In the works for many years, the LA City Council passed a new Wildlife Protection Ordinance designed to make the lived environment that we share with native animals and plants more equitable. I think we can all agree that protecting nature is something everyone supports.
The point of contention has been what form the ordinance would ultimately take. Any such ordinance will have to impact homeowners, and their property rights – so naturally there has been significant concern amongst a number of vested constituencies.
In my opinion the final form of the ordinance is fairly innocuous and common sense, and certainly not anything for homeowners to get too upset about. The ordinance looks at a variety of development factors that impact wildlife: Slope and Grading limits, Lot Coverage Limits, Windows, Lighting, Structure Height, Resource Buffer Requirements, Vegetation and Landscaping, Fencing, and Trash Enclosures,
Most of these are pretty obvious, so for example the ordinance specifies certain types of restricted fencing like barbed and razor wire, which would obviously cause harm to an animal coming in contact with it. With respect to windows – birds can and frequently fly into large plate glass windows by accident. The ordinance details numerous ways to prevent bird strikes by making conscious choices - and none of them seem onerous.
I do think the language related to lot coverage is ambiguous, and that is concerning. Will it have the potential to reduce the size of a home built in the area? Will it limit the ability of an owner to build a pool, or an Accessory Dwelling Unit? The answer to this seems unclear from the current language. However, the only clear direct impact I can find on actual house size is related to a significant change in how basements are treated. Up to now, they have been completely exempted from any limitations. The Ordinance creates a limit of 1,000SF of “exempt” basement square footage. Per the code:
“(1) Intent. To minimize the disturbance to and alteration of Wildlife Resources, slopes, vegetation, and undeveloped CPC-2022-3413-CA, CPC-2022-3712-ZC Exhibit A2 - 13 As Approved by CPC 12/08/22 13 areas that provide wildlife habitat and connectivity by retaining existing vegetation and natural landforms in hillside areas.
I am not sure that basement excavation actually harms wildlife. The existing hillside development ordinance already sets strict limits on house size through an assessment of how steep the site is - the steeper the site, the less buildable. Further restriction may not really accomplish much in the way of wildlife protection.
The ordinance is a solution to a problem. Frankly, I don’t know how big the problem actually is, or that anything NEEDED to be done. That being said, the solution put forth by this ordinance seems relatively benign. And perhaps some of the requirements may help organic wildfire travel in the longer term – an added benefit.
Now the downside – implementation by the L.A. Department of Building and Safety can only make the timelines for securing building approvals even longer and more complex. These timelines are already outrageously long..so how can the city take this positive step, without also taking a critical look at the internal process at the Building Department? Hopefully, more staff and money will be available to make this work. We shall see.