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County commission approves Walnut Park housing project

WALNUT PARK — The Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission upheld the approval July 8 of an affordable housing project in unincorporated Walnut Park, denying an appeal filed by a resident.

Henry Vasquez filed the appeal on March 19, asking for the county to overturn the approval Feb. 26 of a Hollywood Community Housing Corporation proposal to build a 64-unit residential development at 7600-7616 Pacific Blvd. All units would be affordable. 

At the July 8 hearing, Vasquez claimed the county failed to do its due diligence in informing the community of the project and also ignored concerns about size and scale. 

“Moving forward with this construction will demonstrate a complete disregard for this community,” he said.

County officials, as well as representatives from Hollywood Community Housing Corporation, countered by saying the project is essential for alleviating the state’s housing crisis and homelessness in the area. An estimated 14,115 homeless individuals live in the county’s first supervisorial district, where Walnut Park is located, according to meeting minutes.

Eight Walnut Park residents besides Vasquez made public comments during the meeting opposing the project. In general, they agreed with the need for affordable housing, but had concerns about the project’s location and density. Fifteen other people contacted the county ahead of time in opposition to the project.

Vasquez’s appeal letter said that increased traffic, lack of parking and a disregard for single-family residences and existing community character would result from the project. He also said the project does not comply with zoning laws in the Walnut Park Neighborhood Plan, which limits new developments to two-and-a-half stories, while the project would have four stories.

The land on which the project would be built currently includes small businesses, many of which are still operating, Vasquez added. The project will also close off access to a residential street, which would add to traffic problems.

County staff and Hollywood Community Housing representatives said that because of the urgent need for affordable multifamily housing, current state laws SB 35 and AB 1763 allow the director of the county Department of Regional Planning to approve the projects administratively. The project’s increased density is allowed under the county’s density bonus ordinance, which allows the addition of housing units if they are made affordable.

Officials also said the project location is ideal because it’s in a commercial corridor and close to various transit options, minimizing any traffic impact. The development will also include 48 parking spaces, even though SB 35 exempts projects from parking requirements if located within a half-mile of a transit stop.

Residents, however, pushed back on using state law to bypass the normal approval process for a project like this. 

“Just because you are able to obtain these permits and bypass zoning and density regulations doesn’t mean that this is adequate for this community,” said resident Janet Gutierrez, referring to health experts’ comments about density as one of many factors contributing to coronavirus cases in the county. “Density can have very negative impacts and one example is COVID-19.” 

Some residents claimed that the county and developer were trying to silence opposition to the project. Adrienne Ortega told a reporter that the developer disabled the Zoom chat feature during a July 2 community meeting on the project.

By Ashley Orona

Contributing Writer