Editor’s Note: On Wednesday Nov. 17, the City Council unanimously approved radical changes to the planning process without allowing public comment. First, they voted 11-0 on Item 10 without any debate, one vote short of allowing it to pass without a second reading. A few minutes later, they reconsidered that vote, refused to allow any public comment, let Ed Reyes double-talk and deceive for several minutes and Tom LaBonge prattle unintelligibly and then failed to ask a single question of Planning Department officials.
“Sound the alarm” — that’s the cry raging through the activist community over the City Council’s rush to unanimously approve radical changes that short-circuit the planning process, cut out public involvement and sharply increase density.
With Planning Department staff slashed by nearly 40 percent and de facto Mayor Austin Beutner committed to giving developers whatever they want — fast-track approval, tax breaks, subsidies and reduced DWP rates — the stage is set for a battle that is far more important to the city’s future than all 11 March ballot measures combined.
Steven Leigh Morris in the LA Weekly on Thursday captures the issue clearly in an article headlined “L.A. May Say Good-bye to EIRs and Public Notice:
“The new ordinance could lead to buildings with at least 20 percent more density and parking than permitted by local zoning codes.
“But the greater issue is that the ordinance hastily approved by the City Council last week sets the stage to wipe out a long-standing legal and social contract between City Hall and L.A.’s dwellers: It does so by removing many requirements for public notices, public hearings and Environmental Impact Reports, which allow Angelenos to question what is happening or fight back.
“The plan the City Council approved is, in fact, a shrine to the rule of exceptions.
“It creates a new layer of bureaucracy that would ‘overlay’ the Community Plans by creating special administrative districts — Community Plan Implementation Overlay districts — in which the Planning Department will have exclusive jurisdiction, trumping neighborhood councils and anyone from the community.”
Morris calls this measure –Community Plan Implementation Overlay — “the most stealth legislation to sweep through Los Angeles City Hall in recent memory.”
It was approved last week just six weeks after being drafted and with just a 10-minute Council discussion while the public was banned from even offering its two-minutes worth of comment.
Worst of all, it is just the first of a half dozen measures that Beutner and his hand-picked Planning Director Michael LoGrande are going to shove down the public’s throat in coming months — measures that will destroy even the pretense of transparency and public involvement in planning decisions while creating a denser, more congested and less livable city.
“What’s the point of buying a home in the city when nothing is protected?” — that’s the question posed by Studio City Neighborhood Council President John Walker at the conclusion of the Weekly article.
It is the heart of the matter, what investment banker Beutner doesn’t understand.
You can’t buy jobs with massive public subsidies. You have to create the environment for investment by building healthy neighborhoods and a city that believes in itself and its future — not one that is in a perpetual and escalating uncivil war..
Cary Brazeman, leader of LA Neighbors United and a leading campaigner for rational and effective planning rules and processes, submitted a devastating nine-page analysis of this ordinance along with 240 pages of supporting documents.
The Council, in its haste to ignore the public, wouldn’t even allow him and other critics to speak during public comment. He argues that before any major changes are made, the out-of-date community plans need to be updated.
“Community Plan updates necessarily entail a high level of community engagement over a substantial period of time. The initiation of these CPIO Districts, however, will require a far lower level of engagement, including a potentially very limited period
of review,” he wrote.
“Especially since they can be initiated on a single-parcel basis, we are concerned that notice may be limited and there will be little opportunity for community involvement in the decision-making. Similarly, based on the new lower thresholds in the Core Findings Ordinance. it will be difficult to overturn a CPIO District designation. Thus, it is very important that the community now understand and appreciate the implications of this new district designation, which can override underlying zoning through the new CPIO exceptions process.”