There’s currently a proposed project in Venice that will replace a 5-unit apartment building with a single-family home (with four parking spaces). The existing building was constructed in 1965, meaning that its demolition will result in the loss of 5 rent-stabilized units. It is worth asking how, in a city with a severe housing affordability crisis, we are getting projects that are reducing the amount of housing.
Contrary to what one might think, this outcome is exactly what we as a city have asked for through our planning and zoning. Decades of planning have been controlled by opponents of development, and have resulted in a set of policies that encourage the replacement of modest apartments with luxury single-family homes.
- It is too dense. The current zoning only allows 3 units on this lot (R3 uses are permitted in C1 zones, and R3 requires 800 SF of lot area per unit).
- The lot is too small. The current zoning requires 5,000 SF minimum lot sizes for R3 uses.
- The building setbacks are too small. The existing building is built close to the lot lines, while the current zoning requires 10’ front yards, 3’ side yards, and 15’ rear yards.
- There is not enough parking. The building appears to have 3 parking spaces for 5 units; even if they are all studios, 5 spaces would be required today. If there are tandem spots not visible from the street, they are non-conforming.
- As a 5-unit building, it falls just below the threshold for needing private open space on-site, so it does not fail on that count.
Therefore, it is not surprising at all that someone is proposing to demolish this building. Current city policy says that this building is bad and should never have been built. Buildings like this, constructed in 1965, are what helped launch the “homevoter revolution” in LA politics around 1970. Changing the zoning and community plans to stop more buildings like it was part of their goal and they succeeded. Now, 45 years hence, they are finally getting their wish that renters and apartment buildings be driven out of their neighborhoods.
If we are going to solve LA’s housing crisis, policy needs to be aligned with that goal. Much of Venice is zoned RD1.5 or R1, only allowing low density development. Denser zoning, combined with widespread use of the density bonus program, would create the opportunity to produce both the luxury units in demand by the region’s growing tech sector and the dedicated affordable housing that is needed to help prevent displacement. But as long as policy is aligned towards demolishing apartments & building single-family homes, that’s what’s going to happen.