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Mini-Malls, Maxi-Problems

July 22, 1987

Everything looks alike, a visitor to Los Angeles said recently after traveling miles of streets lined with aging, nondescript mini-malls. Built on lots abandoned by gasoline stations during the oil crunch of the 1970s, these small, local shopping centers seem to have sprouted up overnight.

They provide convenient shopping facilities, but, many people who live near them complain, the mini-malls have been poorly planned and cheaply constructed, and have inadequate parking. Generally built on corners, the laundries, beauty shops and late-night convenience stores that occupy the L-shaped buildings create traffic congestion, encourage loitering and sometimes crime, have high vacancy rates and have become community blights, the residents say.

Although mini-malls in some areas have been well planned, a vast majority have been poorly built by developers more interested in quick profit than in community needs.

Early this month Mayor Tom Bradley and the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance establishing a six-month moratorium on mini-mall construction, and ordered the city Planning Department to formulate regulations that could adequately control future mini-mall development.

The Planning Department is now considering mini-mall construction requirements that would call for an analysis of potential traffic congestion in the surrounding area, an increased number of parking spaces per store, a design evaluation to ensure that new construction would aesthetically blend with the surrounding neighborhood, and, finally, an assessment of whether a mall is needed.

These requirements are essential if serious city planning is the ultimate goal. But in fact these are not new ideas. Similar suggestions were proposed in the Planning Department's Citywide Plan issued in 1972.

In the 15 years since then, Los Angeles has become increasingly constricted by traffic congestion, insufficient parking and hodgepodge commercial construction. And city planners continue to study the problem.

Bradley has urged individual communities' residents to participate in development of their local planning, and many have. They are to be commended. Nonetheless, as in any well-orchestrated plan, the players must follow a leader in order to achieve overall harmony. But where is the leader?

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