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Planning commissioner rails against freeway-hugging apartment balconies

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“It’s just not healthy”

Apartments along the freeway.
Sterling Davis

City planning commissioner Dana Perlman says he drives by Geoff Palmer’s hulking Orsini apartment complex in Downtown Los Angeles—where tenants’ balconies are pushed up against the 110 and 101 freeway interchange—and thinks “it’s just not healthy.”

The commissioner says he’ll no longer support putting balconies on freeway-hugging projects.

“I really do not want to be continuing to drive down our city’s freeways and look at residential multifamily residential towers next to the freeways with balconies with furniture on them inviting people to go out and breathe those poisonous fumes,” Perlman says.

He’s probably not alone.

While reviewing plans on Thursday for 83 new apartments that will be located less than 500 feet from the 110 freeway, Perlman and two other commissioners said they wanted the developer to use tiny juliet-style balconies to discourage tenants from spending time outside, breathing in toxic car exhaust.

They were outnumbered three to four; there will be fuller-sized balconies. But when Perlman said going forward he wanted to developers to be “more thoughtful in the way they treat the facade that faces the freeway,” commission president David Ambroz responded: “I think we all agree.”

In Southern California, more than 1.2 million people live in “high-pollution zones within 500 feet” of a freeway, according to the Los Angeles Times. City officials have not restricted development along freeways—in spite of the health consequences—because the housing is sorely needed.

The city does, according to the Times, require air filtration systems that rate at least 13 on the industry’s 16-point effectiveness scale in all homes built near freeways, including this one.

But Perlman says: “I don’t have any trust that these filtration systems are going to be funded, monitored, and maintained down the road.”

Canfield Development is planning 83 apartments to immediately west of the 110 freeway, near USC. In addition to balconies, the building will hold an interior courtyard.

Canfield Development, which is bringing the 83-unit apartment to just west of the 110, did agree to shrink the balconies by 1 foot each. But it didn’t want to get rid of balconies entirely, because that would eliminate tenants’ outdoor space and mountain and skyline views.

Jared Brenner-Goldstein, Canfield’s development and acquisitions manager, told the commission: “We’re big on the electric car revolution, over the next 5 to 10 years, most of the cars will be electric and the exposure of people on their balconies from the freeways will be minimized.”

Tenants there wouldn’t just have balconies there will also be an interior courtyard, and as commission president Ambroz pointed out, “in the courtyard, it’s the same air” as it is on the balconies.

Perlman was the only commissioner to vote against the project.