Honey Demands Justice

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July 1, 2012 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste.)
Honey van Blossom

Barlow Hospital proposed changes to zoning, height and density regulations on the land at an entrance to Elysian Park that it has owned since 1902.


Walter Jarvis Barlow purchased 25 acres of meadowland next to the city-owned Elysian Park on Chavez Ravine Road for $7,500 from J. B. Lankershim for a tuberculosis hospital.  Barlow convinced Lankershim to donate $1,000 back to him, and he received a $1,300 donation from Alfred Solano.   The location seemed ideal because the surrounding hills provided for clean air and the neighboring Elysian Park seemed to insure against any future development.


Los Angeles did not adopt land use regulations called zoning until 1909 to 1915.   San Francisco had earlier restricted dance halls, livery stables, slaughterhouses, saloons and pool halls.   In 1885, New York state limited the height of tenements.   In 1909, the United States Supreme Court upheld height restrictions in Boston in Welch v. Swasey 214 U.S. 919.     In 1915, Hadacheck v. Sebastian, 239 U.S. 394, the United States Supreme Court upheld a city ban on brickyards.   Although lower courts found zoning unconstitutional, the United States Supreme Court decision in Village of Euclid v. Amber Realty, 272 U.S. 365 (1926), has been consistently interpreted to mean that local government’s “police power” allows it regulate land so long as it is in the public interest to do so, although there is the Fifth Amendment/14th amendment prohibition against government taking property without just compensation.


Although some still believe the government cannot regulate private property in the public interest, it can.


Land use planning has become a lot more complicated as the city filled up.   When I was growing up, there were still many empty lots in Silver Lake and Echo Park.  The air quality was fairly awful and we children had trouble breathing when we rode our bikes through much emptier streets because there was no air quality regulation.   We had no idea that when we rode from the then-playground near the Griffith Park Swimming Pool into the Los Angeles River, that we were riding through untreated sewage water, nor would we have understood what that meant, because there were no significant water quality regulations.   The water table under Los Angeles and the Valley became contaminated in those years because not many people thought it was a good idea to regulate gravel extraction, landfills, faucet factories, or rocket manufacturers.


The story of the Barlow property’s zoning is like a science fiction story with a prehistoric animal suddenly wakening into the modern world.    It has been zoned agricultural since 1909-1915.   It is open space, in a neighborhood with now very dense residential and commercial development.


The proposed development, which requests relief from height limits and asks for density bonuses, would create a small city at the edge of Elysian Park with 888 units and “neighborhood commercial” businesses.    These proposed changes are significantly inconsistent with the general plan (the Silver Lake Echo Park Elysian Heights Community Plan is the general plan for the area), as well as zoning.   The traffic generated would greatly diminish the value of the park by adding to the stream of commuter and ballpark traffic cutting through the park to get to the I-5.


According to state law,  local governments cannot change zoning or land use designations that conflict with the general plan, so the City, if it accepts these changes, will have to rewrite large sections of its general plan in order to accommodate Barlow Hospital’s wish to make more money off the sale of the property.


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