LA City Council Looks at Plan to Limit Use of Wood-Based Construction in Palisades

By Toi Creel

Los Angeles City Council voted last week to take a look at a proposal to lessen the use of wood-frame construction for projects in busy neighborhoods.

As reported by UrbanizeLA, recommendations for the report came from the Council’s Public Safety Committee. The goal of the ordinance is to lessen the City’s wildfires, taking away a highly flammable element of construction.

The proposal suggests expanding the area known as Fire District 1 as defined by the California Department of Forestry’s Very High Severity Zone and the City’s High Wind Velocity Zone.  Fire District 1 is made up of commercial hubs and neighborhoods with predominantly older buildings in areas like Century City and Downtown. This would also include hilly neighborhoods like the Pacific Palisades and Echo Park.

The proposed ordinance would impact construction projects with 100,000 square feet of floor area for a building over 30 feet in height or populated neighborhoods with a minimum of 5,000 residents per square mile. These numbers would be adjusted every decade reflecting U.S. Census data. The proposal was initiated by Councilmembers Bob Blumenfield and Monica Rodriguez, with backing by organization Build with Strength. The group is made up of a mix of housing advocates, including architects and labor unions, working to limit the usage of combustible construction materials in Los Angeles and across the state.

“We fully support the City Council’s efforts to strengthen building practices in our city,” wrote Ron Miller, Executive Secretary of the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council in a March press release. “We represent the skilled men and women who build LA. We see firsthand how important safety is. This ordinance will have a huge impact on many communities across the city, and I encourage the City Council to act swiftly and give all residents access to safer and more resilient housing.”

Despite the support from council members and others in the community, the report does have critics. According to UrbanizeLA, architect Simon Ha with Steinberg Hart wrote a letter to the city citing a list of reasons against the project.  Ha claims it goes against increasing affordable housing in the city and adds unnecessary costs. “The incremental cost increase is about 5 to 10 percent from Type V to Type III, so if you were building on Sunset Boulevard at the border of West Hollywood and the City of L.A., it would cost 5 to 10 percent more to build in L.A. than in West Hollywood.” 

Council will not yet put an ordinance into writing, but instead will ask Staff to conduct more research and develop an additional report. 

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