Photo: Kelsey Pudloski

Wood-framed, multi-family residential buildings are a fast and cost-effective way to tackle Southern California’s severe housing shortage and high construction costs. But in a region plagued by wildfires, they can also pose significant safety risks. 

Today, Los Angeles City Council voted to further a proposed ordinance that would limit the use of wood-framed construction on projects with more than 150,000 square feet of gross floor area that are located in high-risk fire zones or densely populated neighborhoods. New buildings higher than 30 feet with over 100,000 square feet of gross floor area would also be impacted, in addition to communities with more than 5,000 residents per square mile.

According to Urbanize Los Angeles, which first reported on the proposed ordinance, it would expand the boundaries of Fire District No. 1, an area that currently includes Downtown, Century City, Hollywood and Koreatown. If passed, the law would encompass all areas within the City of Los Angeles that are designated as very high fire hazard severity zones (VHFHSZ) or high wind velocity areas. 

In addition to hillside areas, which are prone to brush fires, parts of Highland Park, Echo Park, Silver Lake, Los Feliz and Pacific Palisades could be affected by the expansion. The proposed ordinance was introduced by Councilmember Bob Blumenfield and Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez. It is also supported by Build with Strength, a coalition of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association.

Proponents say the move would create safer communities that are resistant to wildfires, while others believe that it would increase the cost of construction and slow the pace of homebuilding. And because Los Angeles County is home to 88 incorporated cities, developers seeking to continue using wood-framed construction methods could opt to build large developments in those areas instead.

Los Angeles City Council has requested that a report be compiled to evaluate the potential impacts that the legislation could have on construction and housing costs.

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