Basic Land Use Rules
The City of Los Angeles General Plan and the Northeast Community Plan
The overarching planning document for any California city is its general plan. California law requires the preparation of the general plan. The General Plan consists of ten citywide elements such as housing, transportation, public facilities, air quality, etc. The eleventh General Plan Element is Land Use. The Land Use rules for various parts of the City are set forth in many Community Plans. Thus, each Community Plan is regarded as part of the Land Use element of the City of Los Angeles’s General Plan.
Here is a screenshot of the City of Los Angeles home page for the General Plan:
The City of Los Angeles General Plan can be found on the City’s Planning Department website. Mount Washington is located within the Northeast Community Plan. For major research projects regarding the General Plan or the policies and programs of a Community Plan, all or portions of these plans can be viewed and downloaded from the website of the City of Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Planning and Zoning Code
The general design and building rules of the City of Los Angeles are found in the City of Los Angeles Planning and Zoning Code which is available online through the American Legal Publishing Corporation website. These rules generally apply to all projects in Los Angeles unless exempted by their own language or overridden by more specific zoning regulations.
Additional Restrictions or Exemptions in Hillside Areas
The City of Los Angeles recognizes important fire safety, substandard street conditions, landslide risks, open space, and view preservation issues in hillside areas that require additional rules and regulations. In hillside areas such as Mount Washington, a number of other regulations have been adopted by the City of Los Angeles. The most important of these are the Hillside Ordinance and the Mount Washington / Glassell Park Specific Plan. Another recent regulation is the Hillside Retaining Wall Ordinance that restricts the height and magnitude of retaining walls in hillside areas.
The Hillside Ordinance
To protect a number of important public interests in the development of the City’s many hillside areas, the City of Los Angeles imposes additional rules and regulations beyond the general planning and zoning rules applicable in other parts of the City. The Hillside Ordinance is incorporated into the Los Angeles Planning and Zoning Code at section 12.21(a)17. The Hillside Ordinance is available for download on this website.
The Mount Washington / Glassell Park Specific Plan
During the building boom of the late 1980s, hillside areas of Mount Washington and Glassell Park saw the proposal and construction of monster houses. Some of these homes were built on substandard lots that consumed almost every square foot of the lot except required front, rear, and side yards. Realizing that this mansionization threatened the unique character of Mount Washington’s relationship with adjacent open space, natural habitat, and the wildlife supported by the habitat, the communities worked on and eventually passed a specific plan for the area.
The Specific Plan changed the general planning and zoning law, including the Hillside Ordinance, as applied within the boundaries of the Plan area. The Specific Plan restricts the total floor area of a building to approximately 50% of the lot size or less as the lot gets bigger. Since, garages, carports, uninhabited storage space, stairways and other parts of a building will wipe out natural habitat, the Specific Plan included these items in the calculation of total floor area which are exclude from the floor area under the general planning and zoning code. In trade off, the Specific Plan allows a building to be taller than would otherwise be allowed under the Hillside Ordinance. Additionally, in order to discourage the wholesale destruction of native and significant trees that add so much to the quality of life on Mount Washington, such trees are not to removed unless their location would prevent reasonable development of the lot. If such trees are removed for reasonable development, the owner must replace the trees on a 1:1 basis on the lot.
Owners of lots and homes in Mount Washington planning on building a new home or adding on should carefully study the Specific Plan. The Mount Washington / Glassell Park Specific Plan is available for download on this website.
The Hillside Retaining Wall Ordinance
In areas like the Hollywood Hills, dwindling open lots have resulted in some owners trying to create massive house pads on steep hillsides by constructing massive retaining walls. Such walls have been the subject of complaints of adjoining landowners because of the aesthetic impacts, amount of grading or dirt hauling required, and increased risks of catastrophic slope failures. Generally, this has not been as much of a problem in Mount Washington but some kind of reasonable rule is welcome as a prophylactic measure. The Hillside Retaining Wall Ordinance is available for download on this website.