Grandfathered zoning

Got to thinking over the weekend about plumbing and electric. (Bored already? Sorry.)

As you probably know, we almost always replace both systems when we renovate a building. Often, the last time the systems were replaced was sometime in the 1950s or 1960s.

I was idly considering whether anyone would ever have to replace these systems again in our buildings. After all, the new plumbing and electric ought to last for 50 years or more and many of our buildings were built in the 1920s. Is it really going to be worthwhile to replace them again sometime in the 2060s, when the buildings are 120+ years old?

The answer, baring some kind of major change in Los Angeles land use law*, is “yes”.

Why? The most important single fact about 1920s buildings is that you could not re-build them to the same designs today. Why? Because they are under-parked for today’s zoning code.

There is no way you could build, for example, 117 N Reno, a 16 unit building with 0 parking spaces. Under today’s code, you’d need ~20 spaces, which would require either subterranean parking or else much more expensive, multilevel construction.

Because today’s parking codes are so onerous, there is an incredibly strong incentive to keep those old buildings standing up (and, therefore, grandfathered in).

So, the likelihood is that some kid who will be born in the 2030s is going to spend his late 20s and 30s re-wiring / re-piping all these buildings we’ve done, because the alternative would be to scrape them and build new, and that would be insane, given how the difficulties with the code.

*Note: I can already see the glimmer of such a change, and it starts with Uber and Google’s robocar experiments. If we’re really all going to have robo-cars available on demand, perhaps that will be the things we need to jettison our antiquated parking requirements, opening up cities for massively dense in-fill development.