Saturday, February 6, 2016

How to Smoke Out Flacks for Luxury High-Rise Projects Who Masquerade as Friends of the Down-and-Out

LOS ANGELES
PLATKIN ON PLANNING-In the dystopian movie about Los Angeles, “Blade Runner,” the lead character, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), was an expert at sleuthing out Replicants. They are androids so human that only an expert can detect them with 20 to 30 questions triggering an emotional response through a "Voight-Kampff" machine. 
In the case of an experimental android model named Rachael, Ford/Deckard ultimately determines that she, too, is a Replicant…but it takes him 100 questions to do this. Nevertheless, he falls in love with her. 
While I cannot promise that you will fall in love with the flacks and shills promoting unsustainable, luxury high-rise buildings in LA, I can at least give you a list of my own “Voight-Kampff” questions. Then you, too, can quickly get to work revealing their secret identities. I can also assure you that it won’t take the 20 to 30 questions necessary to expose the Replicants of “Blade Runner,” or even the 100 questions Deckard required for Rachael, the super-Replicant. 
Six questions should do the job just fine. 
Q1. What are the addresses of affordable housing projects in Los Angles that required legislative actions by the City Council (zone changes, General Plan amendments, or both) to be built? 
Over the past week I have repeatedly posed this question to opponents of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative (NII) since they claimed that the NII would block the construction of affordable housing in Los Angeles. So far, no one has coughed up a single address, much less a list of affordable housing projects stymied by LA’s current zoning code and General Plan. 
Q2. Should Los Angeles update its General Plan elements prior to any legislative actions by the City Council to approve zone changes and/or Plan Amendments for specific parcels? 
Since most of LA’s General Plan elements are out-of-date, it is now impossible to know where future demand for housing, infrastructure, and services will appear. Likewise, it is impossible to know the status of the public facilities and services that future residents will need in these areas. To step into this mess with City Council legislative actions that will up-end the General Plan through amendments based on antiquated data opens the door to stunningly bad legislative decisions. 
Q3. Should Los Angeles carefully monitor its General Plan Elements prior to any legislative actions that amend them for single parcels? 
State of California planning guidelines and the provisions of the General Plan Framework Element and its Environmental Impact Report require a rigorous monitoring program and annual report. This report should examine the status of the LA’s infrastructure and services, including maintenance, as well as forecasts of changes in user demand. It also needs to determine which of the General Plan’s demographic assumptions have changed and which implementation programs have been rolled out, including their effectiveness. Until this happens, decades-old planning documents cannot be reliably used for legislative actions determining LA’s future land uses at the level of a single parcel. 
Q4. Should any legislative actions approving otherwise illegal projects for individual parcels, based on an applicant’s promises of future job creation and transit ridership, require regular reports confirming these promises? 
At present, applicants can promise the sky and the moon to the City Planning Commission and the City Council in order to get the legislative approvals that their mega-projects require. But the same applicants do not then need to conduct any subsequent studies to determine if the jobs or transit ridership they promised actually appear. If they do not appear, which is usually the case, there are no consequences, such as the revocation of building permits, zone changes, and General Plan Amendments. 
Q5. Should projects that promise the creation of jobs and generation of transit ridership be approved in separate, conditional phases? 
If the City Planning Commission and City Council’s legislative actions to approve special laws for individual parcels were broken into phases, the second or later stages could be rejected or postponed until the promised jobs and/or transit ridership appeared. In this way, liars and shady consultants would get their just rewards. 
Q6.  Should Proposition 13 be reformed by splitting the roles so cities can properly fund public services, such as affordable housing trust funds? 
Since single-family homes sell about every six years, while commercial properties, including apartment buildings, are rarely sold, the latter are the true beneficiaries of Proposition 13. The victims are not just owners of single-family homes, nearly all of whom bought their homes since 1978 and, therefore, pay high property taxes, but also the users of public facilities and services. Since many of these public facilities and services (e.g., affordable housing) have been downsized by perpetual public sector budget crises since California’s voters approved Prop. 13, splitting the roles would make sure that commercial properties were properly reassessed and then required to pay their fair share of property taxes. 
If these six questions are not sufficient enough for you to uncover the Rachael-style Replicants hiding among the advocates and pundits promoting otherwise illegal high-rise luxury apartments in the name of affordable housing, then I will happily provide you another six questions. 
Just remember to keep a hand on your wallet.

(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles city planner who reports on planning issues in Los Angeles for CityWatch. He welcomes comments, questions, and corrections atrhplatkin@gmail.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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