Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Failure to Implement LA's Community Plans

Editor's Note: The assault on planning rules that protect neighborhoods and require processes that give the public a voice is in his gear. The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday will vote on a proposed ordinance that will fundamentally change how Community Plans are updated. It would enable the city to effectively upzone and change zoning within Community Plan areas without a formal Community Plan update, to spot-zone individual sites with only adjustments and exceptions without requriing variances, potentially override existing Community Design Overlay Districts, Pedestrian Oriented Districts and Q conditions and undermine the new Baseline Hillside Ordinance, according to LA Neighbors United. This article by former city planner, Dick Platkin, now a planning consultant, helps explain the issue.

By Dick Platkin (rhplatkin@yahoo.com)

On Wednesday, November 10, 2010, the Los Angeles City Council will consider and may adopt a new Community Plan Implementation Ordinance (CPIO). This ordinance is enabling legislation which will then allow the city to implement a community plan through a zoning overlay ordinance for an entire community plan area.

But would such local ordinances actually implement a Community Plan? The answer is hardly at all, and the title of this new legislation vastly and misleadingly exaggerates its importance.

This is because the City's elected officials, with long-term and consistent support from the Department of City Planning, long ago abdicated their role in planning Los Angeles. For them planning has become an appendage to the city's Department of Building and Safety, not a rigorously prepared and maintained vision for governing Los Angeles.

As anyone who has taken the time to actually look at the city's General Plan elements, such as the General Plan Framework or at one of the city's 35 Community Plans quickly learns, these documents always address 100 percent of the land area in Los Angeles. This is why all plans contain page after page of thoughtful policies and programs addressing such public infrastructure as parks, and such public services as libraries and sanitation.

These portions of the General Plan and its implementing land use element, the Community Plans, such as the Hollywood Community Plan now being updated, address 80 percent of the land area of Los Angeles. They should therefore guide the bulk of City Hall's activities, the city's annual budget, including its Capital Improvement Program.

Furthermore, only 20 percent of the city's surface area is private lots, and only a small amount of the activity on these private lots is new construction regulated by Building and Safety and City Planning. Most of what goes on in private lots has nothing to do with new construction and is addressed by code enforcement or other cutting-edge programs to "green" existing buildings. Examples of the latter include environmental upgrades, such as cisterns, strategic tree planting, green roofs, double-paned windows, and home appliances.

Not only does the proposed CPIO fail to address any policies or programs for existing structures, but -- more importantly -- it totally fails to implement any of the policies and programs for the 80 percent of Los Angeles carefully addressed in Community Plans, but under the jurisdiction of the big city departments, in particular LADWP, Harbor, Airports, Public Works (Engineering, Street Services, Sanitation), Police, Fire, Transportation, Libraries, and Recreation and Parks.

In other words, the CPIO is almost totally irrelevant. This is because these city departments control most of the land area of the city, spend most of the General Fund and collected fees, build and maintain the city's entire infrastructure, and operate all of the city's municipal services (e.g., garbage collection, traffic control). Yet, they are totally absent from the misnamed Community Plan Implementation Ordinance.

The real heavy lifting in implementing a community plan comes through the city's budget, department work programs, and the Capital Improvement Program. Building permits, in particular discretionary actions to obtain building permits not otherwise allowed by city codes, are, in reality, a tiny part of Community Plan implementation.

Since City Planning long ago abdicated any role other than processing these discretionary actions, they have proposed an ordinance which has the hubris of claiming it is implementing the Community Plans, when, in fact, it is only a back door for circumventing discretionary actions for the small number of building permits which cannot be directly approved by the city Department of Building and Safety.

What Los Angeles needs is real implementation of its existing and future city plans, not misleading ordinances which claim to implement the General Plan and Community Plans, but which do nothing of the sort.

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