Friday, August 29, 2008

another installment in the apartmentification dramas of Lincoln Park


My neighborhood-watch block captain just mailed us out a copy of the hearing notice for next week's meeting of the Historical Preservation Commission. A house on the 200 block of Lincoln -- I gather the one that we discussed here a few months back, although I could be wrong -- is applying to add a third residence to the property. As in, one more apartment in addition to the current main house, carriage-house apartment, and garage. There is a petition going around (signatures due to the city by this Tuesday), or you could write/call the city directly to voice your opinion, pro or con.

I'm going to try to go to the HPC meeting in person, just because I'd like to see how they operate (and we'll need to go up before them ourselves in a few months, to get permission to remove an ailing tree in our back yard). It's on Wednesday the 3rd at 6:30pm, in the City Council chambers.

20 comments:

John Clifford said...

Just got word from the city that the item on the granny unit has been postponed as the city sent the plans back to the architect because they were inadequate. Depending on the efficiency of the architect, this will delay it until next month at the earliest, or several months.

Meg, you can still show up for the meeting. On the agenda at: http://www.ci.pomona.ca.us/files/planning/historic__preservation_agenda_08-06-08.pdf will be the removal of a Mimosa Tree, so you might learn how things work.

Also on the agenda is another presentation by Anderson Windows, who had sent out a notice to Pomona homeowners that their "alternative" windows had been APPROVED for pre 1950 homes when they hadn't, at that time, even been presented to the HPC.

Might be interesting. I know I'll be there.

Anonymous said...

...I called the City to verify your post and they are not adding a third unit. This will be a second home on the property, sorta like a "granny" unit. Apartmentification? Hardly. Affordable housing, definitely.

Petition? For what? Please expand.

Hacienda Park Res.

John Clifford said...

A little clarification. Hacienda Park resident is correct in that there will not be a third apartment added to the property.

That is a misunderstanding because the plan is to replace an unpermitted second unit currently on the property with the new "granny" unit. They are also planning on a three-car garage as well.

These projects will "max out" the amount of space to be built on the property. Pomona Heritage's issue with this plan is that with the backyard being reduced to practically nothing, that the massing is too great for a historic neighborhood. We've seen this occur in other areas of the city where properties are overbuilt and completely change the character of a neighborhood.

This all stems from a California state law which, with the noble goal of allowing caregivers to provide for elderly family members, states that the city has to allow granny units on single family properties. Prior to the state law, Pomona regulated second units.

While the intent of the granny unit law is well meaning, the consequences are a defacto apartmentification of historically single-family neighborhoods. Even if a family uses a granny unit to provide the intended service to a family member, that is usually a short-lived use. At the end of that use, the "unusued" living space ends up being converted to rental property. AND there isn't even a test to see if the unit will EVER be used as a "granny suite."

This is another example of the rule of unintended consequences. While the city cannot say that people can't build granny units, the city CAN say that the property must meet certain thresholds for such construction in historic neighborhoods. If the neighborhood historically has large yards, it might be possible to specify that back yard space be maintained or something of that nature. We need to review our historic ordinance to ensure that the nature of the neighborhoods (the reason that most of us moved here) is maintained. Unfortunately, those who bought for investment (absentee landlords, "flippers," and financial institutions) will fight to be able to maximize their profits at the expense of the historic nature of our homes.

Anyone interested in this issue should join Pomona Heritage as we'll continue to give members updates in our newsletter and to monitor any such projects, speaking at HPC and Council meetings on behalf of our members.

Our web site is http://www.pomonaheritage.org.

Anonymous said...

As a Lincoln Park resident with aging parents, adding an appropriately constructed "granny unit" may be our best option. I would not be in favor of removing that option completely.

John Clifford said...

Yes, I completely understand that issue. With a couple of aging parents myself, I see where the ability to offer them a place where they can maintain their independence and quality-of-life is important.

However, even if aging parents live for a couple of decades in such an arrangement (God willing), it isn't forever, and then is when we move into the area of "is this to be a neighborhood of involved homeowners or a rental ghetto?"

I know, not all rental areas turn into ghettos and some renters are good etc., etc., etc.

However, it still begs the question of our historically single-family neighborhoods and whether that is a model that is desireable and should it be preserved? For me, that's one of the reasons that we moved here. If we wanted to live in a neighborhood with a lot of rentals we would have found somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

I believe the state law was not only passed to provide for a "granny flat", but to provide additional affordable housing, thus no restriction on age or relationship to the resident of the main house.

So it seems that this is an issue most neighborhoods will face as long as there is a market demand for expansion.

calwatch said...

And quite frankly, the densification that granny flats provide is fairly modest. It reduces sprawl. Cities can still set standards for granny flats. For example, here are Los Angeles County's second unit requirements, which seem reasonable. These are the requirements for Pomona (look up ordinance .062). The ordinance states that the style of the new second unit must be similar to that of the first unit, which would mitigate some of the historic preservation concerns. One glaring omission from the City's ordinance is the lack of a setback for the second unit, which I think would address some of the concerns about over-massing in the community. The other thing that Pomona's ordinance provides is that it must be on a property zoned for 10,000 square feet or more, which I believe would exclude much of the Lincoln Park area.

And quite frankly, John, we still live in a free country. None of the homes that are purchased in Lincoln Park have CC&Rs that ban renting out property, so you will still have rentals in the neighborhood. Our long time neighbors recently inherited a home that is closer to their work, and because the real estate market is awful right now, they've decided to rent out the property. Based on the number of cars parked on the street, it appears that there are at least three and possibly more than five employed residents in the household, they have friends and family frequently, they appear to be using their home to make items for their business (even though they don't sell anything out of their home), etc. But we have a decent relationship with them and the issues do not rise to the level of requiring the government to intervene. There's a lot to be said about erring in favor of other people's property rights when developing restrictions and standards for a community.

John Clifford said...

Cal,

While I completely understand your arguments, I'm not sure that I can agree with them.

As a property owner, I bought into a specific kind of neighborhood. One with single family homes, with back yards and large front setbacks. With trees and lots of vegetation. Had these not been what I wanted, I had the choice to move to the desert and had dirt yards.

So whose rights are being encroached by overbuilding? My right to have another single family home as a neighbor, as I chose, or the right of that neighbor to densify their lot and encroach on my peaceful home setting?

For me, if someone wants two units on a piece of property, let them buy in a place zoned in such a manner. what AB 1866 has done is to deny local governments and neighborhoods the right to say how their properties are used, at least through the traditional methods of zoning.

You're right, Lincoln Park, and other parts of the city do not have CC&Rs governing rental properties or other land use issues. But when we bought into this neighborhood (and I'm sure this is true for most of us) it was zoned as single family residential (with a few small apartment buildings from before those zoning rules went into effect).

So this isn't actually about "Granny" but is more about increasing density. And who is going to increase the infrastructure to support the increased density. Will water, electricity, police, fire, paramedic services suddenly appear to cover this increased density, especially in historic neighborhoods whose infrastructure is often aging as it is. But then I guess it's a "property right."

I just hope that the city and state increase taxes on such additions in a manner that helps recoup some of those costs. I also hope that such property owners do the right thing and take out business licenses and pay business taxes on these rental units (I'm aware of a lot of rentals in the local area that do not!).

Anonymous said...

John:

By what means do you have the "right" to another person's property (specifically over their own rights granted, as you mentioned)? I cant remember where I read that in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights...

meg said...

Y'all are sparring around a pretty interesting issue, namely the inevitable collision between personal property rights and the desire to maintain the status quo of one's neighborhood (or improve it). The Supreme Court has certainly upheld both many times.

The slope's good and slippery. On one side, suddenly you get ridiculous laws preventing people from putting up clotheslines in their back yards or planting non-native shrubbery. On the other, suddenly you get a drive-in burger joint in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

A friend/neighbor who has seen a bunch of the Neighborhood Watch materials asked me if I thought the house on Lincoln that started this conversation is really such a menace. I have no idea -- I don't live nearby. So I throw the question to the assembled company: Is that house really a den of iniquity, or is a noisy minority overreacting?

calwatch said...

As you know, John, new additions are assessed fair market value under the provisions of Proposition 13. You have no rights to the other property not changing, unless you buy that other piece of property itself. The reason people buy into planned unit development and master planned communities is to control the surrounding environment, although even that may be overturned with changing standards (for example, racial covenants).

Remember that the state has the unilateral right to override any city should they choose, under the political concept known as Dillon's Rule. Indeed, our elected representatives, Gloria Negrete McLeod and Nell Soto, voted for the bill, AB 1866, which actually allowed cities substantial leeway to impose reasonable restrictions on second units. Localities are permitted to set minimum lot sizes for second units. They are are not required to waive historical standards, and the development must be of a similar architectural style to the existing home. Los Angeles County's ordinance includes minimum setbacks. You'd have to ask the 2003 City Council why they didn't include provisions on setbacks and massing in their second unit ordinance.

The very reason that it is making the Historical Preservation Commission agenda is because it is out of compliance with the City's ordinance, and as such requires discretionary review. (This is because, as John notes above, an existing unpermitted unit is being replaced.) If it met the City's standards, it would never go up for discretionary review and would be approved ministerially by city staff. Thus, to blame this second unit on the new state law doesn't make sense, since the same type of development review that applied pre-2003 applies to this property. All the state law said is that you have to set a bar where a property could comply with the law as written, and not be subject to discretionary (i.e. political) review; and that the standards set must be consistent with the city's Housing Element, such that a city cannot pledge to SCAG that they are going to permit the construction of X number of units and not permit that amount to be constructed.

calwatch said...

If someone could scan, send, or post the Neighborhood Watch material so I can judge the veracity of the material, please let me know. I haven't seen anything of note from our block captain about this issue.

ren said...

the people who built theses great homes didnt intend to build granny flats in there back yards.as I do my drive by these houses with apartments in the back look like crap and when someone moves in they have to understand you cant build apartments or two story parking structure.if you come to live and raise a family or what ever you can`t build a min wal-mart.even thow you can do what you want its your house,but just think like I do what ever made a person (besides making a few bucks)to build something that would make the HOUSE look like crap.just think if someone built condos alone side the Hearst CASTLE.they the owners have to understand the house stays as is thats what makes Lincoln park and other hoods so great.i know turn city hall into a granny flats.

John Clifford said...

OK.

A: I have no personal rights to another's property. What I, as a citizen, have it an INTEREST in the property as part of the commons. That is, I have the right to ensure that the person next door is not using the property to house hazardous waste, nor can they run a commercial venture out of that house. These are encompassed in our zoning laws, which are determined by the will of the people through their elected representatives. Thus it is perfectly reasonable for a neighborhood to disallow land uses which are inconsistent with the prevailing land use. That's where my "rights" come in.

Cal: Yes, Dillon's rule, which states that local governments' powers are limited by state powers and cannot override state powers, does come into play in this case. Which is why I called AB 1866 a bad law with unintended consequences. Even having said that, I don't have to adhere to the concept that we NEED to densify. I think that some of us need to stand up and say, we've got enough population. That overpopulation of our area is a detriment to our quality of life.

As for affordable housing. Do you really think that a granny unit in Lincoln Park is going to end up being affordable? If it does, it means that my property values will go down as will everyone's in the area. But I don't see that happening.

As for the discretionary part of the process. Yes, any building in a historic district, whether it's replacing an unpermitted structure or not (that's actually a side issue in this case) has to be in accordance with the historic ordinance.

Cal, you're a pleasure to spar with as your information is always accurate and informative. I disagree with you, but I respect your arguments very much.

Ren, I agree with you on most of what you say. And I love your idea of building granny units at the civic center. However, during my visits there I note that it's already a site of "affordable housing." Especially the benches and planter walls. (For anyone who might misunderstand, I'm not suggesting that the homeless at the civic center should be harassed in any way. This is just an acknowledgment that they're there.)

Anonymous said...

Just so we are clear... this is not a Neighborhood Watch issue.
It has not been discussed at any meetimgs.
Neighborhood Watch is about crime, not housing issues.

Anonymous said...

You want to see an increase in ghettoization and crime, just let these second homes start going in on properties throughout our area. It will ruin the historical atmosphere because these things are terrible to look at, and it will increase the amount of undesirable elements in the area. Historically sensitive people that were attracted to our neighborhood slowly wont be, and those involved will see less of a reason to be involved.

Go drive around Westminster and Garden Grove and tell me what you think about some of the densly built lots in those neighborhoods. That isnt the neighborhood I purchased in to. This isnt about affordable housing (which Pomona has tons of by the way for you people arguing that)this is about profiteering by landlords and cramming as many people into a given lot as possible.

I say protest. This is B.S. and it should be stopped!

Anonymous said...

Well, Claremont has back houses in the desirable areas north of the village and south of Foothill...It isn't clear to me that the back houses in that fancy part of Claremont have introduced too many "undesirable elements"....Many have become art or music studios, etc.

On a separate note, I believe that Neighborhood Watch has gotten involved (at least indirectly) through one or more of the block captains distributing notices of the original hearing about the construction of the back house, as well as discussing a possible petition against the construction, for interested parties. (in addition to discussing issues involving community safety). It is my understanding from the Pomona City website that Neighborhood Watch groups are supposed to be a group of neighbors who want to "help improve the quality of life in their neighborhood", which might involve issues other than just crime.

Anonymous said...

What's the difference. Pomona does not enforce codes any way.

Anonymous said...

Again, this issue has not been discussed at any Neighborhood Watch meetings. I have been to every one of the meetings.
Block captains can have opinions on other matters besides crime in Lincoln Park. If they want to stop a what they feel is a potential eyesore in the area, they can do so on their own.

calwatch said...

Certainly, everyone's an independent contractor. If the project is setback away from the street enough, and meets the City's codes, I will be happy to come down there and speak in favor of it.