What is Mansionization?

Mansionization is not about big houses. It’s about houses too big for their lots.  


What's the problem?

McMansions loom over their neighbors. They take their air and light and privacy, and they hurt their property value.

Mansionization spoils the scale and character of established neighborhoods. And it prices more and more families out of the market. 

L.A. passed a citywide Baseline Mansionization Ordinance (or BMO) in 2008. But it was full of loopholes, and mansionization has just gotten worse since then.


What's the solution?

Fix the BMO. Councilmember Koretz came up with common-sense amendments that close the loopholes. These amendments allow remodeling and construction of spacious, modern homes that also show consideration for their neighbors and neighborhood.

The proposed amendments are simple, sensible, and enforceable. That’s why the City Council adopted the Motion and why dozens of neighborhood councils and homeowner/resident associations support the amendments.  

That’s also why developers are working hard to stall and weaken the amendments.

But Angelenos who want smart, thoughtful development are pushing back against business as usual at City Hall.

We need your support, too. To find out how you can help, click here.


Some specifics

The BMO starts with a very generous “base ratio,” so Councilmember Koretz proposed reducing the ratio by a couple of points. 

The BMO leaves hundreds and hundreds of square feet uncounted, and it offers bonuses that bulk up houses by another 20 percent. Councilmember Koretz proposed closing these self-defeating loopholes.

These common-sense amendments are laid out in a one-page Council Motion.

Click here to read the Motion.  


Don't be fooled

An amended BMO still allows remodeling and construction of spacious, modern homes that also show consideration for their neighbors and neighborhood, like the houses below.


Garages Count 

In the campaign to stop mansionization in Los Angeles, the issue of attached garages stands – well, front and center. 

Under the current ordinance, the city doesn’t count the first 400 sq ft of attached garage space when it calculates the size of the house (or “floor area”). Like deducting your arms from your total weight. Crazy, right? 

Reflecting the original Council motion and widespread demands, earlier drafts of the BMO and BHO amendments fixed this.  They counted attached garages as floor space.  Makes sense.  Square footage is square footage.

Then city planners started waffling, and now the City Planning Commission has voted to exemptthe square footage of garages attached the back of a house and count only half the square footage of those at the front.  

The CPC got it wrong.  For one thing, this does nothing to address the 400 square feet of bloatadded by attached garages.  

At least garages attached at the back of the house provide the buffer of a driveway and don’t disrupt the look of older neighborhoods.  But those at the front have no compensating virtues. 

At an absolute minimum, the city must count the square footage of garages attached at the front.


The Facts on Mansionization 

In spite of a citywide “mansionization ordinance,” speculation and oversize houses have taken a heavy toll in our part of town. In fact, Angelenos from El Sereno to Bel Air know that the 2008 Baseline Mansionization Ordinance (BMO) failed to stop McMansions. Developers continue to strip-mine the city, destroying the scale and character of established neighborhoods with houses far too big for their lots.  

Los Angeles has a second chance to get it right: Councilmember Paul Koretz proposed simple, straightforward amendments that close the loopholes in the BMO. The Council adopted the Motion in May 2014. Now, after more than a year of throat-clearing (and stopgap ordinances called ICOs for some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods), the Planning Department is finally about to start work on the amendments.   

Developers make a lot of money exploiting L.A. neighborhoods, and they want to keep the game going. Prepare to hear unfounded claims and bogus arguments from the speculators, their lobbyists, and their best friends at City Hall:

 

“The proposed limits are extreme.”  

In fact, the ICOs strike sensible balances, and Councilmember Koretz’s proposed amendments to the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance (BMO) would still allow spacious, comfortable family homes. On a typical 6,000 square foot lot, the amended BMO would allow a house of about 3,000 square feet.  

The Beverly Grove overlay ordinance, passed in October 2013, is a pretty good proxy for the ICOs and BMO amendments. Photos of conforming houses show just how accommodating and reasonable these measures actually are:

“I have a right to do what I want with my property.”  

Up to a point, yes. But zoning limits property rights in order to promote compatible development. On a small city lot, no one can keep a horse or throw raucous all-night parties four times a week. And no one should be permitted to violate the scale and character of his neighborhood or impose on her nearest neighbors.  

 

“Mansionization lifts property values, and tighter limits on home size depress values.”  

No, and not really. Mansionization makes a quick buck for speculators, but oversize houses make adjoining properties less appealing. Local realtors conservatively estimate that McMansions cost their next-door neighbors $50,000 to $100,000 in property value. Appropriate regulation promotes stable long-term property values across entire communities. In the city’s historic zones – subject to much tighter regulation than the proposed mansionization measures – property values have held strong. 

 

 “Our house needs to accommodate boomerang kids and aging parents.” 

Family size and structure are irrelevant. You cannot raid your neighbor’s cupboard to feed your family. What entitles you to take his air, light, and privacy to house your family in grand style? 

 

 “The city is rushing things.”  

Rushing things? It has been eight years since our City Planning Commission identified “neutralizing mansionization” as one of ten key planning goals and principles. It has been seven years since the city passed the BMO, an ordinance so riddled with dubious bonuses and exemptions that it permits 4,350 square foot boxes on 6,000 square foot lots – to say nothing of mega mansions in grander neighborhoods.

It has been over a year since the City Council approved Councilmember Koretz’s Motion to close the loopholes in the BMO. Developers rushed to fill the pipeline, so the city finally passed temporary ordinances (ICOs) to slow the destruction in some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods. But the ICOs have a short shelf life, and the city needs a permanent fix.   

 

If more arguments were needed to make the case for better regulation, consider these:

Mansionization is hell on the environment. It turns existing houses into debris and consumes massive amounts of material. The big boxes guzzle energy for heating and cooling. McMansions replace mature trees with saplings and pave over permeable land. Careless construction practices routinely kick up toxic materials.  

 

Mansionization makes housing less affordable. As the supreme court of the state of Massachusetts put it, “The expansion of smaller houses into significantly larger ones decreases the availability of would-be ‘starter’ homes in a community .. excluding families of low to moderate income from neighborhoods.” Flashy McMansions price out all but the most affluent buyers. 

 

Mansionization violates the city’s core policies and principles. 

For starters, it violates the citywide General Plan Framework, which pledges to “Ensure that the character and scale of stable single-family residential neighborhoods is maintained, allowing for infill development provided that it is compatible with and maintains the scale and character of existing development.” Then there’s the Planning Commission’s goal of “neutralizing mansionization.” And mansionization clearly flies straight in the face of Mayor Garcetti’s recently-unveiled environmental initiatives. Their tired, threadbare arguments don’t pass the smell test, but developers still have outsize influence at City Hall.  They hollowed out the city’s “Baseline Mansionization Ordinance” the first time around, and they mean to do it again.

Stakeholders around the city must push back hard. We need to demand quick, decisive action to close the loopholes that make mansionization possible.