By DICK PLATKIN, planning consultant and former LA City Planner
In response to several recent
questions on how
can fix its dysfunctional planning process, these are my suggestions.
It all begins with the
legal requirement that cities must have legally adopted current, comprehensive,
an internally consistent General Plans.
So far so good. The Los Angeles
City Planning Department has uploaded and posted the city’s seven legally
required General Plan Elements on its website, including its 35 local Community
Plans and the discretionary General Plan Framework Element.
But, a careful look at these
adopted policy documents reveals that they are a facade. To begin, they have no monitoring program, an
act of negligence which has landed the city in court.
Furthermore, in addition to the failure to monitor
these plans, many of them are older than the city planners in charge of them. Their
update is long overdue, and the ball is clearly in the court of City Hall to
bring these antiquated policy documents into the 21st century.
since these plans were prepared and how the city will continue to change over
the next several decades:
Open Space – 1973
Public Recreation/Service Systems
Air Quality – 1992
General Plan Framework – 1995
(not mandatory, but prepared to comply with an EPA action whose settlement
directed the city to update and integrate its General Plan elements.)
Noise – 1999 (1996 Council
Transportation – 1999
(Preparation began in 1987)
Conservation – 2001 (based
on 1990 data)
Housing – 2009
Other adopted, optional elements
which have not been uploaded to the city’s website include Power Systems
(1968), Libraries (1968), Public Schools (1968), Sewerage and Wastewater
(1968), Cultural and Historical Monuments (1969), Water System (1969) CD 12
Equestrian Trails (1968), and Bicycle (1996).
In violation of State laws,
these mandatory and optional General Plan elements have different base years,
different horizon (expiration) years, different graphic formats, different
policies, and different base maps. They,
nevertheless, have two things in common.
First, they are all shelf documents ignored by the city’s officials in
land use, budget, capital projects, and work program decisions.
Second, they were prepared
in an era when
was still a booming city expecting endless decades of financial and demographic
expansion. Despite the boosters, this assumption
has just crashed to earth with the release of the new 2010 census data. As a city,
- 20 years. In the meantime, the city’s
public services and public infrastructure have been neglected and are now unable
to meet the needs of the city’s residents and commuters. So even though the city’s population is
stable, the gap between its needs and available public infrastructure and services
continues to widen because of local government cutbacks.
So repairs to this
deplorable situation are desperately needed.
Just as the navigator of a modern commercial airplane could not do his
or her job with old, inconsistent maps and technical manuals, the second
largest city in the
old, inconsistent plans and maps. To
climb out of this hole, and then comply with State of
planning laws and guidelines,
should proceed as follows:
the General Plan, as well as the integrating discretionary element, the General
Plan Framework. These updates should be
based on the recently released 2010 census data, and they should have realistic
assumptions about LA’s future: minimal
population gain, minimal economic expansion, and aging underfunded public
infrastructure and services. Furthermore,
these updates should reflect two other unfolding crises: climate change and peak
oil (i.e., the end of the oil era). Many
cities have already prepared new elements or amended their adopted General Plan
elements to respond to these new realities.
should follow suit.
2) Since the General Plan’s Land Use element applies
the other seven General Plan elements to the city’s 35 local communities, these
community plans should be the last ones updated. Clearly, the city’s current approach of
updating several community plans (e.g.,
Granada Hills, and
outdated plans, policies, and data makes little sense. These updates should clearly be set aside
until the General Plan itself is properly updated to reflect a careful analysis
and projection of the 2010 census data.
3) Once the General Plan is updated, it must be
immediately applied to the governance of the city. It is the city’s navigation system. Since the General Plan minimally determines
the city’s priorities for the next 20 years, these policies should be reflected
in year-to-year budgets, as well as the city’s annually updated five year
Capital Improvement Program (CIP). This
document, prepared by the City Administrative Officer (
should be sent to the City Planning Commission so it can act on its legal
obligation to confirm the CIP’s consistency with the General Plan.
Plan to review the city’s many zoning overlay ordinances, such as specific plans,
historical preservation overlay ordinances, and transit oriented districts.
Plan by amending the Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC). At present the Department of City Planning is
preparing several dozen amendments to the LAMC in order to reduce
administrative barriers for discretionary actions (i.e., legal loopholes in the
zoning code). This process should take
place after the city’s plans are updated, not before.
elected officials must ensure that city’s code enforcement authorities, in
particular the Department of Building and Safety, are properly staffed and fulfilling
their requirements. After all,
politicians who continuously profess their commitment to law enforcement should
stop slighting the city’s adopted zoning laws, building codes, and
environmental regulations. If these
officials had the foresight to adopt them, then they should guarantee their enforcement.
of these six actions chart new territory to fix
been around for several decades. The
best practices of the planning profession have been well known for the same
period, and the city’s professional planners have the academic training to undertake
this six part work program.
is needed is a green light from the city’s elected officials, along with the necessary
resources. While there will be serious
costs, they are far less than the eventual costs of muddling through the next two
decades and beyond with outmoded, irrelevant plans.
Dick Platkin is an LA-based city planning
blogger, consultant, and teacher. Please send any comments or questions to email@example.com .