Planning for Venice, a controversial issue that long has been relegated to the back burner at City Hall, finally has made it to the front of the stove.
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter has announced that she will begin public hearings soon on a local coastal plan that would establish legally binding development guidelines for the small beach community.
Discussions on planning had been scheduled for fiscal 1988-89 under Pat Russell, Galanter's predecessor, but Galanter considers it a top priority.
"We hope to get something out to the public by late August and possibly begin hearings at that time," said Rick Ruiz, Galanter's press deputy. "It's important that these plans be established if we are going to have guidelines on what development is appropriate and what development is not appropriate."
Galanter, still hoarse from the throat injuries she suffered in a May stabbing attack, said the proposal has languished for too long. She expects the coastal plan to address such longstanding problems as parking, traffic and growth.
"One reason that I asked to move these things up is that there are too many different things on the books," Galanter said during a brief telephone interview. "We need a plan that we know is the plan."
The two major community groups in Venice welcomed the news from Galanter's office. Jane Spiller of the Venice Action Committee, an organization that includes developers, said the plan will discourage development disputes.
"Projects are now approved on a one-by-one basis," Spiller said. "It's like fighting brush fires. So an overall plan would be a great assistance."
Arnold Springer of the Venice Town Council, a slow-growth organization that is committed to preserving Venice's diverse social character, said the local coastal plan is long overdue. Springer, who has personally fought to scale back several beach-area projects, called planning a "pressing issue."
The city already has established unofficial guidelines, known as specific plans, for much of Venice. With those in hand, Springer said, Galanter should be able to complete the work on a local coastal plan within a year.
But he added that she might also consider enacting interim planning guidelines for the next several months.
Window of Opportunity
"Her office could take a position on planning until the local coastal plan is ready," Springer said. "There is a window here that developers can pour through between the time that a local coastal plan is started and adopted. Interim guidelines would help to eliminate those kinds of problems."
Local coastal plans serve as a blueprint for community growth. Once Galanter frames a proposal, it would go before the City Council. The plan then must receive final approval from the California Coastal Commission, which requires that all coastal communities create specific guidelines for growth.
Springer said that Galanter, an urban planner and former Regional Coastal Commission chairwoman, should be able to develop a highly workable plan.
"Ruth is sensitive to the commission, and I expect the document she brings will be acceptable," Springer said. "She knows all about this process."
Sidney Copilow, the vice president of the Venice Action Committee, said the plan cannot come soon enough.
'The Quicker, the Better'
"We want things to happen now," Copilow said. "As far as we are concerned, the quicker things get done, the better."
Venice has been caught in the throes of a development struggle for several years. On one side of the issue are slow-growth advocates fighting to protect the unique character of the community that is known for its historic man-made canals and modest-sized cottages. On the other side are developers who see Venice as a potential magnet for wealthy people seeking to live near the beach.
The developers have already made substantial strides. There is more than $400-million worth of commercial growth planned or already under way in Venice, and once-barren fields have become crowded with million-dollar homes.
Slow-growth advocates realize that a local coastal plan will make it easier to regulate what can or cannot be built in Venice in the future.
Galanter said that she looks forward to hearing the community's views on the local coastal plan. But she also cautioned that nothing is carved in stone when it comes to setting development guidelines for a community with so much at stake economically.
"The market forces are such that there will always be pressure on the plan, no matter what we adopt," Galanter said. "What I hope will happen is that, once the plan is adopted, we will abide by it."