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LA councilmember seeks tighter building restrictions in Silver Lake, Echo Park

Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell is seeking to limit construction in Echo Park and Silver Lake, the rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods on the southern edge of his district.

The move follows city voters' broad rejection in March of the ballot proposal, Measure S, to slow the development of high-density projects such as apartment complexes.

But O'Farrell's plan would do just that in parts of Echo Park and Silver Lake, which are among L.A.’s most desirable housing markets.

Developers there are searching for spots to build small-lot homes or multi-unit buildings, even if it calls for demolishing existing single-family houses and the bungalow courts seen by some residents as the area's architectural touchstones. 

O’Farrell said controlling the development of out-of-scale projects will protect the character of neighborhoods that were never meant for high-density development.

"I don’t want to have any more situations where we have regret because we didn’t think ahead and put in proper zoning that would guide the kind of growth that people would accept and even embrace,' O'Farrell said.

But some of O’Farrell’s constituents say such regulations will only keep housing supply tight and drive up rents. Silver Lake homeowner and television writer Hayes Davenport got involved with the group Abundant Housing L.A. because he wants to promote housing production in a city that is facing a dire shortage. 

"I don't think neighborhood character is important if people can't afford to live there," Davenport said. "What’s the point of preserving these neighborhoods if they become these outposts for just the absolute richest people in the city?"

Davenport said he was surprised that O’Farrell is behind the proposed regulations because the councilmember was an outspoken critic of Measure S.

O’Farrell said he supports denser development, just not everywhere. He pointed to a bungalow courtyard on Echo Park Avenue that was purchased last year. The new owner wants to demolish the bungalows and put up a dozen small-lot homes, but some locals are fighting to preserve it. 

This bungalow court in Echo Park is one of the homes that Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell said should be preserved from demolition.
Josie Huang/KPCC
This bungalow court in Echo Park is one of the homes that Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell said should be preserved from demolition.

One of the residents, textile designer Christalle Bodiford, is prepared to be evicted in the coming months from the bungalow that she's shared with her husband for the past four years. Bodiford said she has mixed feelings about the new project proposed for the bungalow court, just as she does about gentrification. 

"New construction can make it look nicer, more well-kept," Bodiford said. "But it's not always the best for the people living there now."

Bodiford said it's unlikely she and her husband will be around to see if the bungalows are replaced. The couple is heading for the cheaper housing of Texas. 

O'Farrell's proposals head next to the City Council's Planning and Land Use Committee for discussion. He is seeking reports from the city 's planning staff on how current zoning is affecting residential areas, and recommendations for optimal zoning and land use.