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Venice Update

News of Venice, CA and Marina del Rey CA

Dufay Critiques Mass, Scale, Character Report


Note: A group of Venetians, made up of homeowners, architects, businessmen, miscellaneous residents, have been working on a plan for two years, as an ad hoc committee of the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC). Their purpose is to define mass, scale, and character for future buildings in Venice without disrupting the Venice Specific Plan and without overlapping the RecodeLA that is presently ongoing.

Public comment to this document, which when or if incorporated, will change the looks of Venice. There will be two more public comment meetings before the document is introduced to the Venice Neighborhood Council in May. First public comment meet will be Thursday (28 April), 7:30 to 9:30 pm at Foursquare Church, 1400 Riviera Ave, 90291; second public comment meet will be Monday (2 May), 7:30 to 9:30 pm at Vera Davis Center, 610 California Ave, 90291.

Dufay has gone thru the 30 pages, word for word and has made his comments. They are reprinted here to help the reader understand. Dufay is a long-time Venice resident plus he was one of the first members of the VNC Land Use and Planning Committee. These are his comments to the committee that he has allowed to be printed here.

By Darryl Dufay, a long-time Venice resident who is concerned

Thirteen years ago our Venice Canals Construction committee met for over nine months to address the increasing mass and scale of new construction. We labored with diagrams, descriptions, and figures to address what we sought to change. Good intentions and efforts could not prevent it fading away.

We learned that being too wordy is non-productive when dealing with the LA Planning and Zoning Department and the Coastal Act of 1976’s Venice Specific Plan, with its dual-jurisdictional authority of the State and City. We learned other valuable lessons of unintended consequences. You can stifle architectural creativity by imposing unnecessary restraints, and worse, get unintended cloned “boxes.”

I have read the thirty pages of the Draft Report. It appears you are heading down a path of micromanagement with a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) that challenges credulity and would result in excessive real estate prices. Hopefully the report can re-focus to address oversized construction while providing adequate living space through a more balanced presentation.

The City of Los Angeles has had an aversion to dealing with the Coastal Zone and Hillside areas. Years ago I attended the first meeting on Mansionization in the San Fernando Valley. I asked why the Coastal Zone, which is our Venice community west of Lincoln Blvd., was not included. I was told they would get around to that later.

Your Section 6.1. p. 4, and Appendix B.
The City’s original June 29, 2008, “Baseline Mansionization” ordinance, excluded the Venice Coastal Zone and Hillside areas. The upcoming proposed changes before the City Planning Commission on May 12, 2016, are underwhelming. The lack of involvement with the Venice Coastal Zone continues. In the Hillside area there are items dealing with a basement, hillside grading, and a ceiling higher than 14 feet counting as twice the square footage of the area. I assume this “14 feet” item would apply in the Venice Coastal Zone.

For the Venice Coastal Zone, there is reference to “Coastal Zone Residential Floor Area” in Section 12.21.1 A of the Municipal Code: For RA, RE, RS, and R1 Zoned properties in a Coastal Zone not located in a Hillside Area, as defined in Section 12.03 of this Code, the total Floor Area contained in all the main buildings on a lot shall not exceed three times the Buildable Area of the Lot. How does this apply to your Draft Report?

Question and Observation
1. Have you reviewed the LA City Planning and Zoning Code for R1, single-family homes? For example: In the RW1 Venice Canals community, Section 12.08.5, where I live, there are important areas in the Code related to front, side, and rear yards, “open spaces,” etc.

2. How does the City of Los Angeles act toward Mansionization in areas outside of the Venice Coastal Zone? I suggest you review the City of Los Angeles Zoning File, Effective Date: March 25, 2015. Z.I. No. 2443, 
Interim Control Ordinance (ICO) for 15 Neighborhood Conservation Areas. It is informative and eye opening to see how they handled Area 14, East Venice, which is east of Lincoln Blvd. In spite of dozens of words in the opening four “Whereas,” which have sweeping reference to construction, massing, etc., there was nothing of substance for East Venice. You should not be surprised if this attitude continues for the Venice Coastal Zone, especially if the proposals are not reasonable.

4. The Task, p.2
4.2 “Both Plans [VSP and LUP] specifically require that all new developments in the [Venice] Coastal Zone “be compatible in character with the existing community” (VSP Section 3.F), and that they “respect the scale and character of community development . . . (with respect to bulk, height, buffer and setback)” (LUP Policy 1.E.2. Scale). Clearly the Venice originators of both Plans expected these three terms to be interpreted and applied.”

The reality is that neighborhoods are not static and change over time and never more than in the Venice Coastal Zone over the last forty years since the Coastal Act of 1976. The question then becomes whether or not the VSP and LIP are interpreted as static and not changing and new developments must be the same or should they reflect changes. Currently, City Planning reviews each permit and in the dual-jurisdictional area along the coast the review is by the Coastal Commission. Each requested permit has references to the previous permits granted and why this permit should or should not be granted. This reflects changes and precedence driven by the dynamics of the real estate market.

4.3. You stated there are three factors ignored by past Land Use and Planning Committees (LUPC) and the City Planning Department. You consider their actions as too subjective. What is not clear is there are four listed. Your concerns are prior LUPCs and City Planning. You state you are remedying their purported “subjectivity” and yet have ended up with what seems is an equally “rigid” Draft Report. Yes, there are glaring examples of over size construction in coastal Venice. The solution is realistic proposals, which are workable.

5. Definitions, p. 3
5.2. “… a building’s relationship to humans.” What does this phrase mean?

6. Scale, p. 4
6.1 “The [Venice] Coastal Zone is one of the areas of the City with no FAR limits for single family dwellings whatsoever.” The reason for that is that coastal Venice is a unique community with special characteristics and needs. This one size FAR 4.5 approach is not appropriate for the Venice Coastal Zone.

6.3. Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of .45. What will be the effect of this FAR on the substandard lots, less than fifty feet wide that are so characteristic of our Venice coastal area? What will be the effect of your Draft Report on our Venice community that has had a dramatic changed in increased real estate values, a need for larger family homes, a finite number of desirable lots located close to the ocean, and was once known for its cheap rents in very small homes, which no longer exist?
Appendix D: Lot Sizes, FAR’s and Incentives, p.22.

The FAR .45, even with incentives, makes no sense in the Venice Coastal Zone. The buildable square footage is affected by required side yards, required “open spaces,” required front and rear yard setbacks, an attached garage, and current allowable heights under the Venice Specific Plan and Los Angeles Planning and Zoning Code.

This one size FAR .45 is overly restrictive and arbitrary, and does not address the legitimate needs of the Venice community to ameliorate the oversized construction that is taking place.

I live in the Venice Canals and here is how it applies. We have 375 lots facing on the water. 95%+ are 30 feet wide and 90 or 95 feet deep. Lot square footage is 2,700 to 2,850. Using your chart for New Structures, the maximum possible FAR .45, including incentives, for a lot size of 2,700 square feet is 1,458 square feet. This is punitive and unrealistic. This is barely enough square footage for a single story home let alone for two stories to meet the needs of families with children and provide space to enjoy one’s own home.

The present cost of land in Venice makes this FAR uneconomical. Based on current construction costs and land values it would drive up real estate prices and stifle needed construction.

Oh, and by the way there is a much easier and acceptable path than a one size FAR to accomplish what you want to do!

7. Mass, p.5
Building Heights: Why are they not included in this discussion? They are in the Venice Specific Plan. You refer to height in 4.2 as part of the LUP. They should be part of a Mass, Scale and Character discussion.

The following sections demonstrate “micromanagement,” except for 7.3.

7.2 Why are entrances not allowed where the owner wants them? We have many homes with entrances off the side yard.

7.3 Roof access structures. Agree to their elimination.

7.4.1 – 7.4.3 Facades, etc. A general statement about the value of facades would suffice.

7.51 – 7.5.3 Recommendations: Mass: Voluntary Incentives.

7.5.3.a On what criteria was a 40% window-to-wall ratio on each floor of the front façade arrived at?

7.5.3.b Criteria for 20% of the front façade of a different material. How was 20% arrived at?

7.5.3.c – 7.5.5 Balconies and Porches.

Definition of Neighborhood, p.13
8.4 – 8.5 Since when does a block make a neighborhood? The Venice neighborhoods already exist and they are not single blocks.

Recommendation: Neighborhood Character for Rebuilding or Remodeling. p.13
You state that Character is “not a quantifiable.” Yet, in 8.6 – 8.6.3, you lay out a detail development of an Excel “Streetscape.” Then, you reference comparing its contents against new development. Who makes the comparison and on what criteria? Very confusing and encourages lack of clarity.

I look forward to your updated Draft Report, which will be brought before the Venice Neighborhood Council for discussion and review.

Thank you for the opportunity to reply to your very extensive Draft Report,

Comment (1)

  1. Darryl u are WONDERFUL. U made it so simple for me to understand. Sometimes I wonder. if these people have an agenda. They ar e trying to re-ivent the wheel. Thank you for Rita to publish ur explanation. I have been attending most of these meetings by the city. There pipe line is not what Sue’s committee is focusing on.

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