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The Ridgeline Ordinance

The Ridgeline Ordinance (“RO”) would result in existing ridgeline homes being subject to draconian new regulations that would have far-reaching consequences to those homeowners AND to their non-ridgeline neighbors and neighborhoods.

The Ridgeline Ordinance[1] is a new law that the City plans to put into effect by the end of the year that will dramatically change the zoning of all ridgeline neighborhoods in a so-called “Pilot Area” bounded by the 405 freeway on the west, Laurel Canyon on the east, the Mulholland corridor on the north and Sunset Blvd on the South.  (Beverly Hills is not affected because it is a separate city.)  The Ridgeline Ordinance would be applied to the Pilot Area (approximately 4,500 homes) on an experimental basis (i.e., we would serve as the “laboratory” to see how it works).  It is expected that the Ridgeline Ordinance will be extended to additional parts of the City (e.g., to Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, etc.) in the coming years.

The City initially said it would have different zoning restrictions for “pristine” ridgelines (which would be re-zoned RP1) than for existing neighborhoods (which would be re-zoned RP2).   However, in the proposed Ridgeline Ordinance, all affected properties are to be re-zoned to the most restrictive RP1 designation, which does not allow structures within 50 vertical or horizontal feet from a ridgeline.

The Ridgeline Ordinance is triggered if the owner of one of these re-zoned properties wants to do any grading, construction, erection of, addition to, or structural alteration of, any building or structure which requires the issuance of any demolition permit, building permit, foundation permit, or grading permit (however, changes that only involve interior construction, as well as additions that (a) do not exceed 500 square feet and (b) do not exceed the height of the existing building, are exempt )

Under the proposed Ridgeline Ordinance, if you want to do anything to your home that would trigger the Ridgeline Ordinance, your home will have to be demolished and moved down the canyon so that (a) no part of it (including even a chimney or weather vane) is higher than 50 feet below the lowest part of the ridgeline on, or adjacent to, your property and (b) no part of it is closer than 50 horizontal feet from the ridgeline.

If the City decides to back away from designating existing homes as zoned RP1 and instead decides to designate them as RP2, then anything that triggers the Ridgeline Ordinance will require the owners of two-story homes to demolish their second story, because the Ridgeline Ordinance limits the height of homes to 18 feet measured from the lowest point of the ridgeline on, or adjacent to, the property. This height restriction will also prohibit homeowners of single-story homes from adding a second story (even if their property is already surrounded by two-story homes).

The Ridgeline Ordinance also limits the amount of grading that can be done on a property.

Rebuilding your home after a disaster such as a fire or an earthquake will also trigger the Ridgeline Ordinance.  Under RP1, if your home is on the ridgeline, you will not be allowed to rebuild it there – you will have to move it down the canyon.  Under RP2, if your home is two stories, you will not be allowed to rebuild it as a two-story home.

[1] The Ridgeline Ordinance is actually two separate ordinances that are intended to be enacted together. For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to them together as just the Ridgeline Ordinance.  

Consequences To Ridgeline Homeowners

  • The RO will make it effectively impossible to rebuild ridgeline homes in the event they are damaged in a fire, earthquake or other disaster.  Building far enough down the canyon to comply with the RO is prohibitively expensive.  Even if a home were designated RP2, it could only be rebuilt as a single story home, and many hillside lots do not have the room to build the same size house as a single story without building down the canyon.
  • The RO will make it effectively impossible to enlarge ridgeline homes. RO/RP1 will not allow the addition of more than 500sf to existing ridgeline homes.  RO/RP2 will not allow the addition of a second story to single story homes, or more than a 500sf addition to an existing two story home.  It is usually significantly more expensive to build a single story addition, than a second story addition of the same size. Many, if not most, ridgeline homeowners do not have room on their lots to build single story additions without building down the canyon and/or using caissons, which is prohibitively expensive and disruptive to the hillside and neighbors.
  • The RO will render it difficult, if not impossible, to obtain adequate insurance on ridgeline homes.  Because it will be so expensive to rebuild ridgeline homes in compliance with the RO, homeowners will have to purchase considerably more insurance than previously, at a time when it is already difficult to obtain insurance in hillside areas.  For those that can only obtain Fair Plan insurance, which has 3 million dollar limit, it is unlikely homeowners would be able to purchase enough insurance at any cost to rebuild their homes in compliance with RP1 or RP2.
  • The RO will make it difficult/impossible/expensive to obtain a mortgage on ridgeline homes.  Lenders will not want to give a mortgage on homes that are too expensive to rebuild, because they will lose their money if the homes are destroyed.  They also will not want to give a mortgage on smaller homes that cannot be enlarged, as those homes will lose value compared to similar homes that can be enlarged.  Those lenders that would take such risks will require a higher interest rate to compensate them for the risk.  
  • The RO will decimate the value of ridgeline homes.  Put simply, would you pay as much for a home that would be extremely expensive to rebuild, or that was limited to a 500sf addition, or for which you, or a future buyer, could not obtain a mortgage, as you would for a home that didn’t have all those problems?  The drop in home value could have devastating effects for many homeowners and their families for whom their home is their single biggest asset and/or the linchpin of their plans for retirement or long term care as they age. Recent buyers may find themselves underwater on their mortgages from the moment the Ridgeline Ordinance is enacted.

  • Homeowners who live below ridgeline homes will suffer as well. Because building down the canyon is so expensive, it would likely be mostly developers building modern mega mansions who would undertake that effort. Where canyon homes previously had an uphill view of largely undeveloped hillside, under the RO they will see massive unsightly caissons, and homes clinging to the hillside looming over them. Building down the canyon also requires significantly more earthwork, resulting in increased construction traffic, wear and tear on canyon roads, and damage to previously undisturbed hillsides.
  • Property values throughout the neighborhood will drop.  The drop in home values for the ridgeline properties, coupled with the risk of having a home built on the hillside over canyon homes, will have a domino effect on the property values of the entire neighborhood.
  • The City and County tax base will suffer, resulting in less money for needed services. The devastation of property values caused by the Ridgeline Ordinance will affect the City’s property tax base resulting in less money for the City, including for local schools, law enforcement, and other public services.
  • The RO Will Wreak Havoc With The Stability Of Families And Neighborhoods.  If disaster strikes, many of the homes will not be rebuilt as a direct result of the RO restrictions, or will be rebuilt by developers who will buy up the lots on the cheap and build modern mega mansions that loom over the homes below.  Even without a disaster, the neighborhood will become more transient as those who cannot enlarge their homes to meet their needs (such as, for example, their growing families, caregivers for seniors, home offices) will be forced to sell their homes, at reduced prices, and move to new homes and neighborhoods.

  • The City has been deceptive. The City has been non-transparent and, in some instances, outright deceptive about the proposed ordinances, attempting to make people believe that the ordinances were purely about preserving “pristine” ridgelines and failing to notify homeowners about the devastating impact the ordinances would have on long-standing, fully-developed, homes and neighborhoods.  See, for example, the Notice sent to homeowners about the Ridgeline Ordinance Hearing
  • The City has rushed the process. The City has not given the public adequate notice, or time, to allow residents of ridgeline, hillside and canyon communities to understand and evaluate the ramifications of the ordinances. 
  • The City itself doesn’t know all the consequences of the RO. The City admits that the RO is a “pilot study”, which is another word for an experiment.  When the experiment has negative consequences, it is the residents of the hillside neighborhoods that will suffer the consequences.  Rather than experiment with people’s lives, the City should do a full environmental and financial review of the consequences of the Ridgeline Ordinance
  • Your Home or Neighborhood could be next.  The City admits its intent is to expand the Ridgeline Ordinance to all hillside communities in the coming years.  Will you be notified when the Ridgeline Ordinance comes to your neighborhood?  If the City gets away with this, chances are they will again try to sneak this, and other ordinances that significantly impact residents, past its citizens. It may be our problem today, but it will be yours tomorrow.