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Clarifying Position on 'Facilitators'

October 30, 1988

There is confusion regarding my position on the participation of Venice architects and developers in the Local Coastal Plan public workshops.

The article (Times, Oct. 6) states that I objected to "the presence . . . of architects and design professionals who have taken on the title of 'facilitator.' " I have never objected to the presence and full participation of any Venice architect or developer at these workshops. My complaint focuses on the special emphasis given this group by the city Planning Department.

It is important to understand that the Planning Department's task for these workshops is to receive community input on design standards for new development in Venice. When the Planning Department created the "facilitator" role, it did so for the ostensible purpose of advising the public on such questions as how zoning laws impact building design, and so on. The Planning Department then invited Venice architects and developers to be the "facilitators." That's how the problem began.

First, there was no need for Venice architects and developers to become "facilitators" since they were already participating in the workshops as volunteers (like the rest of us), and could give advice whenever they wished on any design subject.

Second, it goes without saying that any city-designated "facilitator" must be impartial when giving advice to the public. Significantly, many of the architects and developers in this "facilitator" group have proposals for new buildings in Venice. They need specific design standards for their projects. Thus, they have a direct financial interest in the outcome of the design workshops they were assigned to advise. This financial interest conflicts with the obligation to remain impartial as a "facilitator." That's the "classic conflict of interest situation" alluded to in The Times article. It is a fundamental reason why Venice architects and developers should never have been chosen for this role.

Third, the Planning Department chose not to disclose the identity and interests of the "facilitator" group to the public.

The facts show that the Planning Department went out of its way to put a special interest group in a position of authority. If this was a mistake in judgment the department could have easily corrected the error by eliminating the "facilitator" role. It declined to do so. In the meantime, the strong support given the department's "facilitator" plan by Councilman (Ruth) Galanter's office is good evidence that over-impacted Venice is still losing its battle against the developers.

STEVEN SCHLEIN

Venice

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