Update on increasing number of teardowns in Los Angeles

The number of teardowns isn’t close to the peak of 2006 but there is increasing teardown activity in Los Angeles and this is drawing concern:

The rebounding housing market has sparked the demolitions. In November, the median price for a home in Southern California was $385,000, up nearly 20% compared with the same month a year earlier, according to research firm DataQuick. Builders such as Leonard are constructing houses “on spec,” confident that they’ll find buyers…

In the city of Los Angeles last year, builders received approval to raze 1,227 houses and duplexes from January through mid-December, according to Department of Building and Safety records. That’s 29% higher than in all of 2012, though still well off the pace of more than 3,000 in 2006, during the housing bubble…

Carlton and his neighbors want the city to take action. They are pushing Los Angeles to tighten the so-called anti-mansionization ordinance passed in 2008. Critics say it has failed to stop the construction of outsized homes that rob views, block sunlight and alter the character of established neighborhoods.

In October, the Los Angeles City Council imposed additional size limits on new houses in the Beverly Grove neighborhood. But the changes don’t mandate a particular style…

Tear-downs have long stirred controversy, especially in beach communities — once-funky towns that have seen property values skyrocket over the years amid an influx of wealthy residents, chic boutiques and cafes. Many who grew up in the area have moved out, unable to afford a house with an ocean breeze. Many who did own homes couldn’t resist cashing in.

I don’t think there is an easy answer to this, particularly in Los Angeles. Because the housing market is currently tight, teardown opportunities are attractive to builders. Additionally, there is enough money floating around for people to want to purchase expensive new homes. This, of course, alters existing neighborhoods in a way that tends to irritate neighbors who think the new homes are all about the individual owner and not about fitting in with the neighborhood. I wonder how many residents who oppose teardowns would prefer no new construction at all, perhaps going for historic preservation rather than tighter mansionization guidelines.

I’m not sure why this strikes me right now but it does seem a bit odd that California, the home of American dreams (weather, Hollywood, sprawl leading to single-family homes and lots of driving), seems to be home to so many bitter housing and land disputes. Perhaps the stakes are higher – people’s dreams are on the line – so the fights get more intense. Or places like Los Angeles and San Francisco are simply too desirable and there isn’t enough housing to go around. Or all of this helps lay bare the American tendency to want to be the last one in to enjoy the neighborhood before slamming the gate behind them to preserve the features forever.

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