The Battle Rages On
Community Meeting on Mansionization Sparks Controversy
June 25, 2015
By Lynne Bronstein
A standing-room-only congregation of community members gathered in a meeting room at Veteran's Auditorium on June 14 to discuss "mansionization" in Culver City and what to do about it. Before the meeting was over, it was apparent that this issue will be the subject of a long and contentious fight.
The meeting became rowdy, with people talking out of turn, often talking at the same time and arguing, despite efforts by moderator Iain Gulin to keep things civil.
The meeting, organized by Carlson Park resident Gulin, was scheduled even before last week's City Council vote against a moratorium on building new homes in Culver City, a strategy favored by anti-mansionization activists.
Mansionization is defined as "replacing older homes with bigger homes that are out of scale with the homes around them."
Gulin began the meeting with a slide show and lecture on mansionization, showing photos of recently built homes and homes under construction that are conspicuously larger than other homes on their streets.
Emphasizing that he and other activists are not against development or home improvement, Gulin noted that "We are for homeowners' rights. We are pro-business for responsible development.
"Our goal is not to prevent homeowners from removing and adding to their homes. It's to respect our neighbors' right to privacy."
It is an issue, said Gulin, of neighbors having the right to not having their air, light, views, and privacy violated by immense structures.
Before Gulin was even finished with his lecture, some developers in the audience were loudly decrying action against building large homes.
"What about property values?" they shouted. "You stop building and property values will plummet!"
Gulin asked the opponents to wait for the end of his lecture before voicing their comments.
What about values? Gulin explained that property values go up due to speculation during "land grabs." Culver City has seen a building boom due to people wanting to live there because of the city's positive aspects-good schools, parks, sense of community.
In the period of 2012-2013, the city issued seven permits for new homes. In the time frame of 2014-2015, 18 permits have been issued. "That's a 150 per cent increase," said Gulin.
He cited a number of communities in the Los Angeles area that have already passed temporary moratoriums-and he stressed that these are temporary. The idea is to halt building of new large homes until regulations can be put in place to control the problems.
Changes to zoning codes are needed. Culver City's zoning codes are probably out of date, said Gulin. Furthermore, he doubted that City Council members are familiar with the codes.
And Culver City does not have a FAR (Floor Area Ratio) provision in place. Floor Area ration is the ratio of square footage divided by that of the land square footage.
Meghan Sahli-Wells, one of the two council members who voted in favor of the moratorium (the other was Jim Clarke) was present at the meeting. She said that the next step would be "going to the Planning Commission.
"Talk to the Planning Commission. Keep giving input. Talk to your neighbors."
The meeting turned to public comment and soon became noisy as people either aired long-held grievances about oversized properties too close to their own homes for comfort, or spoke in favor of having the freedom to build to one's own aesthetics and needs.
Those who spoke to the latter view however, were frequently shouted down by anti-mansionization residents.
Some residents spoke quietly and rationally about the issue.
Sarah Hartley, an architect and urban planner, said the problem is not having a FAR regulation in Culver City.
"When you study zoning law, you realize that it was developed for the greater good. It was not developed so you could take advantage of people."
Hartley suggested the city could use a good land use lawyer.
Ann Tower wanted to see "tasteful renovation. Gigantic size concerns us."
Several builders in the room continued to shout their opposition, repeating that property values would decrease and that people should have the right to make their own choices about home design and not have to be dictated to by others.
As the meeting neared an end Gulin discussed future options. He urged people to continue to talk to neighbors and to city officials. He urged people to attend City Council meetings, sign up for public comment, and turn out in large numbers to convince the council to re-agendize the mansionization issue.