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Damn You WeHo City Planners!!!

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While it is hard for most to understand or imagine, once you have become entrenched in the archipelagic enclave of skyscrapers and bona fide mass transit that is Manhattan Island, it is difficult to leave. For a New Yorker, geographic displacement can fester into a self-induced internalized affront (even if just for a few short days). But the compelling lure of a free trip to Los Angeles to accompany my aunt on a business trip that entailed getting wasted in Magic Castle with that guy who played Greg Brady was too much camp for me to resist.

So in February 2005, I made my first trip ever to Los Angeles. During the taxi ride to the hotel, I saw smog and bitched about the smog; I saw an oil field and bitched about the oil field; I saw lots of mid-day traffic and bitched about the traffic; and I saw women wearing shorts with furry winter boots and bitched about the shorts and furry winter boots. And when I got to our hotel near San Vicente and Sunset, I stopped bitching because I had instantly fallen in love with the City of West Hollywood (affectionately known as WeHo). I don't know if it was the view of the hills, the palm trees, the nightly battle of crickets versus nightclubs, the urban, yet uncrowded context, the cleanliness of the sidewalks, or the blatant community cohesion, but I knew immediately that it was the one and only place I wanted to call home. The rest of my WeHo love story is admittedly boring -- it entails going back to New York and selling my soul in order to be able to live in a modest condo in West Hollywood. Since then, living in WeHo has for the most part been utterly lovely...Until now....

I don't know what the hell is wrong with the city planners of West Hollywood! It is as if they have lost their minds and decided to forgo true logical thought. With seemingly little attention given to the sustainable growth paradigm, they just keep on building and building and building and building and building and building and building and building. And building. And building and building and building. Maybe they have been dabbling in some of that brain-damaging meth that is supposedly circulating around West Hollywood and are now incapable of non-compulsive construction project approval. Maybe they have some residual earthquake weather craziness that they just can't shake that is hindering their rationale. I just don't know what is going through their city-planning heads.

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And while I might be able to one day forgive them should all of this sudden construction turn out to be an okay/good/great idea, this is not what I signed up for, and I can't help but go on this "Ten Reasons to be Pissed at the WeHo City Planners in No Particular Order" Rant:

Reason #1: Inconsistency!
Sometimes the West Hollywood city planners do a great job ensuring that all residents are made fully aware that plans and permits are being obtained for a site in their immediate neighborhood and that there are hearings scheduled where residents can voice their concerns...And sometimes they just don't. In the best-case scenarios, the City of West Hollywood puts a large and timely sign on the construction site with information regarding building plans and community meetings, coupled by a multi-lingual mailing to all of the people who will be affected by the construction. But this is not a consistent norm -- the information mode-of-delivery regarding construction is always different.

Reason #2: Disenfranchisement!
Sometimes the only notice that residents are given is a barely noticeable black-and-white, English-only, on-site notice of construction with limited building details. This blatantly disenfranchises residents who do not fully understand such signs because English is not their primary language; residents who do not see such signs at all because they are living with age, illness, or medical mobility-related issues that prevent them from wandering about West Hollywood on a regular basis looking for construction intent notices; and residents who may not be aware of such signs because they do not have the sight needed to see this sort of posted notice. And if someone is a sighted, fully-mobile, English speaking resident and the notice of intent just happens to not be on their usual pedestrian route, they get disenfranchised too.

Reason #3: Senseless Disregard for Supply and Demand!
As of November 10th there are 59 residential single-family houses, 218 residential condominium units, 58 residential income/investment units, and 89 residential rental units listed on the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Multiple Listing Service for the West Hollywood area. There are also 28 rental units, one entire commercial building, 233 condominium units, ten multi-family residential properties, and 84 single-family residential houses listed with the Los Angeles Times. There are 494 rental posts, 143 apartment share posts, 83 sublet posts, and 315 real-estate for sale posts for West Hollywood on Craigslist. And the City of West Hollywood's commercial and retail for-lease listing has 30 units listed for rent. Now, of course, there is some overlap on these sites and I'm sure that there are not actually as many units available as I may have just suggested. But this certainly does not suggest that West Hollywood has a housing crisis that requires them to build even more units to meet the demand. I can easily think of at least ten construction projects within walking distance of where I live. Some are residential, some are commercial. Some are single-unit projects, most are large, or at least much larger than what is already here. But I can also think of ten unrented or unsold units within blocks of my building too.

Reason #4: I Want to Be at Home When I Get the Bad News.
West Hollywood is not very good at informing people of proposed construction projects. But even if residents are lucky enough to get wind of whatever it is that they are trying to build in their immediate neighborhood via mass-mailing, the mailings are not very informative. If a resident knows nothing about sustainable growth or urban planning, the negative consequences of construction and demolition may not occur to them. So why not give residents a heads-up and provide an impact-study fact sheet? Let us get the bad news in the comfort of our own homes so that we can decide whether or it is worth our time to show up to project hearings. If we know prior to these hearings that demolition is going to put particulate pollutants into the air, or that traffic will increase by 20 percent, or that parking will be a virtual impossibility, or that property values will go down thusly causing potential future mortgage-rate problems for all of us, the building power-paradigm might change.

Reason #5: Bad Product, Bad Idea!
Many of the construction projects planned are on busy streets with several lanes of traffic. Nobody in their right mind is going to purchase and take loving-care of a unit located at one of these proposed locations given that they can buy something that already exists and is sitting vacant on a nice, quiet side street. Nobody wants windows that over-look San Vicente or Santa Monica Boulevard's traffic patterns. Those streets are loud and smell like car fumes. Which brings me to Reason #6...

Reason #6: Overcrowding! Traffic Congestion! No Parking, But For Real This Time!
Reason #5 means that units built on those sites will be bought as investment units and then rented out to other people. And when people rent apartments in West Hollywood, they tend to share their apartments with more people that the apartment was intended to house in the first place. Which means overcrowding. Which means that there will not be enough subterranean parking in these building for everybody. Which means that there will be even more people in need of parking permits. Which means that there far less parking for everybody. And everybody in West Hollywood knows that we barely have enough as it is. And we don't even as of yet have a fucking Metro subway line over here to alleviate car congestion and fume-pollution! How did the city planners miss that one?

Reason #7: The Night-Life is Doomed!
Currently, Santa Monica Boulevard is a busy, active, commercial street that has a much-appreciated nigh-life scene. The bars and restaurants located here -- many of which are small-businesses used primarily by local residents that get grossed-out by the touristy-scene on Sunset Boulevard -- can and do get loud at night. Right now, this isn't a problem because nobody lives too close these areas and residents appreciate being able to go to a club or bar or bookshop at 11:00PM on a Wednesday night. But now that the city has given the okay-go to developers to build a few large residential mixed-use buildings right on Santa Monica, it is only a matter of time before the new residents get fed up with all of the noise, and complain, and insist on new zoning laws that prohibit and restrict the businesses that flourish there until the later hours of the evening. And we will all be forced to go home early for the night, and the small-business owners will lose some of their income, and we will be increasingly less acquainted with our neighbors, and that quintessential aspect of WeHo will die a slow and painful death.

Reason #8: Small-Business Owners Will Get Screwed Too!
New construction buildings always have higher rental and purchase price tags. So while it may be great that WeHo is getting a few mixed-use buildings, I doubt that small-business owners will be able to afford the rent. And that means that the new commercial and retail units will get rented out to big corporate businesses. We have our fair share of predicatable corporate grocery stores and cafes. We don't need any more of them. Who told the city planners it was okay to risk the futures of the smaller-businesses that are already here?

Reason #9: The Foreclosure Crisis!
There is a mortgage/foreclosure/real-estate value crisis in full swing in Southern California. Don't city planners read newspapers?

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Reason#10: The City Planners Know not to do this and are Doing it Anyway! I'm not joking. You can access an article on the city's website entitled "A Delicate Urban Balance" where it states that they know that tiny, little West Hollywood has tension issues regarding density, traffic, and parking. And yet they are approving projects that will make all of this worse.

I know that West Hollywood is working hard to create a truly economically and environmentally sustainable city. It is obvious that they are trying. But from where I stand, I don't see that happening. And I'll be damned if I'm going to end up living in an overcrowded, car-polluted, corporate-retail jungle like New York City ever again. That is not why I fell in love with West Hollywood in the first place.

Photo by highchucker via Flickr.