by February 12, 2018 (because February 10 was a Saturday),” Leven said.
“It would have been impossible for the residents of the Highlands to raise $13,538 or $16,097 or any four or five digit amount within 15-17 days to be able to file an appeal. After the initial hearing at the DCP (Department of City Planning) citizens would have been excluded from the process.
“Although the Zoning Administrator’s decision has yet to be overturned in whole or in part, and the case is now pending at the 2nd District Court of Appeals under the leadership of the PPRA, the appeals and litigation have resulted in some amazing revelations about the City’s planning and land use reviews.”
Leven noted that some of the details regarding City Planning had been reported in Circling the News, but “the overarching story gleaned from thousands of pages of City employee emails is that of a City Department (the DCP) and a Zoning Administrator that issued entitlements without checking to see if the project complied with even the most basic provisions of the City’s Planning and Zoning Code.
“In short, since early 2018 PPRA and the public have been doing the City’s work, and that won’t occur if the appeal fee for persons other than Applicants is raised significantly,” Leven said.
I agree that the residents have been doing the city’s work and the fee increase proposal is outrageous. We appealed a project next to us that was so egregious it seemed that the planning committee were either in the pocket of the developer or just completely overwhelmed and didn’t read it. We still have a monstrosity being built next to us but did get some things corrected. It is very difficult to read and understand the plans and codes without experience. The number of appeals may have gone up considering what developers are doing these days. Perhaps the planning committee should consider that this reflects that the citizens are not happy with what is happening in their city as opposed to reflexively trying to eliminate them with fees.