The Real Deal Los Angeles

Bill Witte on LA’s flawed planning process:
“Developers like rules”

Related California CEO spoke against NII talking point that builders prefer so-called “spot zoning”
By Julie Walmsley | October 31, 2016 02:15PM

Related California CEO Bill Witte and a photo of the DTLA skyline by Hunter Kerhart

Related California CEO Bill Witte and a photo of the DTLA skyline by Hunter Kerhart

Proponents of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative have rallied against so-called “spot-zoning,” the process by which the city approves, piecemeal, developers’ requests for exemptions to L.A.’s outdated zoning code. The campaign makes it sound like developers benefit from the lack of regulations — but a prominent L.A. builder says the development community isn’t a fan of the process, either.

“This may sound counter-revolutionary: Developers like rules,” Related California CEO Bill Witte said Friday while moderating a panel on workforce housing at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management for the Los Angeles Business Council’s summit.

Witte said defined requirements for affordable units, such as the regulations enacted when San Francisco’s Proposition C passed in June — more than doubling its affordable housing requirement for developments of 25 or more units — make his job easier.

“Then you know [what your obligations are],” he said, adding that the proponents of anti-development initiatives often try to make it sound like developers’ prefer the process the way it is.

“The spin is no, no, [developers] just want to get into the council office, go to fundraisers, and at the end of the day we’ll come out with something,” he said. “But we prefer rules.”

Related California is behind the soldout Ocean Avenue South development in Santa Monica, a mixed-income residential project which recently won the Urban Land Institute’s 2016 Global Award for Excellence. Related’s Southern California portfolio of affordable housing includes the 62-unit Parkside Family Apartments in Pomona, the 221-unit active senior community Solaira at Pavilion Park in Irvine, and two adjacent communities in San Bernardino County for families and for seniors.

On the flip side, it developed the famously luxe Westside condo project the Century, as well as the Emerson Downtown. It also developed a market-rate mixed-user in Little Tokyo, the 230-unit Sakura Crossing on San Pedro Street — which it sold to Sares-Regis Group. Related is currently building a 114-unit apartment complex at 1755 Argyle Avenue in Hollywood. 

Prior to joining Related in 1989, Witte was San Francisco’s Deputy Mayor of housing and neighborhoods and the acting director of the Housing Authority for one year. Before that post, he logged five years as the director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Economic Development in San Francisco.