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Temperature's Rising on Construction

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

MWHA asks all builders to comply with laws requiring them to improve roads to 20 feet wide in front of their property. Some builders agree, others react with heated opposition.

For decades, LA City policy has been that hillside roads are only improved incrementally as lots are developed. In other words, the only time that a hillside street will get improved and widened to 20 feet wide is when a lot is developed, and the builder is required by law to widen the road.

The City will not build or improve hillside roads. That is the reality we all must live with.

I’ve tried to research when this policy first went into effect, but I have not been able to do so. It was the policy 35 years ago when I built my home.

As someone who was not wealthy and who had a young family to support, the added cost of road improvements was daunting when I built in 1993. The benefit of those road improvements was proven when we evacuated our young family because a fire came up the canyon to our front door. LAFD saved our home and those of our neighbors in part because the road I improved to 20 feet wide allowed LAFD to access the properties.

Like current builders, I designed the home to be fire resistant, but that didn’t stop the fire from burning up the canyon and endangering neighboring homes. The road helped stop the fire.

Jump forward to 2023: The fire risks have increased. The infrastructure is struggling to accommodate the growth in the community. Insurance companies are non-renewing because of the infrastructure and fire issues. The City policy remains the same—the City will not improve roads—the City still says it is the builders’ responsibility.

Many builders factor road improvements into their designs and cost estimates from the beginning because City policy is so well-known. Other builders initially ask for waivers so that they do not have to improve the roads. When MWHA contacts those builders and explains why the roads are so important to the community, and to the project they are building, many builders withdraw their requests for waivers. They also recognize that having an improved road in front of their project increases the value of their project.

Some builders continue to ask for waivers--and they have a right to do so. When a builder asks for a waiver of their obligation to improve the road, the request goes to a hearing before a Zoning Administrator. The public (i.e. you) may submit written statements and also speak at the hearings.

The number of requests for waivers has increased significantly since 2017. In 2017, there were 3 hearings on requests for street waivers within our Specific Plan area. In 2018 there were 2 requests. In 2019, there were 15. The trend continues.

In the last two weeks we had three such hearings--two became very heated.

In those two cases, MWHA had reached out at least 18 months earlier—when the builders first filed their applications to build with the Planning department—asking that the roads be improved and offering to meet and discuss the issue. In one case, a prior builder had been required after a hearing to build the road improvements, so the issues were known to the builder when they purchased the land. Despite this the builders were resentful and heated at the hearings when the public asked that they provide the well-known road improvements.

How do we turn down the temperature? These builders (and their friends) are resentful and are using strong language to express that anger. How do we effectively address that resentment and anger, while advocating for compliance with the laws, and fire and road safety?

One way to quell resentment and resistance is to show builders that these are widespread community issues which they need to address. When the voices of many, not just a few active residents, vocalize their concerns, the community's concerns are more powerful and builders’ objections are less effective.

Please be part of our discussion. Land use committee meetings are the first Tuesday of the month at 6:30 via Zoom and are open to all voting members who are residents. Please contact Pat at for the link. We look forward to sharing ideas and working together toward solutions.


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