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Creating a ‘design district’ in Westlake is bound to cause displacement, activists say

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Some residents are wary of design district proposed for northern Westlake and HiFi

Have city planners created design guidelines that will lead to displacement in Westlake? That’s how the LA Tenants Union views a “design district” proposed for the northern part of the neighborhood that includes Historic Filipinotown.

In a statement Thursday, the Coalition to Defend Westlake, a group led by the LA Tenants Union, says its members fear the proposed North Westlake Design District “will systematically displace residents and small businesses that have thrived in their neighborhoods for decades.”

The district would be made up of commercial properties along four main thoroughfares: Beverly Boulevard, Temple Street, Third Street, and Alvarado Street. Those properties would be subject to new design standards, along with requirements for site layouts and parking.

The city planning department has described the design guidelines as promoting “pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use corridors and neighborhood-serving and pedestrian-oriented development.”

The Coalition to Defend Westlake declined interview requests, but in an announcement about a community meeting scheduled for tonight, it said its members view the proposal as a catalyst for “fancy galleries and expensive micro pubs and over-priced lofts.”

“The name ‘design district’ in the first place is laughable,” said community organizer Cristina Lugo. “It’s this fabricated community that is intended to replace Historic Filipinotown.”

The city is proposing design guidelines in the designated areas.
Department of City Planning

Historic Filipinotown is an area within Westlake that is bounded by Hoover Street to the west, Glendale Boulevard on the east, Temple Street to the north, and Beverly Boulevard on the south. It was officially recognized by the city in 2002.

The proposed design guidelines would apply to new buildings, as well as existing buildings that undergo alterations that require city building or change of use permits.

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They would mandate that the ground floor of new buildings have a minimum average height of 15 feet and have non-residential uses on at least 50 percent of their street-fronting space, and that blank walls greater than 20 feet high or wide be covered with an original mural or a green wall.

The plan gets very detailed, going so far as to prohibit certain types of signs, including hulking monument signs, freestanding pole signs, and illuminated canopy-style signs.

To promote walking and pedestrian-friendly streets, the ordinance would also require that surface parking lots be placed behind new buildings, not in front. Any visible parking at street level would have to be hidden by some form of “external skin” that looks good and effectively hides parked cars.

The design district would also “unbundle” parking on affected sites, allowing for parking to be rented or sold apart from residential units and commercial spaces “in perpetuity.”

A 2014 iteration of the design district would have prohibited certain types of businesses in the affected area, including auto repair shops, gas stations, and drive-through restaurants. But Cheryl Getuiza, city planning department spokesperson, says the most up-to-date version of the design district no longer includes a list of prohibited businesses.

That change might not be the last one to the ordinance: Getuiza says that the planning department is still revising the ordinance, and is considering many of the public comments that resulted from a public hearing on the design district in May.

The tenants union has organized a meeting on January 24 to discuss the draft ordinance; city planners were invited, but it was unclear whether they would attend.

Another meeting intended for neighborhood residents is scheduled for tonight.