LA pulls about-face on ED1 with appeal of affordable Sawtelle project

Generation Real Estate’s case puts question mark on crucial CEQA exemption

LA Pulls About-Face on ED1 With Appeal of Sawtelle Project
Generation Real Estate's Ramin Ghaneeian; 11418-11424 West Missouri Avenue (X, Getty, Google Maps)

Generation Real Estate Partners expected to break ground on a 44-unit affordable apartment complex in Sawtelle next month, streamlined by an initiative by L.A. Mayor Karen Bass.

Then an affiliate of the Sawtelle-based developer hit a roadblock when the L.A. Planning Department allowed an appeal under state environmental law from opponents of the project at 11418-11424 West Missouri Avenue, in Japantown, LAist reported. The project would replace three demolished homes. 

Two weeks earlier, Generation co-founder Steven Scheibe had been assured in writing by the L.A. Planning Department that the project, filed under the mayor’s Executive Directive 1, was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act.

“It’s pretty frustrating,” Scheibe told LAist, the rebranded anime of public radio station 89.3 KPCC. “It has obviously delayed the start of construction, which we were expecting to do in the middle of February. We’re unlikely to be able to start at that time period.”

The cornerstone of Bass’ initiative, ED1, aimed to streamline the approval process for affordable housing by exempting it from lengthy environmental reviews. 

But the unexpected challenge by Missouri Avenue Neighbors has stalled the developer’s construction plans —  which some housing advocates say could mean delays for all ED1 projects.

ED1 promised to accelerate the construction of 100-percent affordable housing projects by approving applications within 60 days and issuing building permits within five days, encouraging private developers to build affordable housing without taxpayer funding.

Exempting projects from CEQA was a crucial feature of the fast-track order, allowing developers to bypass time-consuming environmental impact studies.

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Some now worry that if such appeals are allowed to proceed, Los Angeles might struggle to meet its state-mandate to plan for nearly 185,000 affordable homes by 2029.

The mayor’s office, in response to questions from LAist, said it’s now working with the city attorney on how to handle the appeal.

“CEQA should not be used as a strategy to block affordable housing projects from moving forward,” Clara Karger, a spokeswoman for the mayor, told LAist in an email. She said ED1 “cuts through red tape and breaks down bureaucratic barriers.”

As the legal battles unfold, including a lawsuit seeking to overturn ED1, the fate of affordable housing projects and the broader housing crisis in Los Angeles hangs in the balance. 

The developer behind the Sawtelle project, the Scheibe-led LA Affordable Communities, has sent the city a letter demanding a dismissal of the CEQA appeal. It said if the city fails to overturn the challenge within 90 days, it will be in violation of the state’s Housing Accountability Act.

L.A. City Councilwoman Traci Park, who represents the district, said she has not yet taken a position on whether the CEQA appeal should move forward.

“I was surprised that it had been accepted,” Park told LAist. “Now that it’s there, and the question exists, it’s going to have to be answered. I don’t know that there is any kind of process to roll back the appeal.”

— Dana Bartholomew

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