An important and interesting hearing is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on Thursday, March 12, in the L.A. County Superior Court in Norwalk.
The hearing will pit the Pacific Palisades Residents Association, Inc. (PPRA) against the City of Los Angeles, the California Coastal Commission and Rony Shram, representing Palisades Drive LP, regarding Shram’s proposed eldercare project in the Highlands. Judge John Torribio will hear the case.
“This case is about is the City’s abdication of its responsibility to thoroughly examine this Project and apply its Code, any precedents and the state’s laws and regulations before granting any approvals or entitlements,” PPRA attorneys argue in the Reply to the City’s and Mr. Shram’s Opposition to Petitioner’s Opening Brief.
The briefs make it clear this is not about building an eldercare facility, but rather about the City not following its own Codes about allowable size of the proposed building and about other aspects of the project.
The L.A. City Planning Department approved the Palisades Highlands eldercare facility proposed by developer Shram, but on April 18, 2019–the morning the project went before the West L.A. Planning Commission on appeal–emails showed that Associate Zoning Administrator Henry Chu had discovered that the project was too big per code [it exceeds the allowed sq. footage by 10,793 sq. ft.*].
Chu sent an email to the Chief of Development Services at the Dept. of Building and Safety Charmie Huynh saying, “There’s an eldercare project in the Pacific Palisades area that’s going to appeal tonight [April 18]. One of the things the applicant, Kevin McDonell [attorney for the developer Shram] mentioned was that he was told by either the counter or case management that in determining the floor area allowed, the lot area could be considered as the buildable area. The property is zoned C1. . .I was looking through the Code and the definition section and couldn’t find anything for such. (The definition section did not state the C1 zone in which lot area could be considered as buildable area). If there is a section in the Code that states this, and if so, could you point me to it?”
Huynh replied 40 minutes later: “12.03 definition for buildable area allows only the C2, C4 and C5 zones to consider lot area as buildable area. C1 zone is not included. I checked our case management file and looked through the meeting minutes of their pre-development meeting. It states that they understood that buildable area for C1 Zone is lot minus setbacks.”
Chu then sent an email to the developer’s lawyer alerting him of the findings, and also to Oscar Medellin, a Deputy City Attorney in the Land Use Division of the City Attorney’s office.
Neither Chu nor Medellin spoke about the code violation when the West L.A. Commissioners voted 3-0 to overrule the appeal. Commissioners were given an 1,813-page document to read before the hearing.
PPRA wants the court to reverse the City’s mistake in allowing a building that is 20 percent bigger than allowed by code.
To keep the larger size, the City and Shram now argue that the eldercare facility will be a combination of residential and commercial uses in order for LAMC 12.22.A.18 (c)(3) to apply. That section states, “No yard requirements shall apply to the residential portions of buildings located on lots in the CR, C1, C1.5, C2, C4, and C5 Zones used for combined commercial and residential uses, if such portions are used exclusively for residential uses, abut a street, private street or alley, and the first floor of such buildings at ground level is used for commercial uses or for access to the residential portions of such buildings.”
But PPRA points out that the proposed building has residential rooms on the first floor that make the City’s and Mr. Shram’s argument invalid, according to a longstanding legal interpretation in the City’s own Zoning Manual.
PPRA states that if for some reason the City wants to view the project as part commercial property, then the building would also be required to have one off-street parking space for each 500 sq. ft of floor area and at 64,646 sq. ft., the project would need 130 on-site parking spaces (it currently has 66 parking spaces for the facility’s 82 rooms).
Additionally, PPRA argues that the project was improperly granted a Class 32 exemption from CEQA because it incorrectly defines an “infill site.”
A site is considered “infill” if the site has parcels with qualified urban uses on them around its entire perimeter or if the site adjoins parcels with qualified urban uses around 75 percent of its perimeter and parcels that had qualified urban uses on them at one time around the remaining 25 percent. Immediately west of the site is the City’s Santa Ynez Canyon Park, which occupies 27.3 percent of the total perimeter.
Another City error, according to PPRA, is allowing an outdoor pool and a pool deck area on the first floor and an outdoor activity area on the third level deck. LAMC §12.13.A.2(b)(2) prohibits outdoor activities in a C1 Zone. The pool and deck could be enclosed, but that would increase the building size, which is already too large by code.
*(Editor’s note: The calculation of Buildable Area under LAMC section 12.03 is simple arithmetic. The gross lot size is 43,097 square feet, which, after deducting 7,195 square feet of required setback yards, equals 35,902 square feet of net Buildable Area. Multiplying by a 1.50 FAR, the facility would be limited to 53,853 square feet (i.e., 35,902 x 1.5)–about 10,793 square feet less than the 64,646 approved by the City.)