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Charlotte Laws
Member of the 
Greater Valley Glen Council

21781 Ventura Blvd., Suite 633
Woodland Hills, CA 91364
Tel.  818.346.5280
Fax.  818.985.1690

drlaws@roadrunner.comt

Photo of Charlotte Laws in March 2005

Los Angeles Mansionization Proposal

By Charlotte Laws


Some residents of Southern California hope to establish moratoriums and anti-mansionization ordinances. Many want these rules to be based on aesthetic values and specific to a limited geographical location. Dr. Laws disagrees with this approach. To get a full sense of her perspective, read her article Much Ado About McMansions in the L.A. Daily News on Sunday, August 14, 2005.

Following are her recommendations regarding the mansionization of Los Angeles.  This proposal--which many call a "compromise"--is based solely on objective (rather than subjective) factors.

1. Three-story homes should not be allowed due to the daylight and privacy deprivation for adjacent homes except in areas that already have a preponderance of three story dwellings (to be determined by the L.A. Planning Commission with input from the City Councilmember and the Neighborhood Council of the area).

2. There should be no size restrictions for one-story homes. There is no negative impact for nearby homeowners when a one-story home encompasses a large portion of a lot.

3. When a two-story house is constructed, its total square footage, including garage, should not be more than 60 percent of the lot size unless the second-story home owner complies with at least a 10 foot set-back from the side (adjoining) property lines for all second-story additions which exceed the 60 percent limit. Permission from the adjoining homes (at the side yards) is grounds for a variance. This is to assist the neighboring homes with access to daylight and privacy.

What do these numbers mean? A two-story home on a 50 x 120 lot (6000 square foot lot) including garage could be no more than 3600 square feet unless the owner/builder provides all second story additions in excess of this 60 percent with at least a 10 foot setback from the side (adjoining) property lines. 

If the first floor (including garage) totals 1800 square feet and the second story totals 1800 square feet (thus equaling the 60 percent amount), any further second-story additions would be placed ten feet from the side (adjoining) property lines. 

Much of the concern residents have is over the prospect that contractors may eventually build to the maximum allowed by law. This is rarely done, but anti-mansionization advocates want to make sure rules are established so that this issue will not arise in the future. If a homeowner of developer honors the ten foot side setbacks (as advocated in this proposal) and still wishes to eliminate most of his backyard (as long as he is in accordance with building requirements), then he should have this right. Neighbors will not be severely impacted because much of their privacy and daylight will be retained.

4. If one (or more) second-story window(s) is added on the side(s) that adjoin other residential properties (where the side yards are located), the neighbor with the second-story window must give a $1500 fee per window to each impacted neighbor. The money could be put towards the cost of privacy plants and watering (or spent as the impacted neighbor wishes). The privacy fee would be transferred to the neighbor by the Department of Building and Safety when the permits are obtained. 

The owner/builder should also be encouraged (or mandated) to add privacy plants on the side of the fence in which the new additions are being built. 

5. Developers and homeowners who wish to build or add a second story to their single family residences should be encouraged to present their pre-construction ideas to local councils. This opens the dialogue and lets stakeholders know they have an input on the direction of their community.

Complicated "Death of Common Sense" rules should be avoided. This proposal is meant to be easy for plan checkers, contractors and homeowners to understand and apply citywide. 

These rules may seem lax to those who fight so hard for neighborhood "integrity" and "character," yet stringent to libertarians and builders who feel they should not be restricted in any way. Mansionization is likely to be a long-term trend, so we had better prepare ourselves for it.

Please email any questions or suggestions to our office at drlaws@adelphia.net  Or post them on Charlotte's Blog.