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Sam Hall Kaplan

Big Changes Undermine Measure

October 05, 1986|SAM HALL KAPLAN

The baseball season mercifully ends in Dodger Stadium today, but apparently not in the City Council. There a hard ball game continues in a blatant effort to sabotage Proposition U on the Nov. 4 ballot.

In the face of growing popular support for the slow-growth initiative, the council has moved to exempt select properties from the designated zones that would be affected if the proposition is approved as expected.

Whether the actions to subterfuge the initiative are legal or not, or can even be enacted before election time, the council--squirming under the spiked heel of president Pat Russell--showed its true colors: yellow.

In broad daylight and with characteristic guile, the council fumbled to salvage a few choice morsels out of the real estate-sweetened honeypot that is planning and development in Los Angeles, and before Propsition U snatched it out of the members' sticky paws.

Defending the attempt, Russell is quoted as saying the council acted because it did not want to "abdicate our responsibility on such important issues" as the future growth of the city. It was the kind of statement that generates snickers in a gut high school civics class.

What the council did abdicate was its responsibility to the more than 100,000 residents who signed petitions to place the initiative on the ballot, to the voters who will act on it next month, and to the very clear intentions of the state constitution providing for such a process.

But all this apparently was forgotten by the council in the fear of perhaps losing a substantial list of critical properities in the very privileged Monopoly game it has been playing in an increasingly urban Los Angeles.

It is really too bad, for in exposing itself as a self-centered circus, the council destroyed a little more of its waning credibility in the planning process. This will just make it that much more difficult to implement reasonable reforms.

Divisiveness of the type the council creates by its arbitrary actions in trying to retain questionable planning prerogatives in the obvious interests of select land developers is not what the city needs as it seeks to accommodate needed and healthy growth. It is hard to develop rational land use plans in an irrational political climate.

The council majority does not seem to realize that the slow-growth Proposition U is really quite moderate, given the sentiment welling up in the city's communities for flat out no-growth. It is a sentiment that the council actually feeds by such actions as it took the other day under the misguidance of Russell.

To his credit, Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky called the attempt what it is, "an effort to get around Proposition U." Joining him in a vain effort to stop the council from shooting itself in the foot were councilmen Ernani Bernardi and Marvin Braude. Joel Wachs was absent, but the week before he also voted against another Russell-inspired subterfuge.

What the council did accomplish was to vividly demonstrate why in its grasping hands the best intentions of conscientious planners, the hopes of neighborhoods and generally the enduring promise of Los Angeles as a livable city has become so elusive.

It also dramatically and depressingly demonstrated why--despite its imperfections--Proposition U should be approved, and why most likely in the years ahead other initiatives will follow to somehow recast the city's planning process to take it out of the backrooms of City Hall and make it more responsive to the public.

Becoming more and more apparent with each council action undermining the fabric of the city's persevering neighborhoods is the need for some sort of community planning boards, with staff and with teeth to review and initiate local projects.

Also needed and long overdue is some agreement on a vision for Los Angeles that includes a commitment to preserve and protect the elements that make it enjoyable, if not just tolerable, as it stumbles forward as a city.

Those elements include in particular our diverse neighborhoods and distinguishing historic landmarks, the beaches, the hills and the landscaping. Too much of it already has been lost to unsympathetic development and bureaucratic mismanagement.

As for Proposition U, it simply reduces from three times to 1 1/2 times the allowable buildable area in so-called Height District One zones, which now cover about 85% of the commercial and industrial properties of the city. If a developer feels he or she needs more, then they must prove it in an open process that in effect switches the as-of-right (allowed within the zoning) prerogatives from developers to the neighborhoods.

Most of the District One zones border single-family neighborhoods and had been established to accommodate neighborhood services. But within the last decade avaricious developers, aided by an obeisant council, have been able to build in the zones over-scaled and overwrought regional retail and office facilities.

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