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Mechanics of Power: Squeeze Plays and Double Talk

For years, the policies of City Hall have chased away middle class jobs and residents to the suburbs and neighboring states.

Home ownership has fallen from more than 60 percent to barely 40 percent. The living wage  has replaced the good wage. Major banks have run away along with movie and TV production.

The San Fernando Valley saw a 50 percent rise in poverty rates in the ’90s and the numbers will be worse across the city in the next census.

Crime is down but gangs still control whole neighborhoods.

Subsidized downtown development and soaring public sector payrolls have sucked the wealth of the city while traffic congestion and air quality remain the nation’s worst, the schools remain among the state’s worst and the infrastructure — water and power systems, streets and sidewalks — are decaying from lack of investment.

It’s not a pretty picture but it’s going to get worse and fast.

On Tuesday, the City Council intends — having bungled its first attempt two months ago — to take another stab at stripping ordinary citizens of their constitutional right to petition for redress of grievances, specifically planning decisions.

Under the ordinance adopted unanimously, of course, on Aug. 12, fees to appeal planning decisions and Building and Safety actions were supposed to skyrocket from nominal amounts to thousands of dollars except for developers of major projects. They would get a reduction on many of the appeals they file.

What was wrong with the ordinance, apart from many of the fees — apart from various typos and fees being supposedly being incorrectly listed – is that the public wasn’t given proper notice that the fee schedule affected appeals. Most of the public discussion and the agenda notice only referred to application fees which were raised to guarantee developers speedy processing.

Attorney Robert Silverstein objected strongly to this Brown Act violation and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s office, which conceding nothing, agreed the measure should be fixed and reconsidered.

So it comes back before the Council as Item 23 on Tuesday, with changes like “full cost recovery” is now replaced with only charging applicants and abutting property owners 20 percent of the cost and other “aggrieved parties” 50 percent.

“The draft ordinance was initiated in response to a complaint that the appeal fees were
not properly described on the City Council agenda… it is our belief that appeal fees
should be reasonable to allow for broad community input,” explained Planning Director Gail Goldberg.

How does raising appeal fees from $1,000 to $3,000 or from $400 to more than $5,000 when a nearby property owner objects to a development “allow for broad community input?”

In fact, it squelches community input — and that argues the Green LA Coalition is “contrary to the City’s commitment to environmental justice,” according to a letter to the Council sent by school board member Nury Martinez and environmentalist Bill Gallegos.

excessive fees will unfairly exclude low-income residents and
non-profit organizations from the planning and land use decision-making
process…With the approval of the 1999 City Charter, the
people of Los Angeles codified their right to appeal City land use

“The appeal process serves as an important point of resident
involvement in planning and land use decision-making, and has a long
history of preserving the quality of life in Los Angeles and protecting
the health and safety of its residents.  The appeal fee hikes deny
low-income residents and non-profits their fundamental rights to

Arguing the fees violate the state and US constitutions, Attorney Richard MacNaughton formally protested to the Council (Planning-MacNaughton.doc)as the lawyer representing  various residents in Hollywood as well as community based
organizations such a Hollywoodians Encouraging Logical Planning (H.E.L.P.),
Friends of the Hollywood Grove HPOZ, Friends of The Oaks ICO among others.

MacNaughton says the ordinance infringes on the right of people to protest and is unconstitionally vague, noting there is “no rational” reason a property owner two doors away from a development faces triple the fees as one next door.

When citizens
object to the City’s actions, they are exercising their constitutional right to
petition the government,” he writes. “The City has the burden to prove that any and all
limitations on the right to petition the City serve a compelling ‘state
interest.”‘This tiered fee system has no legitimate governmental purpose…

The proposed
ordinance is unconstitutional in that it cannot survive the strict scrutiny test
due to its infringement on the people’s right to petition the government and its
vagueness. To pass a measure that is unconstitutional on its face invites
litigation and wastes the City’s resources.

unconstitutional proposal should be defeated.”

You can write your Council member at the email addresses below to try to stop this or you can join the lawsuit afterward if it passes:,,,,,,,,,,,,,

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13 Responses to Mechanics of Power: Squeeze Plays and Double Talk

  1. Joseph says:

    Anyone want to bet that Eric Garcetti engineered this for his developer pals? Eric is following the same path as Villaraigosa: he bends over to please the mega developers so he can grub for their campaign cash to run for Mayor. Eric talks about community involvement and transparency but almost every time you find his fingers on stuff like this. Thanks Eric. How elegant is the density on the block you live?
    If this passes, sign me up to gather the petitions to cut the Council’s salary in half.

  2. LA Moderator says:

    Well, now that I’m lurking less, I might as well speak up on this one.
    One way to strike back for this kind of dis-empowerment, is for the NC’s to come to bat, and for longer then 2 minutes. As has been proposed for DWP issues, we should press beyond the CIS mechanism to gain a seat at the resource table for projects within our staked areas.

  3. anonymous says:

    ‘Any chance we can charge the politicians with treason? Afterall, they are being disloyal to the Constitution and “the people.”

  4. Walter Moore says:

    Rights are worthless if only the rich can afford to enforce them.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Walter: Rights are also worthless if anyone with an axe to grind can negate those rights for a pittance.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Walter: Rights are also worthless if anyone with an axe to grind can negate those rights for a pittance.

  7. LA Moderator says:

    And yet the axe is double edged.
    Our Planning/Zoning committee discussed only last week how higher fees can discourage applicants from considering appeals as a default to denials for variances. We we had one applicant seeking retroactive permission for an illegal wall who had apparently decided it was less expensive to rip it out then to appeal Planning’s decision.
    However, should an NC conduct a hearing where an overwhelming show of neighboring stakeholders reinforce the decision that findings for an allowance cannot be made, and then their recomendations are not followed by the Zoning Administrator, there should be some recourse.

  8. David in Tarzana says:

    Ed Reyes just told council that if the fee hikes are not passed then most likely the planning department will lose 200 of 400 position next year. That must mean they are currently operating at a huge loss in that department.

  9. Anonymous says:

    This is a clear breach of the 14th amendment, this action will dissallow the poor access to due process which will create an unequal protection position.
    ACLU will take this case, as a matter of fact ACLU San Deigo chapter went after El Centro, and Imperial County for just this type of action.
    Glenn Bell

  10. Douglas says:

    The Council finally came around. The item was postponed until tomorrow to allow the City Attorney to revise the ordinance to put back the current appeal fees of $74 for a planning appeal and $368 for a building and safety appeal to the Planning Department. This will effectively keep the appeal fees for non-developers the same while there is a more open and transparent discussion of issues surrounding the appeal fee issue, including the possible unconstitutionality of the two-tiered appeal fees originally proposed.
    Tomorrow, expect Council to adopt this ordinance revised to avoid the draconian appeal fees the Planning Department proposed. If not, the community organizations will be ready to light the torches and help Ron cut the Council’s pay in half.

  11. david r2b says:

    I agree with “Douglas”, the Council will come back saying and appearing that they do pay attention to what the Citizens are concerned about. But special interests pressures are really great and the CM’s will come back with a Plan B. Contractors do not want to be delayed with their projects and there are current Council Members looking for higher office in the next election so another slick approach will be presented. Big campaign bucks are at stake here.
    I’m going to start sharpening my pitch fork and getting my torch ready. I love theatre but what’s coming up is going to be a Broadway production: the ABC’s of how Citizens take back their Government.

  12. El Quixotian says:

    david r2b: “…a Broadway production: the ABC’s of how Citizens take back their Government.”
    We can’t wait for the previous farce to end…(“How to Succeed in Government Without Really Governing”)

  13. Philadelphia SEO says:

    Keep working ,great job.

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