A disastrous HPOZ

Every day, I drive to work along Washington and then up Hoover and then Alvarado to Beverly.

As I drive up Hoover, my attention is always drawn to the beautiful old Victorian and Craftsmen homes in that part of town. It’s always sad, though, because the few that remain are on horribly ugly streets surrounded by exactly the same kind of cheap, awful buildings and terrible signage you see in every poor part of LA. [Note on 5/27/2014: The words I used above were, in retrospect, pretty insensitive. It is easy to read them as an indictment of the people who live in working class neighborhoods, when I meant them as a description of what happens when government and private capital disinvest. If you’re interested in how I came to this realization, please read this post.]

Yes, those remaining buildings are beautiful, so I understand the impulse that drove the city to create the Historic Preservation Overlay Zone designed to protect those buildings in the area east of Hoover, north of Washington, south of Pico and west of the 110. But it was still an absolutely horrible decision.

Think about what’s going on downtown right now. There are 4,000 apartment being built with another 10,000 in various stages of permitting. Plus, office and retail players are moving in to provide work space and the kind of amenities residents love.

That area to the west of the 110 should eventually get better, because you can’t have downtown be great and the area just next to it be a total disaster.

But the HPOZ is going to cause major, major problems.

Why? An HPOZ acts as a major check on development, because:

  1. You can’t demolish the structures that contribute to the historical designation. This means those old Victorians have to stay… but they’re totally not suited to the area, which is practically screaming out for dense, multifamily development.
  2. If you want to renovate a “contributing structure”, you’re forced to go through a byzantine city process that dictates everything down to the color of the paint you can use. So, our brand of aggressive re-positioning is handicapped, because we’re severely limited in how we can re-shape the buildings. Without access to the full bag of tricks, the achievable rents are much lower, making renovating these properties pretty much a non-started.

If you can’t fix them up and you can’t tear them down, what you have left is a major, permanent brake on development in an area which is absolutely critical to the continuing transformation of the city.

I love beautiful old buildings as much as the next guy (fixing them up is my life’s work!) and there are examples of HPOZs that work OK (Angelino Heights comes to mind). But this one doesn’t. And a few old, dilapidated buildings ought not to stand in the way of the dense, multi-unit housing that LA so desperately needs.