Angelenos Reclaim Backyard Nudity as City Curbs ‘Mansionization’

Los Angeles Curbs ‘Mansionization’
As property values begin to recover from their slump, the city is curbing the size of single-family homes to prevent so-called McMansions from being built in such neighborhoods as Hollywood and in the Santa Monica Mountains. Photographer: Betsy Weisman via Bloomberg

Paul Soady’s street was lined with single-story houses when he moved to Los Angeles’s Beverly Grove area in 1990. Since then, homeowners have added what he calls “gun towers” to their two-level “white monstrosities.”

“This neighborhood is one of the quietest parts of L.A.,” said Soady, 64, a native of Australia who teaches photography and advertising at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. “It’s a magical place. But we certainly can’t take our clothes off anymore and run around our backyard naked. There are all these windows facing our house.”

During the Los Angeles real estate boom that began in 2002 and peaked five years later, developers built multistory homes with more square footage than their lots had as a way of raising prices. Now, as property values recover after a 21-month slump, the city is curbing the size of single-family homes to prevent so-called McMansions from being built in such neighborhoods as Hollywood and in the Santa Monica Mountains.

“When the good times were rolling and people were basically flipping homes to make a lot of money, they added on and redid houses, and they didn’t really care about the neighborhoods,” Renee Weitzer, chief of land use planning for City Councilman Tom LaBonge, said in a telephone interview. “We have some pictures of neighborhoods where one home overpowers the look of the entire street.”

An ordinance signed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa last week limits new hillside homes to about 3,000 square feet (280 square meters) on a typical 5,000-square-foot lot. Developers had been allowed to build a 7,000-square-foot, multilevel home on a 5,000-square-foot lot, Weitzer said.

Three-Part Plan

The law, focused on hillside homes, is the final step in a three-part initiative intended to stop oversized developments on single-family home plots in the city. The first step was the June 2008 adoption of the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance, which limited the size and height of homes on flat lots, and the second was the creation of new maps to more accurately show the city’s hillsides.

LaBonge introduced the plan in 2006, when property values were almost at their peak.

The median home price in Los Angeles County more than doubled to $599,000 in mid-2007 from $245,000 at the beginning of 2002, according to DataQuick Information Systems Inc., a San Diego-based real estate research company. Property values tumbled during the recession and are 47 percent below their peak. They have gained 7.8 percent from their May 2009 low.

The median size of homes in Los Angeles was 3,520 square feet in 2005, according to Erick Lopez, a planner for the city. That compares with an average of 2,500 square feet across the western U.S., he said.

Bamboo Fence

The growth in home sizes has caused neighbors to fight back. Soady, the Beverly Grove resident, planted bamboo around his 1926 English Tudor home to try to shield himself from a neighboring house that rises 10 feet above his.

Jason Neidleman, 40, who lives in the same neighborhood, started a Facebook page called “Angelenos Against Mansionization” after becoming annoyed with the McMansions that appeared on his tree-lined street about 10 years ago. The group has 19 members and a link to an anti-mansionization petition online.

“Plants were dying because suddenly they were in the shade,” said Neidleman, a political science professor at the University of La Verne. “It wasn’t a natural evolution of a neighborhood but strictly about profit.”

The new regulation, which takes effect May 9, won’t affect existing buildings or developments already approved, Weitzer said. The ordinance may make it harder for people to sell their homes to wealthy buyers wanting to rebuild, said Richard Green, director of the Lusk Center for Real Estate at the University of Southern California.

‘Fewer Rich People’

“L.A. is the most heavily regulated housing city in the country,” Green said in a telephone interview. “This adds to the regulatory quagmire. It just means we’ll have fewer rich people who will decide to live here. The nice thing about rich people is that they do pay high taxes.”

Those wealthy residents, Soady said, have changed the character of the neighborhood that attracted him two decades ago. Even with the new ordinance, the look and feel of his street is likely to evolve further, he said.

“The neighborhood was full of old people dying off, then this whole new wave of new people came in,” Soady said. “They saw money and bought lots and pulled down the houses. I am certain, once we are gone, our house will be bulldozed.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE