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L.A. unveils plan to speed building project approvals

Mayor's '12 to 2' approach will slash the number of city departments involved in the process.

March 26, 2008|Duke Helfand | Times Staff Writer

Only days after business leaders publicly complained that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wasn't making good on a pledge to slash bureaucratic red tape, city leaders unveiled a plan to cut the number of agencies -- from 12 to two -- that must approve real estate projects.

The plan announced Tuesday responds to years of complaints by developers and property owners who say they face a confusing maze of city departments that slows their projects and drives up costs.

Under the streamlined "12 to 2" approach, the departments of Planning and Building and Safety will coordinate all development approvals and permits. Details of the plan will be worked out over the next six months, officials said.

"Navigating the city's planning, building and permitting departments has long been a grueling rite of passage for homeowners and businesses alike," Villaraigosa said at a news conference, at which he was joined by business leaders and the general managers of departments involved with permits. "This broken system must be fixed."

Civic leaders and city officials have called repeatedly for the kind of plan that was outlined Tuesday, which came less than a week after prominent Los Angeles business leaders questioned whether Villaraigosa was suffering from a "loss of momentum" in getting changes made. The mayor's aides said they were working on Tuesday's announcement before the business leaders went public with their criticism.

Still, the permitting process has been the subject of concern since the mid-1990s. A committee named by then-Mayor Richard Riordan identified the bureaucratic hang-up 15 years ago, but little has changed, officials acknowledge.

Another panel of business, academic and labor leaders appointed by Villaraigosa also called for reforming the permitting process in a report released in January.

"Streamlining this process will lead to smarter development and more productive and efficient government," said Russell Goldsmith, chairman of Beverly Hills-based City National Bank and head of the Villaraigosa committee.

"It will eliminate many unnecessary costs, confusion and delay that have discouraged and diverted so many entrepreneurs here in Los Angeles."

Several of the city's major business groups -- including the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the Central City Assn. and the Valley Industry & Commerce Assn. -- applauded the changes.

The business organizations predicted that a nimbler system would make Los Angeles more competitive and be particularly helpful to small businesses unable to hire land-use attorneys and lobbyists to push development projects though the bureaucracy.

Others said the simpler process would give nonprofit developers a greater chance of building affordable housing, one of Villaraigosa's top priorities.

"We need predictable plans and we need predictable planning," said City Council President Eric Garcetti, who called for the 12-to-2 approach last fall. "We want it to be easier to do business here in Los Angeles."

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duke.helfand@latimes.com

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