EDITOR’S NOTE: Former LA City Planner Dick Platkin has been closely watching the evolution of the Hollywood Community Plan (2012-2-24 CPC Determination Letter – Hollywood CPU) as it moves toward approval by the City Council and becomes the model for future development throughout LA. Teacher, writer and consultant to community groups on LA planning issues, Platkin’s in-depth analysis of the revised Hollywood Plan goes straight to the heart of the matter: Will it provide the basis for “a revival of the quality of life in Los Angeles, or even to an authentic, sustainable urban expansion” as city officials claim or will it “boomerang and accelerate the deterioration of an already stagnant city.” The information and insights he provides and the conclusions he reaches need to be taken seriously both inside and outside City Hall. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Dick Platkin
LA’s Vanished History of Population and Economic Expansion: In lieu of updating the General Plan Framework Element, the legally adopted citywide plan for the entire city of Los Angeles, based on the latest 2010 census data, the Department of City Planning is slowly updating 35 local community plans on a scattershot basis, based on old census data. While this a methodologically shoddy approach to planning Los Angeles in an era of economic hard times, budget cutbacks, certain natural disasters, peak oil, and climate change, this choice does not result from politicians who snuck out of workshops on municipal governance or planners who skipped a critical lecture on urban general plans. In both cases, sloppy planning should not be confused with lack of knowledge.
The real reason for this piecemeal approach to planning Los Angeles for the early 21st Century is that the old data still depicts Los Angeles as a young, growing metropolis. These data portray a city that has decades of expanding population and employment ahead of it. The only limitation to this vision is LA’s finite land and the reluctance of residential neighborhoods to be further bulldozed or hidden by nearby mega-projects and McMansions. Therefore, recent citywide plans, in particular the General Plan Framework Element, called for new commercial and residential real estate projects to be concentrated in commercial centers and on the major mass transit corridors connecting these centers. This vision, which attempted to please all parties, is the essence of the original General Plan Centers Concept plan of the 1970’s and its reincarnation in the General Plan Framework Element of the 1990’s.
Annual Monitoring Program: The General Plan Framework Element, however, ratcheted up the Centers concept by focusing on all categories of infrastructure, not just transit, to serve an ever-growing city. Furthermore, the Framework insisted that the city’s population, housing, and employment trends, as well as all major infrastructure categories, must be carefully monitored on an annual basis to ensure that the Framework’s citywide policies and programs performed as anticipated. If the annual monitoring report indicated that the General Plan was not unfolding as intended — such as population growth that was higher or lower than expected or infrastructure user demand and capacity that was unforeseen -– then the Planning Department was to revise to the Framework’s policies and programs in response to these changes.
While this approach is admirable, it is important to examine what has remained the same and what has changed since the Los Angeles City Council adopted the Framework in 1996. One thing that has remained the same is the rhetoric of the old plans, that Los Angeles needs to accommodate future population and employment growth -– should it occur — through large scale commercial development in centers and major transit corridor. This approach, in fact, is part of the political and press campaign to heavily promote the proposed Update of the Hollywood Community Plan, despite massive opposition from Hollywood’s residents and their many civic organizations. For example, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held a special press event on the roof a Hollywood apartment building on Monday, December 19, 2011, to promote the proposed Update of the Hollywood Community Plan based on this exact premise.
While the rhetoric of the General Plan has not changed, its underlying basis is now much different. Unlike the post-WWII era, Los Angeles is no longer a growing a city. According to William Foster, author of The Reluctant Metropolis, Los Angeles is now an older city, similar to those in the east coast or mid-west, and it gave up its boomtown status at least a decade ago. In recent decades, in fact, Los Angeles has lost much of its industrial and financial base. It no longer hosts the headquarters of any Fortune 500 companies. Entertainment production has migrated to many other cities, such as Vancouver, British Columbia. Major employers of well paid, unionized, blue-collar workers, such as auto, metals, and even aerospace, have largely vanished. Even low wage industries, like the garment industry, have seen flat to declining employment. Overall, LA City and LA County have had no employment gain in the past two decades, the 1990 base year for the General Plan Framework, which was supposed to be replaced or updated when the new 2010 census data became available.