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Sam Hall Kaplan

Council Continues to Weaken Measure

October 19, 1986|Sam Hall Kaplan

Lingering doubts over the need for passage of Proposition U fade with each frantic action by the city to weaken the slow-growth initiative.

The latest in a series of legally questionable maneuvers initiated by the City Council is scheduled for Thursday when the City Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on whether to exempt thousands of properties from the designated zones that would be affected if the proposition is approved.

Capacity attendance is expected at the hearing, scheduled from 1 to 6 p.m. at the Van Nuys Women's Club, 14836 Sylvan St., Van Nuys, and resuming at 7:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers at City Hall downtown.

But don't expect everyone to testify, especially not the opponents of the subterfuge, for the commission most likely will follow the council's example and stack the speaker list to favor vested and special interests.

Neighborhood persons who have attended zone-change hearings in the past involving one insensitive proposal or another know the pernicious procedure well--one of the reasons why some 105,000 signatures were gathered with relative ease to get Proposition U on the ballot.

It is really too bad, because the council's actions, taken with the blessings of Mayor "I-know-who-butters-my-bread" Bradley, just reinforce the view from the neighborhoods that planning in the city is a cozy Monopoly game being played by politicians and their campaign contributors--and they're playing it badly, judging by the city's dwindling quality of life.

One can only hope at this stage of the farce that the Planning Commission will somehow assert its independence, intelligence, respect for the prerogatives of the electorate and faith in a damaged planning process by rejecting the Council's actions.

And where has our new, squeaky-clean, stand-tall planning director, Kenneth Topping, been during this farce, other than signing the pay sheets for the overtime his staff put in to mail a record 56,000 public-hearing notices to owners of property to be affected?

By taking a stand against the obvious zoning subterfuge, the commission, Topping, and his staff would be doing the council, as well as themselves, a favor and would restore some credibility to the the city's convoluted and crumbling planning process.

Certainly, the commission, the council, the mayor and the powers-that-be must recognize that the lack of credibility in the process was what prompted the drafting and avid support of Proposition U, and why it most likely will be overwhelmingly approved by the voters.

For the past few years, neighborhoods have been sending the city a very loud and clear message that they are fed up with insensitive, out-of-scale development and the resulting traffic mismanagement, and want some changes in the planning process.

But the city has not been listening. Instead, it has been retreating further into the recesses of its chambers and back offices to manipulate the planning process.

And so now we have Proposition U, the first volley in what amounts to a residents' revolt.

The proposition might be a meat-ax approach to planning by the public, as it has been characterized by opponents. But that is better than the present stiletto approach of the city.

Actually, as an advocate of a sensible planning process to better direct and shape growth to the needs of both residential and commercial communities, I had worried, when the initiative was first proposed, that it indeed was too sweeping.

Planning exercised properly is much too much of an art to be broad-brushed.

In addition, too often in the past planning by ballot box has had a negative cast, catering to economic and racial prejudices and creating an "us versus them," time-to-lift-the-drawbridge situation.

(Certainly Proposition 13, which in its way was a planning initiative, has over the years created more property-tax inequities than it originally might have corrected, to say nothing of the damage it has done to public services.)

I much prefer a sensitive process geared to the neighborhood level, where an open forum involving advocate planners and local residents can rationally review development proposals within reasonable guidelines.

In my continuing optimism, there is the hope that properly orchestrated and designed growth can actually create a better quality of life for all, providing needed housing, services and amenities.

Density does not have to strangle a city. When shaped with care and coordinated with transit, it can energize a city.

But it is apparent that a rational planning process does not work in an irrational political system that has been hardened over the years by a short-sighted council, a fumbling planning commission, a self-serving civil service system and a weak mayor.

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