Understanding Mansionization in Culver City

The below presentation was originally given on October 25, 2015.
(please be sure your sound is on and the volume is up to hear narration).

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Frequently Asked Questions and Clarifications

The Culver City Council is about to decide on new residential zoning codes.  However, they will do so with little public input and are doing very little to address the growing concern over the construction of out-of-scale, out-of-character homes.  If left unchecked, “mansionization” will continue to rob homeowners here of sunlight, views and a right to privacy.  All we are asking if for the City to properly address responsible home construction and additions, as, without exaggeration, we are all at risk of having our quality of life and homes values negatively impact.  We appreciate you taking the time to review the following often asked questions regarding “mansionization” in Culver City.

What do you mean by “mansionization”?  

“Mansionization” is the building homes that are out-of-scale or out-of-character with a neighborhood.  These houses often rob neighbor’s of sunlight, views and privacy.  They also can have a long-term negative impact on surrounding property values.

What is meant by “out-of-scale”?

Many of these new oversized homes are over 4,000 sq. ft. on lots of only 6,000 sq. ft. or less.  By comparison, the average home in a neighborhood such as Carlson Park is 1,600 sq. ft.  The average new home in a Culver City neighborhood is often more than twice that over the average existing homes.

Why should I care — nothing is being built next to me?

Many, many very large homes are yet to be built, as the city just permitted more in 2015 than in the past five years combined.  What may have started in a few of our neighborhoods is now spreading throughout the City – many newly permitted oversized homes are yet to be constructed.  Anyone can be impacted and harmed by mansionization — it often just bad luck when your next door neighbor decides to sell to someone with plans to build a huge home.   Your family home and the quality of life it affords you, could be very negatively, and irreversibly, altered in a heartbeat.

Aren’t the large homes being construction great for property values?

No.   Mansionization actually decreases property values, as smaller neighboring homes are reduced to lot value and much less active to most buyers.  Furthermore, since 2000, the average home value price (on a per square foot basis) in Culver City has go up 3.5 times without the help of mansionization.  This increase is due to the quality of our schools, parks, downtown, and other area amenities.  We do not need mansionization to increase our homes values.   We will preserve and increase our home values in the long term and allow community fundamentals to increase value rather than market speculation.  (The reason why Culver did not crash like many other places during the recent economic recessions.)  In fact, if mansionization erodes neighbor character, we may actually see a slowdown in value as our neighborhoods become less attractive to many buyers.

Doesn’t Culver City benefit greatly from large homes that pay more in property taxes?

NO.  Very little economic gain comes from large homes here.  Culver City has one of the lowest property tax rates in Los Angeles County (78th out of 88 cities in LA County, per The Los Angeles Times).  The city only collects (check you tax bill):  

  • Direct Assessments – fixed amounts, not a percentage unrelated to value; and
  • Voted Indebtedness – voted in and existing for fixed period of time (metro water district, community college and unified schools for 2015).  These are based on a very, very small % of taxable value — totaling only about 1/10th of a percent of taxable value (vs. 1.00% going to the County for general levy) for 2015.

The major sources of revenue for the City are sales tax and fees from utilities. NOT property taxes.

Don’t new homes make a neighborhood more pleasing?

Yes and no.  Responsible development is wonderful for a neighborhood.  Most of Culver City started out as planned communities.  However, homes constructed to their maximum possible size, the quality of materials and craftsmanship often suffers, which impacts the character of a neighborhood.  Most significantly, neighborhood amenities such as attractive streetscapes, character and charm – the reasons most people moved here in the first place — are lost forever.  While not all oversized homes are built for profit by developers, many are.  Speculators taking advantage of outdated zoning codes have no stake in the long term quality and character of the City.

Why would we want to limit one’s right to improve his or her property?

We don’t.  The fight to stop mansionization is specifically about property rights.  These new, very large homes in rob neighbors or sunlight, views and privacy.   We want to allow and encourage homeowners to expand, rebuild and renovate their homes in the style and design they see fit.  (Proper new codes would only affect the biggest of the big that are out of character with our existing community.)  

Is this a problem in other places?

Yes.  Many other Los Angeles area communities have recognized this epidemic and have or are in the process of enacting regulations to stop mansionization.  Because Culver City is actually very behind the curve, our 25-year old zoning codes are being taken advantage of.

If this is a real problem, that is what the City Council if for, right?  I thought they were working on it.

Actually, the City Council is PLANNING TO CHANGE ITS RESIDENTIAL ZONING CODES.  However, there has been neither meaningful resident input nor a proper process of evaluation.  Wherever one stands on the issue, without pressure from the community, the Council will enact a hastily-formulated, “one size fits all” solution.  We can all agree that a 2,500 sq. ft. property should have the same restrictions as a 20,000 sq. ft. property.  An unforeseen consequence of the proposed revisions would be actually promoting the construction very large homes there!  

I have heard of talk of a moratorium, what does that mean?

A moratorium is a simple mechanism that the City Council can use to temporarily halt homes of a certain size from entering plan check, thus being unable to receive permits for a short period of time.  During this time, the current codes would be reviewed and properly revised.  In a similar case, the City Council has temporarily halted the construction of apartment building over 4 units when their negative impact on nearby homes was evident.

What exactly would changing the codes with resident input do?

Firstly, it would update 25-year old zoning codes that are now dealing with very current problems that simply did not exist back then.  By enacting more intelligent zoning, newly constructed homes will actually benefit the look and feel of a neighborhood rather than detract from it.  They will preserve the neighborhood character that brought us here in the first place for ourselves, our children and future generations.  What is would not do is stop regular homeowners from renovating, enlarging or rebuilding their homes.  Most importantly, if the City enacts codes with proper resident input, the homeowners, taxpayers and community residents get a say so in what we want the future of Culver City to look like.  In addition to stopping the harmful and negative impacts of mansionization, we have the opportunity to put in place great new codes like allowing basements, promoting green features, establishing rules for articulated facades and encouraging reasonable setbacks.