Architects, engineers ask for mapping system


A committee charged with reviewing the City Council’s proposed ordinance on hillsides sees the mapping approach as a way out of the minefield of political decisions council members make using the lot-by-lot approach.

Architects say the ordinances give an immense amount of discretionary power to the City Council to control community character. Council members must decide which constituency to please.

For example, at the last City Council meeting, council members postponed a decision on Barbra Streisand’s home remodeling plans because they did not know whether to support her or her neighbors. Council members were faced with accusations of either selective enforcement for celebrities or reverse discrimination against celebrities.

The Architects and Engineers Committee, comprising local architects Michael Barsocchini, Ed Niles and Richard Sol, as well as Woodland Hills civil engineer David Weiss and Santa Monica landscape architect Marny Randall, will recommend the council buy a geographic information mapping system costing $175,000 – $300,000.

The committee made its decision last week, after hearing from Planning Director Craig Ewing that he has resigned effective Feb. 11 and that the council is asking for community input on two-year budget priorities by the end of this month. The maps would also be useful to the city consultant refining the Interim Zoning Ordinance, Ewing said. Barsocchini noted it is hard for someone to visualize slope. He said he took Planning Commissioner Charleen Kabrin to a site on Point Dume and asked if she thought it was steep. She said it was, but a property owner might not. “That’s politicizing,” Barsocchini said.

Ewing is to fashion a resolution calling for a basic system of maps showing topography, property lines and roadways, estimated to cost $175,000. Optional overlay maps include zoning districts, the mean high tide line, landslides, infrastructure such as District 29 water mains, environmentally sensitive habitat areas (ESHAs) and archeological sites.

Ewing said the mapping system could be the basis of a permit tracking system costing about $50,000. People could look on the Internet for “tags” of all the permits on their property. Then they would know where they would have to go to resolve the issue.

“The base map system thrashes out lots of information. It will make like easier for everyone,” Niles said.

ESHAs were high on the option list because of the amount of time the city’s biologist, Marti Witter, has to spend locating them. “I’ve learned to ask about them,” Randall said. “If you’re looking on the ground, you don’t know if you have an issue.”

The committee was created last October because the council had rejected the Planning Commission’s year-long effort to fashion an ordinance regulating the design of new homes and remodels, after residents complained the hills were sprouting gargantuan eyesores.

The commission had trouble reaching consensus on how steep a slope to set as the threshold for regulation until the staff proposed extending the design regulations to all proposed homes and remodels over 18 feet tall, as well as those planned for hillside slopes greater than 33 percent. That recommendation also grants the Planning Commission expansive new powers to review housing projects.

“It is a tool for determining the future,” Niles said about the mapping system. Noting the number of lawsuits against Realtors, Niles said. “Once a property is on a map, it forces the city to respond, instead of having to make political decisions.” The city of Agoura Hills has a topographical map with everything on it, “not because they are so nice, but because they want to protect themselves,” Niles said.