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Planning Chairman Takes Whack at Criticism

November 02, 1986

I have just read Sam Hall Kaplan's most recent diatribe about planning in our city. There are several key factual matters I would like to point out.

First, with respect to the alleged "fumbling" Planning Commission and the "self-serving" Planning Department:

--We have initiated more down zoning in the last eight years than this or any other major city has ever experienced. Long before the Hillside Federation's lawsuit, the commission and department strongly advocated down zoning to implement the community plans.

--We have enacted numerous specific plans to limit growth beyond community plan entitlements. These include the Wilshire Park mile, Century City and Ventura Boulevard in Encino.

--We approved a complex, expensive transportation framework ordinance that will require almost all new developments in traffic impact zones to make significant contributions to ameliorate traffic conditions.

These and numerous other reform measures (e.g. adult entertainment ordinances, condo conversion restrictive measures, restrictive legislation to control proliferating alcohol sales in South-Central Los Angeles, a citywide sign ordinance, etc.) may have escaped your observation and reporting, but we have enacted them nonetheless. All of these measures were passed over the objections of lobbyists and interested groups to which you claim the City Council and commission are subservient.

Second--the "subterfuge" ordinance is not what you represent. I drafted it, and it makes much more planning sense than the initiative.

--Community redevelopment areas--the city attorney, the authors of the initiative and everyone else agree that we cannot (for legal reasons), and should not, abandon our commitment to redevelopment.

--Enterprise zone areas--South-Central, Boyle Heights and Pacoima, all minority areas. All greatly in need of any economic development. While zoning alone will not stimulate investment in these areas, it will be much harder to stimulate new development without zoning flexibility.

--Centers--some of them. I personally deleted 14 of 42 centers. All 42 were designated as centers in the community plans and were approved after exhaustive public participation, debate and negotiation. I wiped out all centers in West Los Angeles and most in the Valley, leaving those in the minority areas and in areas where we clearly want some growth, e.g., Warner Center, downtown, etc.

--I should also point out that there were two ordinances involved, not just one. The first ordinance, which has been adopted, reduces 83% of all H.D. 1 properties to a 1.5:1 FAR (the centers, enterprise zones and CRA areas are simply left alone and will now be the only properties affected by the election), and also sets absolute height limits on commercial buildings adjacent to single-family homes on a citywide basis. The second ordinance, which we've now postponed, would have resulted in redesignation of the centers, etc., to H.D.1-CRA; H.D. 1-EZ, etc.

I have always agreed with the general thrust of the initiative. But it has never been a substitute for good planning. The ordinance achieves the primary purpose of the initiative but without many of its least desirable effects.

Furthermore, the areas exempted in the proposed ordinance are the same which I have consistently described as requiring adjustment because of the initiative rollback.

I can appreciate the argument that any legislation before the initiative is somehow suspect, and I do not object to that point of view in Kaplan's column. It is the ease with which you make sweeping and often fantastic overstatements that strains credulity and makes mockery of the truth.

The allegations that planning has been totally insensitive to citizen concerns is gross overstatement. The allegations by some that we have had no public participation is a lie.

Our system could probably be improved, but you won't find any city, county or state department with more public participation than we have. Some of the loudest complainers really want to be council members without having to go through the ugliness of a political election.

The commission has struggled for a better planning system, and we have come a long, long way. Kaplan's attacks, however, have been harmful to those of us who care about the city and will assist those who use "good planning" as an excuse for selfishness, myopia, urban decay and continued racial isolation.


Los Angeles

Garcia is chairman of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission and a member of the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson.

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