A city’s General Plan lays out the broad guidelines for all new developments that are then refined through community plans that provide detailed rules block by block so that residents and developers know exactly what is allowed and what isn’t.
That’s the theory anyway and in practice it works that way in many towns.
In LA, however, the General Plan is a meaningless hodgepodge that is vague and contradictory much to the delight of planners, developers and politicians because they can do whatever they want wherever they want.
Even in those rare cases when the community outcry is great enough, the City Council has its own practice of going along with whatever a member wants in his district even if they know it will be hard on the community. To challenge this practice would cause the other 14 members to gang up on the troublemaker and block everything in his or her district.
These are the reasons the neighborhoods in much of the city are deteriorating and community resistance is growing. NIMBYism, after all, is a sane response to powerlessness.
One of the few tools the public has for upsetting this destructive system is the requirement in many cases for environmental impact reports. But now, in the first test of new Planning Director Michael LoGrande’s leadership, even that requirement is under threat.
Barely a week ago, activist Joyce Dillard sounded the alarm when she discovered the Planning Department was proposing a sweeping change to the General Plan that could eliminate the need for any EIR in the future.
The proposal is for a “negative declaration” on the need for an EIRl for the “adoption of Citywide Urban Design Guidelines (“Design Guidelines”) as an Appendix to the General Plan Framework Element for Multifamily Residential, Mixed-Use, Commercial and Industrial land uses.”
“The purpose of the Design Guidelines is twofold: to implement the design values in the 10 Urban Design Principles, a part of the Framework Element, on individual projects; and to consolidate basic Design Guidelines common throughout most Community Plans in one document, allowing
individual New Community Plans to provide tailored, neighborhood-specific Design guidelines. The Design Guidelines will establish design expectations for new development based on Citywide goals, policies and objectives. The Design Guidelines will illustrate ways for individual projects to promote walkability, maintain neighborhood form and character, and promote creative infill development solutions. The Design Guidelines will apply to all new developments and substantial building alterations that require discretionary approvals…”
Just like LoGrande’s glib banter about smart growth, the guidelines sound like a progressive step but residents who have taken a keen interest in planning suspect it’s just another way of trampling on their interests and concerns.
The process has a lot to do with that. Little notice was given of such a radical change and the public has been given only four weeks to respond to the proposal with the deadline for input Aug. 25.
What’s even more amazing is that there isn’t a proposal at all. The public is supposed to respond to something that doesn’t exist, that will only be written after public comment is closed.
Lucille Saunders of the La Brea Coalition and Cindy Cleghorn of PlanCheckNC and the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council met Thursday with Michelle Sorkin, the planner in charge of this project, to find out first-hand what is going on. You can set up a meeting too by calling Sorkin at (213) 978-1199 or you can fax your comment to her at (213) 978-1226.
Saunders’ report on the meeting was sent out under the headline:
Report on Urban Guidelines Neg Dec Meeting: A FLAWED PLANNING PROCESS
Trust Me…the Planning Department
She described the process as a “travesty,” like asking someone: “How was the dinner you’ll eat tomorrow night?”
“Trust in the Department of City Planning (DCP) means the department will tell you — make the decision — before you have the opportunity to know the facts yourself ... We
cannot trust the process which is fundamentally fatally flawed. It is
this process which must be changed. It simply is not planning.“
Sorkin was told the process is “backwards,” asking people to comment before the proposal is written. Her answer: “We always do it
us, they imply … But
experiences have taught us once the Staff Report has been written–and
that process unanimously recommends the Commission accept the decision
(Just trust us!), terms are rarely changed.”
The Planninig Department is in a great rush to push this through by holding three informational public meetings on Aug. 30 and 31 and then the guidelines will go to the Planning Commission and the City Council to be rubber-stamped.
This is exactly what so many planning experts feared when LoGrande was appointed to succeed Gail Goldberg because he lacked real qualifications for the job beyond an obedient nature to carry out orders methodically and expeditiously.
Planning is too important to be done this way. The state of the city too fragile. City Hall’s credibility is too low to act in such an imperious way.