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Planning: The Real Battle for LA’s Future

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.”
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8 Responses to Planning: The Real Battle for LA’s Future

  1. Anonymous says:

    Don’t know if it is just my computer, but after having wasted more than 10 minutes, it is impossible to get to the end of this video. It stops every few seconds.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Wow Ed! You used to be a pretty decent and honest guy. Is it power or money that goes to everyone’s head that they even start lying about easily verifiable issues. Seriously ED, did Planning Department lose 40% of its staff?

  3. Sandy Sand says:

    If someone like Brazeman can go to the city council armed with scathing documents describing why this is such a dishonest lame-brain scheme, how does anyone of us have a chance of being heard by the horseyshoe set?

  4. Anonymous says:

    The CPIO Ordinance will eventually go down in LA land use infamy as the City’s SB1818 Density Bonus Ordinance. But before we get to that, a lesson in history is in order. It had its genesis under the stewardship of Gail Goldberg, now gone, but not to be forgotten for these two infamous ordinances that sought to cede all control to developers and rob LA residents of control over their environment.
    Perhaps, when Ms. Goldberg landed here, she had good intentions to institute good planning in a city devoid of long range planning. However, it must be those bread and butter issues that leave most men and women hollow shells, shred of all honesty or morality. Already rich in street smarts, she soon learned the LA game and became a master at it. Fool the communities while giving the developers what they want. So we have recorded videos of Goldberg assuring the communities that she will put an end to discretionary actions, which to them meant an end to approval of Plan Amendments and other Zoning Variances and Conditional Uses. Reality: For the entire duration of her stay, not once did she try to put an end to giving away the store to developers.
    Fast forward: The dilemma of how to convince the communties that there will be no more discretionary actions while giving developers what they want. Enter the creation of the CPIO Ordinance. Community Plans are not really that complex an instrument. In a mature city like LA, which is completely built out except for a handful of outlying properties in the Valley hillsides, most development will always consist of in-fill, of tearing down lower density buildings for higher density. Witness all the lower income housing that has been demolished under SB 1818 to create high end housing with two or three low-mod income units thrown into the mix.
    So going back to the Community Plans, one is left with only three options. Upzone the properties: This effectively puts an end to dicretionary actions, ie. a property is at the highest zone allowable by the Zoning Code, so there is no need or possibility of acquiring a higher zone that does not exist. This does happen through a Conditional Use, but this is not meant to get into further complexities. Downzone properties, which will never happen and will only allow the developer to request an upzone and discretionary actions or leave the Plans at the status quo. As long as the Plan has any restrictions, ie. not the maximum zone achievable, the discretionary actions requests will continue. There is such a thing as denial of that request, but that rarely happens. Planners, at the mercy of the politicians who want most of those projects approved, deny them at their own peril.
    Since about a dozen Community Plans were being revised, it was decided to upzone the properties and concoct this hybrid CPIO Ordinance that would effectively shift the power from the communities to bureacrats to the benefit of developers. The bundled-up, up-zoned properties with other 250 pages + Plan text, diagrams etc. would be presented to the Planning Commission, and once approved would allow these properties to be-right. Experience has shown that most community members are gullible and have rarely opposed Plan Updates. Maybe the sheer volume of paper confuses them or they are worn out by attending dozens and dozens of meetings. Seriously, how many people have the time or knowledge to digest these intricacies in the short time allowed.
    The proposed (at that time) CPIO ordinance held one and only one public meeting on March 19th, 2009, for two hours with about 45 people attending. The staff report did not include any comments made by the attendes. They probably did not understand a word. The staff report was presented to the City Planning Commission on May 28th, and swimmingly moved through with no opposition. The communities had no idea about it. It is only now when it came back to the City Planning Commission, that good folks like Cary Brazeman and Laura Lake found out about it and apprised LA of what is going on.
    So what is the CPIO Ordinance? It is meant to be a mini zoning code in each Community Plan. It is not easy to understand cause it is unprecedented and a mash-up that contradicts the existing Zoning Code and the Specific Plans, drawn up by people with limited knowledge of both. Planners within the department don’t quite get it and the clarity will be there as projects come through along with the lawsuits. Typical of how the City pushes through half-baked and thoughtless measures that have to be resolved either through community opposition or in the courts.
    So without my explanation getting more complex than need be, the intent of this ordinance is as a corrollary to the proposed upzoned properties in the Community Plan Updates, where a developer need now only come and get his approvals by-right. No need for a public hearing, cause the project is in conformance with the Community Plan, and 20% increase can be granted administratively. All appeals, regardless of the size of the project, go to the Area Planning Commissions composed of 5 members vs the City Planning Commission composed of 9 members.
    The intent was to do away with the Public Hearings, which so annoy the developers and the ensuing public appeals, and at the same time fool the communities into believing that there were no more discretionary actions.
    Who is the fool now?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Didn’t Jerry Brown implement the same urban re-gentrification “scenario” when he was Mayor of sOAKLAND?

  6. Anonymous says:

    @6:01. Too clear, too crystal clear. The CPIO was also sold as a way to protect unique qualities of neighborhoods, from San Pedro to Sylmar. Especially neighborhoods that had no other kinds of special zoning protection (like an HPOZ, specific plan, Community Design Overlay, or “Q” conditions). CPIO was to go hand-in-hand with design guidelines so everything would be pretty, at a friendly scale and walkable. As you said, the intent was to upzone through the community plan process, and the CPIO was a corollary. Design guidelines served a further purpose: to create articulated building envelopes that, although bigger, would be compatible with existing neighborhoods. The fallacy of design guidelines is that they are guidelines. Since the new development would be as-of-right with no more public hearings or public review, design guidelines are meaningless. They may be well-intended but they are meaningless.
    Where did Reyes get the idea that the Planning Department lost 40% of its staff? It lost alot of positions, most vacant AND it lost its most experienced staff to retirement. But it did not lose 40% of staff bodies. It lost 90% of its talent.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Here is an excerpt from Regardi’s article in Downtown News re: the 12-2 reform presentation where Beutner, Reyes, LoGrande and others were present.
    “The new program marks a recognition that the previous development reform effort, heralded upon its 2008 launch and known as “12-to-2” for its intention to shrink the number of departments a developer would deal with, failed.
    It was really lacking the tools to make it successful,” said Julie Chapgier, managing director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Business Policy, who made part of the Chamber presentation.
    Chapgier said that a lack of strategy for implementing 12-to-2 caused projects to languish and developments to stall. That came amid other hurdles, including the city’s early retirement program — part of the effort to lower Los Angeles’ budget deficit — that slashed the Planning Department’s staff by about 40%”.
    The same lie about losing 40% of the Planning Department staff made by Ed Reyes on video is repeated. Is everyone in this town a frickin liar. Do they ever check anything or present facts. How can we trust these individuals who have land use control over the entire city when they are such dishonest people.
    PRODUCE THE NUMBERS THAT SUBSTANTIATE YOUR LIES OR RESIGN.

  8. Anonymous says:

    How are public hearings, EIR’s, and public notices being averted. What part of the proposed policy change indicates that the Brown Act, The California Environmental Quality Act, the Subdivision Map Act and other planning regulationas are no longer going to be applicable?
    What paragraph, sentence or other proposed writtent legislation indicates the circumvention of the above?

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Planning: The Real Battle for LA’s Future

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.”
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This entry was posted in City Hall, Community Activists, Development/CRA, Hot Topics, Los Angeles and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Planning: The Real Battle for LA’s Future

  1. Anonymous says:

    It is Ed Reyes, the incompetent overseer of the Planning Department, who claims that the budget has been cut by 40%. Have him elaborate on this BS. When was it cut and how much work was produced even when it was 100%, whatever that means. When we have Councilmembers making excuses for incompetence and inefficiencies, it is a sad state of affairs.

  2. ann salisibury says:

    Holy cow! I’m glad I don’t live in the City of L.A., but all that garbage affects everyone in the County, not just city residents. People living in nearby cities ought to be able to vote for L.A. Mayor, too (or vote against the mayor, whatever the case may be). Sounds sacrilegious but if you own property within L.A. boundaries and live in an adjacent city, you should vote in both areas for mayor. Haaaaaaaaaaaa! Right? Will you buy that?

  3. Dick Platkin says:

    To update community plans, it is essential to first update the General Plan Framework Element. This 1995 document is the heart of LA’s legally required General Plan, and it was intended to expire in 2010. After it is updated, then the local community plans, which are its land use element, can be updated. And, after the local community plans are updated, one part of their implementation are local zoning ordinances.
    CPIO’s could be a part of this process, but will, in fact, substitute for it. We should now expect CPIO’s in lieu of General Plan and community plan updates. Instead, they will express the whim of Councilmembers, who, based on City Hall practice, will have a new way to carry water for private commercial interests. Any connections to community plans will be coincidental, and in many cases, the CPIO’s will undermine community plans.

  4. Anonymous says:

    How are public hearings, EIR’s, and public notices being averted. What part of the proposed policy change indicates that the Brown Act, The California Environmental Quality Act, the Subdivision Map Act and other planning regulationas are no longer going to be applicable?
    What paragraph, sentence or other proposed writtent legislation indicates the circumvention of the above?

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