The 2022 Wildlife Ordinance (“2022WO”) has been released and it contains many restrictions that have little if any scientific support, are harmful to homeowners (especially homeowners with smaller or older homes) and do little to actually benefit wildlife, or to protect existing wildlife corridors or pristine land.
Everyone in the proposed Wildlife District will be affected, many drastically, if this ordinance is passed. Additionally, as this ordinance is intended to eventually be applied to all Los Angeles hillside neighborhoods, every hillside homeowner and resident should be deeply concerned.
We are still in the process of doing a detailed review of this new 2022WO, but we wanted to get our preliminary observations of certain problematic provisions out to you as soon as possible. Because there is a great deal of interplay between the 2022WO and other ordinances, and because some elements of 2022WO are unclear, our observations below may change.
Although we are only covering some of the 2022WO’s restrictions in this update, keep in mind that your property could be subject to every single one of the restrictions[i] in the 2022WO in the event you want to do any one of the following:
- Remove any “Significant” or “Protected” tree, or any tree at all in the public right of way. (A Significant Tree is one that is 12” or more in diameter and/or more than 35 feet tall. The public right of way is the area between where your lot ends and the street curb. Most properties do not end at the curb, but have a few feet of public right of way between their property and the curb – you will need a survey to know exactly where your property ends and the public right of way begins)
- Add more than 500sf to your home, or to any structure on your property
- Remodel your home, if the cost of the remodel is more than 50% of the replacement cost of the building (keep in mind that Planning and LADBS use their own figures for cost)
- Grading, if more than 500 cubic yards
- Any construction or grading that requires a permit, if a “Resource Buffer” touches anywhere on your property
- Construction of a new building (this would include tearing down your existing home and building new, or adding an ADU, or a separate garage, playhouse, poolhouse, studio, etc.)
Bear in mind that even if you personally don’t intend to do any of the things above, a future purchaser might very well want to do so, and this will affect the value of your property. Also, be sure to check both the Ridgeline and Resource Buffer maps (links below) to see if you are subject to even greater restrictions than the rest of the properties in the proposed Wildlife District.
PRIVACY FENCING PROHIBITED – The 2022WO does not allow you to have privacy fencing around the perimeter of your property. It requires perimeter fencing, or any fencing within the setback areas, to be at least 50% open, with each opening at least 6” square, on at least two of the lot lines on your property, including the front yard. Any Hedges on the perimeter or in the setback area must have an open space at ground level that is at least 1foot by 1 foot between each hedge. These fence and hedge restrictions also apply to anywhere on your property where a Wildlife Buffer is present.
- Benefit to Wildlife – Little or none – there is no animal that would be able to get through a 6×6 inch opening that can’t already get over or under a solid fence, and there is no discernable benefit that justifies the privacy loss for residents.
- Harm to Homeowners/residents – Do you want your neighbors to be able to see into your back yard, or even into your bedrooms and bathrooms? The 1ft by 1ft opening for hedges is large enough for children and pets to easily escape and is an open invitation for predators of all kinds.
ALLOWED HOME SIZE REDUCED – The size of the home you’re allowed to build/have is based on the size and slope of your lot, with steeper slopes getting less “credit” towards home size. Under the 2022WO, slopes on your property that are greater than 60% (aka 31 degrees) would not count toward your allowed square footage. Additionally, garages and basements would count towards maximum square footage.
- Benefit to Wildlife – We have been unable to locate any scientific support for this regulation. While, arguably. smaller allowed homes might benefit wildlife, we could find no scientific support for the concept that slope steepness has any connection. Any concern about new disturbance to slopes to accommodate home construction should be handled by grading restrictions, not square footage restrictions.
- Harm to homeowners – Many, if not most, of the lots in the Wildlife District have slopes greater than 31 degrees, which means that many, if not most, of the properties in the Wildlife District would have a reduced allowable home size – and many homeowners would have their allowed square footage drastically reduced.
FLAT ROOFS OR LOW CEILINGS REQUIRED FOR TWO STORY RIDGELINE HOMES – 2022WO limits building height within 50 feet of a Ridgeline (the “Ridgeline Buffer”) to 25 feet tall. This means that two story homes near a Ridgeline will be required to be flat roofed architecture, or have low ceilings with low sloped roofs (eg a two story home with only 9 foot ceilings will be about 21 feet tall before adding a roof, taking into account foundation and ceiling structures). Additionally, homes that have a ridgeline anywhere on their property will be required to have a 50% increased setback on one side of their homes. Check this Planning Department link to see if your property is affected by a Ridgeline Buffer (plug your address into the search bar on the upper left corner and zoom out as needed to see your whole lot. Also double check that the map returns the correct address – it has been known to buggy):
- Benefit to Wildlife – None that we can tell, unless wildlife are fans of flat roofed architecture. We have been unable to locate any scientific support for the notion that ridgelines have any special wildlife value as compared to any other hillside topography (such as canyon bottoms) that justify additional restrictions, especially for lots that have already been developed with homes. Also, this regulation does nothing to preserve pristine ridgelines.
- Harm to Homeowners – Do you want the City telling you what style of home you and your neighbors can have? Additionally, this provision would change the character of many established neighborhoods.
DRASTIC RESTRICTIONS FOR PROPERTIES NEAR “WILDLIFE RESOURCES” – the 2022WO creates buffer zones, called “Resource Buffers”, around “wildlife resources”, and prohibits all construction and grading within that buffer zone. Also, if a single inch of a Resource Buffer exists on your property, and your desired construction is not within that Buffer, any construction (except interior remodeling or construction that doesn’t change a building’s footprint) will still require you to substantially conform to all Wildlife Ordinance restrictions and go through an expensive and time-consuming special permitting procedure (preliminary estimate is $30,000 and 12 months wait time).
“Wildlife Resources” are very broadly defined in the ordinance, and although the Planning Department has issued a map with what it considers Wildlife Resources, the broad definition in the actual 2022WO would allow them to add Resources to that map at any time. Check here to see if your property is affected by a Resource Buffer, (plug your address into the search bar on the upper left hand corner, and zoom out as needed. Also double check that the map returns the correct address – it has been known to buggy), but remember that the Planning Department can add “Resources” to the map at any time, or if it finds a “Resource” on your property that is not on the map :
- Benefit to Wildlife – there is a benefit to wildlife in protecting water related resources, but the restrictions go too far, especially for properties that already have already been developed with a home. The benefit to wildlife from resource buffers around open space is minimal, and pales in comparison to the detriment to homeowners.
- Harm to Homeowners – A remarkable number of properties are affected by Resource Buffers, and many homes are located directly within those buffers and so will have no rights to build or remodel at all. The only recourse for those homeowners would be a very expensive and lengthy process to request relief from the ordinance, with an unknowable likelihood of success. Additionally, if your neighbor were to sell or donate their property to a preservation group, your property would now be in a Resource Buffer, and subject to these restrictions.
LOT COVERAGE – previously only buildings over 6 feet counted toward lot coverage, and maximum amount of lot coverage was 40% (45% for lots less than 50 feet wide or 5,000 square feet). Under the 2022WO, the maximum lot coverage would be increased to 50% of the lot, or 100,000 sf, whichever is less. However, under the 2022WO, Lot Coverage would also include pools, planters, tennis courts, pavement, patios, low decks, and stairs/ramps that are 2.5feet or less.
- Benefit to Wildlife – This regulation would have a benefit to Wildlife in general, particularly with respect to groundwater recharge, and the urban heat island effect, but is too restrictive for smaller lots. On the flip side, the 100,000sf of lot coverage for large lots appears to be gift to developers of mega mansions and is detrimental to wildlife.
- Harm to homeowners – This regulation is likely to be overly restrictive for homeowners on smaller lots. As an example, a 7000sf lot (70×100) would easily surpass the 50% threshold with only a 2,000sf home, a 15×30 pool, and a 10ft patio around the pool, and that’s before counting the driveway, front walkway etc.
OBSCURED WINDOWS REQUIRED – 2022WO would require that all window panes that are 24sf in size or greater be treated to make the glass more visible to birds (to reduce the chances of “bird strikes”, i.e. birds flying into windows). These treatments include closely spaced dots on the windows, or frosted, stenciled, etched or sandblasted windows, or window screens or angled windows, or specialty glass such as Ornilux.
- Benefit to Wildlife – unknown. Bird Strike rates are highly variable, and although bird strikes have been shown to be a problem in certain other areas of country (such as those along some migratory routes), or in areas with particular geographical features (such as adjacent to large lakes), to our knowledge there is no scientific evidence that bird strikes are a problem within the proposed Wildlife District, thus this could well be a disruptive solution to a minimal problem.
- Harm to Homeowners – Do you want the view out of your windows obscured by dots, frosting, screens, etc., especially if bird strikes are a rare occurrence? Although the Planning Department claims that Ornilux glass is “transparent”, the treatment on the glass is reported to be noticeable to the human eye, and it is significantly more expensive than regular glass.
MINIMUM FRONT SETBACKS INCREASED – The current setback is the greater of: 20% of the lot depth, or the prevailing setback (which is basically an average of the current setbacks of existing homes on the street) but not less than 5 feet. The 2022WO increases that 5 foot minimum (available only to to 10 feet.
- Benefit to Wildlife – there would be some benefit to wildlife in terms of increased space on narrow streets, but it is not proportional to the impact on existing homes in certain areas in the Wildlife District.
- Harm to Homeowners – many owners of existing homes with less than 10 feet of front setback will be severely impacted by this provision. Without a very expensive and time consuming bureaucratic process that has no guarantee of success, they will, for example, be unable to add more than 500sf to their homes, or to get any building permits at all if there is a Resource Buffer anywhere on their property.
We continue to be deeply concerned about the lack of notice and outreach to homeowners who would be affected by the Wildlife Ordinance. No notice has ever been given directly to homeowners, and many remain unaware of the threat this proposed ordinance poses to their homes, their enjoyment of those homes, and to their financial health. Although the Planning Department has consulted with various environmental interest groups, they have never consulted with homeowners, and appear to have largely ignored the previous input of outraged homeowners, most of whom who only found out about the Wildlife Ordinance through the efforts of other homeowners.
We are also concerned that some elements of the Planning Department’s communications border on the deceptive, whether intentional or not. For example:
- The Planning Department has Ridgelines and Resource Buffers on two separate maps. Why? Doing so not only obscures the number of affected homes, but also will likely confuse affected homeowners.
- The Planning Department’s 2022WO “Fact Sheet” and communications state that you can find out whether you have a Resource Buffer or Ridgeline on your Property by checking a map in a link they provide. However, the map they link to only has the Resource Buffers on it, not the Ridgelines, and will undoubtedly lead some people to think they are not affected by the 2022WO’s Ridgeline restrictions when they actually are.
- The Planning Department’s 2022WO “Fact Sheet” states that “new development is the focus of the regulations”. To the general public, “new development” is development on a lot that has not previously been developed. However, that type of development is NOT the focus of the 2022WO, as its provisions do not distinguish between the developer who wants to build a warehouse-sized mansion on pristine land, and the homeowner who wants to add on to their 75 year old, 1500sf home.
- The 2022WO graphics for setbacks and fencing misrepresent the reality of those provisions. While actual side setbacks are generally 10% of lot width on each side, the setbacks in the graphics are less than 5%. This results in a depiction of a privacy fence in the graphic that would not be permitted in real life.
- The 2022WO graphics for the height restrictions on a ridgeline depict a home in a canyon bottom instead, requiring the reader to do mental gymnastics to envision how the restrictions would apply on an actual ridgeline.
- The Planning Department did not provide a list of the addresses for properties affected by the Ridgeline and Resource Buffers. Why? We know they are capable of doing so because they did it for the initial version of the Wildlife Ordinance. Were they afraid we would use it again to notify affected homeowners?
- The Planning Department’s “Fact Sheet” for the 2022WO uses the term “Study” interchangeably to refer to the 2022WO itself and a report commissioned by the Planning Department, implying that the 2022WO regulations are supported by scientific research. They are not.
 It is unclear at this point whether any of these triggering actions would require conformance will all provisions of the 2022WO, regardless of the particular triggering event. We requested clarification from the City of Los Angeles Planning Department on 5/18/22, but to date have not received an answer. However, we do know that regulations pertaining to only Ridgeline or Wildlife Resource Buffer properties are only applicable to properties with these elements on the property.