How do we want Los Angeles to grow? That's the key question the city must ask, and finally try to answer, as Planning Director Gail Goldberg prepares to retire and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa searches for her successor. Too often the answer from residents is: We don't want it to grow, because it is already big enough, crowded enough, congested enough, ugly enough and sold out enough to development interests. But that resistance has not protected the city; it has merely kept us from making decisions about our future. Meanwhile, growth continues with little sense or direction.
Villaraigosa brought in Goldberg in 2006 to repeat here some of the success she had in San Diego, where brisk growth boosted, rather than diminished, a sense of neighborhood identity, livability and urban vibe. Residents of Goldberg's San Diego didn't love every new development, but they appeared to believe that they had more of a stake and a say in their neighborhoods and their city than residents do here.
In Los Angeles, Goldberg led the long-overdue update of several community plans, but her success was limited by a sprawling bureaucracy that works outside and often around her department; by a political establishment that gives City Council members extraordinary control over projects and makes development an exercise in political negotiation rather than carefully considered land-use policy; and ultimately by City Hall's poor budget and staffing decisions that left her without the resources to do her work.