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The Antonio to Eric Handoff: LA’s Quality of Life Disaster — Deregulating Planning, Zoning and Building Code Enforcement

EDITOR’S NOTE: Former LA City Planner Dick Platkin, now Adjunct Instructor of City Planning at USC’s Price School of Social Policy, originally wrote this article on the devastating impact of the merger of LA Planning and Building and Safety Department for KCET. This is the most far-reaching issue threatening the quality of life in every neighborhood yet it is being rushed forward by the current mayor and the mayor-elect with the unanimous support of the City Council without the massive citywide protests from residents that it deserves.

By Dick Platkin

Before the election the Wall Street Journal described Eric Garcetti as a business-friendly centrist Democrat. After the election, the same newspaper described the Mayor-elect as a business-friendly liberal Democrat.

Does either political label actually mean anything when it is now applied to municipal politics – especially when they are applied to the core issues of planning and zoning regulations and their enforcement, and building code regulations and their enforcement?Since the new mayor is one of the architects of the city planning culture and legislative structure that he will inherit, we can assume that these policies and practices will seamlessly continue from the Villaraigosa Administration to the Garcetti Administration.

Here’s your hint as to what is the most accurate political label to describe this planning legacy: The deregulation of land use is well on its way at City Hall, albeit obscured by such misleading phrases as “elegant density” or “transit-oriented districts.”In some policy circles government regulations are considered to be the bane of economic prosperity.  In fact, this was this outlook that gave rise to the deregulation of the telecommunications and aviation sectors under Ronald Reagan and the financial sector under Bill Clinton.

At the local level this siren song of deregulation is now focused on zoning, an administrative approach to regulate land uses approved by the United States Supreme Court in 1926 (Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co.).  Under zoning, local governments have the legal authority to control public and private land, including land use categories, as well as building use, size, height, parking requirements, and setbacks.

Zoning also means that speculators cannot easily and quickly move into and out of real estate projects based on rapidly changing market conditions.

To put it bluntly, rigorous zoning is a barrier to real estate bubbles, such as the Great Recession that began in 2008.  It cannot stop the business cycle, but cities with strong zoning ordinances and procedures can smooth out the bumps.

In Los Angeles, a city whose economy has been stagnant for over two decades, advocates of deregulation are now focused on the city’s elaborate zoning code, including its regulatory expansion through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Put simply, these advocates of deregulation – in and out of City Hall — believe that Los Angeles will flourish if its regulatory “impediments” to speculative investment are eliminated.

But all that glitters is not gold.  Zoning deregulation is already underway in Los Angeles, but it will not prove to be the economic cure-all proclaimed by its boosters for several reasons.

Most of Los Angeles is not privately owned land 

Only about 20 percent of the entire land area of Los Angeles is privately owned.   The remainder is freeways, railroad rights-of-way, streets, parkways, sidewalks, parks, schools, power lines, horse trails, and many other public and quasi-public land uses.   Therefore, these areas are neglected when planning is reduced to zoning, and zoning is abridged through deregulation.

Furthermore, zoning deregulation is not capable of rectifying the slow deterioration of the city’s public infrastructure and public services.

It can’t sweep streets, pick-up garbage, fill potholes, repave crumbling sidewalks, or construct ADA-required curb cuts.  It can’t plant an urban forest or implement the City’s bicycle master plan.  It can’t maintain public parks and revive cancelled recreation programs.   It can’t install streetlights on dark streets or sweep them during the day.

Zoning deregulation can’t address a complaint heard throughout the entire city:  Los Angeles is filled with zoning and building code violations that undercut the quality of life in neighborhood after neighborhood, problems that are seldom addressed through code enforcement and prosecution, even when residents submit multiple complaints.

But what about the city’s private owned parcels?  It is technically correct that many of these lots are overlaid with special zoning conditions (i.e., T’s, Q’s, and D’s imposed by prior legislative actions).

They give the appearance of a tough zoning regime, but the Department of City Planning administratively clears these conditions as part of the building permit process.  For better or worse, the public seldom knows about these conditions, their internal ministerial (administrative) approvals, and the resulting building permits.

This means that the city’s Department of Building and Safety approves most, certainly over 80 percent, of the city’s building permit applications “by-right”.   Among the remaining 20 percent of cases that need relief from the zoning code, the Department of City Planning quickly handles most of them behind closed doors.

While these cases technically require a formal decision, and the public could, in theory, appeal these actions, this seldom happens.  The primary reason is that no one is mailed a notice about these cases, and the written approval letters are only sent to immediately adjacent property owners.  This means that the first inkling that most neighbors have of a project’s official approval is the sound of bulldozers and hammers when construction begins.

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45 Responses to The Antonio to Eric Handoff: LA’s Quality of Life Disaster — Deregulating Planning, Zoning and Building Code Enforcement

  1. scott zwartz says:

    Everything Dick Platkin says is correct, but it can be summed up more concisely. “Los Angeles is rife with Corruption and Incompetence.”

    Garcetti has worked for 12 years to destroy the legal system which protects Los Angeles property owners. As any corrupt person with his sights set at taking over any government for the profit of a small cadre knows, “First lets kill all the lawyers.” King Henry VI, Part II, (Act IV), Scene 2 Shakespeare knew that the legal system with lawyers to enforce the laws is the only way to prevent corruption from consuming society.

    Former Director of Plan Gail Goldberg made this same point in 2006 when she first came to Los Angeles and she spoke against Garcetti’s modus operandi of allowing developers determine the zone rather than have the buildings be constructed in accordance with the zoning laws. Director Goldberg said that Los Angeles was headed for “disaster,” and disaster has arrived.

    Garcetti destroyed Hollywood with his insistence that developers determine the zoning so that they can build whatever they want. CD 13 drove out so many people that CD 13 ceased to qualify as a legal council district. Gaarcetti had to steal parts of Koreatown and CD 4 to continue to be a council district. If CD 13 had been a business, CD 13 would have gone the way of Zody’s.

    Now the destruction of the zoning laws is moving at mach speed. The arrogance of these crooks is that they believe that they can repeal the laws of economics. People do not move into the hideous prison cells in the sky. That does not stop them as the CRA uses public money. Those huge skyscrapers on Bunker Hill and the mixed use projects in Hollywood pay ZERO in incremental property taxes. In addition, the city often co-signs for their loans or the city makes the loans itself and then re-loans it to the developers who are then forgiven prior to default. Since the developer is forgiven, his failure to repay means nothing and he gets more city money for the next project.

    As a result, the city lacks the funds to repair roads and sidewalks and water mains and build new sewers and have decent parks. Businesses look at LA and do not move here because its infrastructure is crumbling and they can see that with Garcetti’s plan to bring back the CRA’s, LA is financially doomed. It does not mater how many tax breaks the city gives to a business. Only a fool would locate his business in a city without laws and is filled with corruption and incompetence.

    I trust that all the people who hyped the Union Bashing are pleased with the result — electing Garcetti mayor. Whether one scapegoats Jews, Blacks, Gays, or Unions, it never solves the problem as the victim of the scapegoating never was the cause of the problem. But people love to hate and mindlessly vent their anger. But now Oh Gee whiz, Garcetti is continuing what he always said he wold do — destroy Los Angeles in pursuit of his perverse fetish to turn Los Angeles into Manhattan.

    • Rita-of-Sunland says:

      The unions deserved to be bashed, but so does Garcetti— primarily because he’s in cahoots with the unions and union leaders like Brian D’Arcy almost as much as Greuel was. Concerned citizens need to start attending city hall committee meetings because by the time any land use issue hits the City Council meetings everything is already a done deal.

    • anonymous says:

      Excuse us for reminding everyone…but V was also a member
      of the council of “corruption and incompetence”…V was LA’s
      power-mayor who said that “Mexico will play an important role”
      in shaping his policies…really, V said that..he was the “leader”
      who facilitated the destruction and rot of lawless LA…Remember,
      organized crime requires the co-operation of public-sector
      unions, corporate interests/chambers of commerce, politicians
      and “community leaders”…all are “team-players” in dystopia LA…
      Woe to those who hesitate, question or resist…or even worse, get ideas…
      no tolerance for free minds…no mercy for “trouble-makers”…
      Well, masochists…now what…had enough…or hoping for more…?

    • Anonymous says:

      You keep quoting Gail Goldberg like she was a great sage, but has it ever occurred to you that saying something is very different from taking action. She did absolutely nothing to stop such zone changes and plan amendments when she had the power. If anything, she anointed and promoted this land use monster we now have as Planning Director.

      • ex valley says:

        Yeah from what I read at the time, Goldberg was really a know nothing do nothing from San Diego. I don’t think she even understood unique complexities of LA. So right lets not get carried away
        Yup you people blew it. You had a chance in 2009 to remove Villar and start dismantling the ruling machine. But his opponent was not good enough for you (actually it is really stupid – you let somebody like this poster here who repeats that Walter Moore is a racist whereas Villar was the one who used to preside a mecha/la raza group – how is this not racist?). You are too gullible, too brain washed and stupidly vote against your own interests. Now you had a slight but a chance anyways to come in force and get Kevin James at least in the runoff. But again you could care less.

        Enjoy your paradise.

    • anonymous says:

      Scott-Thank you for your additional explanation of what is happening. This is quite scary. I gotta say, though, that unions do make the problem even worse. Why? Because the pay they get compounds the fiscal issue you point out.

    • anonymous says:

      you should know better,
      Garcetti did not “steal” areas from other CDs.
      The crime was committed via corrupt Redistricting Commissioners…
      CD redistricting…redrawing boundaries…the “Realignment of Power”…
      and yes, that CD4 is too bizarre to comprehend…did anyone ask…
      How the hell was CD4 created ?…and CD5 ? and the other CDs ?
      Apparently, red-lining-gerrymandering is fine-and-dandy-okay.
      But who will benefit/profit from these race-based-boundaries…?

      • scott zwartz says:

        As with most Garcetti defenders, your comment is filled with non sequiturs and misleading statements. You really think he played no role. It was Garcetti’s non stop corruption which caused 26,198 ppl to leave Hollywood in just five years, between 2005 and 2010, that destroyed CD 13 as a legal council district.

        After he took parts of Koreatown, he then lied during his mayoral campaign and took credit for the business successes in Koreatown — which occurred before he tore apart Koreatown to save CD 13.

  2. Pick a side says:

    The only problem with Plotkin’s well written and Intellectually honest piece is that it is 2 years too late. Neighborhood protections were wiped out two years ago when the planning code was streamlined and land usage had to fit the neighborhood OR be of benefit to the community, city or region. Bye, bye neighborhoods

  3. Noel Weiss says:

    And the role of the City Attorney is. . . . . . ?

    • Pick a side says:

      What do you mean?

    • anonymous says:

      The role is:
      to cover the politicians butts
      Fight any lawsuits filed against the city (which equates to dragging it out until the plaintiff runs out of cash)
      Sue those individuals or groups that make the CA look good (not necessarily what’s most prudent and/or important)
      Spend lots of time drafting laws as a means to further tax residents in the guise of a fee

      The role is not:
      representing the interests of the residents, tax payers and rate payers of the city

    • Anonymous says:

      With all the noise you made against Trutanich, you sure are awfully quiet now. Is the Furer going to be the “people’s attorney”.

  4. Dominick says:

    The homeowner associations of this City ought to be up in arms. The City retains public notice procedures from the Middle Ages — mailed notice to only the immediate neighbors or a tiny legal notice published in the least read newspaper, when we live in a technology-based economy where digital notices distributed far and wide are now possible. Zoning is a compact of mutual respect that increases the social welfare of all. I agree to abide by the limits of development on my property in exchange for the next developer abiding by the same rules. The result is the rather fundamental idea of consistency in development of land (and equitable treatment of landowners).

    When neighbors are treated as some political leper that City Council members do not want to hear from, we have a political process that no longer serves our communities. This is what our City Hall has become. It is corrupt. It is incompetent. It needs to be eradicated.

  5. Teddy says:

    Just two remarks – I am so happy I will not be here for all of these
    changes toLA AND

    If I were starting a new business, I would choose a different City and or state.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The horse has already left the barn. The three land use protections for a community are so watered down as to be meaningless. A Community Plan is not worth the paper it is drawn on as it is changed daily through Plan Amendments. The Zoning Code that kept the felons and the bad wolf from your door is being shredded piece by piece. And, CEQA with its environmental protection is next in line. The path towards greater decline is in motion to keep in gravy a handful of developers and their high-powered lobbyists.

    To quote Joel Kotkin in his article, SoCal Economy not keeping up– “According to a recent Bloomberg Businessweek survey, San Francisco ranked as “best city” to live in. Suburban San Jose ranked No. 33.
    Los Angeles? Try No. 50, behind such places as Cleveland, Omaha, Neb., Tulsa, Okla., Indianapolis and Phoenix. —
    Is there something we can do about this decline,—– Southern California’s entrepreneurial guile is now decidedly low-key – food trucks, ethnic shopping, reality shows, hipster-oriented lofts and shopping areas.

    This limited vision extends to politics as well. As recently as the 1980s, the region boasted an aggressive business community that bullied Sacramento and bestrode Washington like a colossus. Now, our business leaders cringe like supplicants before well-funded greens, racialist warlords and public employee unions.”

  7. Anonymous says:

    We still can’t get rid of density king faux poverty pimp, Ed Reyes who is begging for a job in the Garcetti administration. Nooooooooooooooooo!

    • Rita-of-Sunland says:

      Surely Garcetti knows first-hand that Ed Reyes was way too stupid to be elected DOG CATCHER, let ALONE a councilman, but thanks to “affirmative action” and a council district brimming with La Raza-programmed Latinos, he was in like flan. For his entire career around the horseshoe all he talked about was illegal aliens and the L.A. River—or, as Ed Reyes called it, “Da REEVER.” Now that same district (CD1)’s got “One Bill Gil” Cedillo who, at Tuesday’s council meeting, handed Reyes’ ass to him on a “PLATA” regarding a land use issue. Reyes was nearly in tears. That had to be the final nail in Ed Reyes’ political coffin.

    • scott zwartz says:

      I recall when Reyes lamented that there was not a way to forbid Angelenos to own cars so they would have to use the subways.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Listening to the PLUM Hearing on the Casden project. Welcome to Alpern to LA Planning 101. 9 to 1 in favor of the project from people who don’t even live in the neighborhood. The typical tradespeople and others rounded up by the developer. He was the greatest cheerleader for public transit and its true meaning has already been hijacked by the developers. Sorry to be so cynical but hope he has enough money to sue the city and fight its 1,000 tax-payer funded city attorneys.

  9. Wayne from Encino says:

    Many vintage homes have been destroyed and carved up for these McMansions and multi-use idiot projects in Encino. 3 McMansions and a 20 unit complex are being put up right around me. 4,000 sq ft. houses with 3 car garages on 6,700 sq. ft. lots with 10 ft between houses and 900 sq. ft. back yards, smaller than some large pools!!! When the next R.E. bubble bursts, many lots will be left VACANT for years and years to come while the elected crooks look the other way. In 2004, a 33,000 sq. ft. lot with a 1922 Victorian mansion was bought by a developer. Then the entire parcel was cleared of every tree, shrub, and the home torn down! It took till 2013 for the developers to begin building the 3 McMansions on this project!!!! Then the developers grabbed more space for extra parking and got around a fire truck turn lane too. Then the McMansions were allowed to be built 6 feet from the wall—because they could use the NEIGHBORS SPACE FROM HIS WALL to cut down the set aside from the developers lots!!! This City is managed, ran by, and gutted by PIMPS, CROOKS, AND FOOLS all in one motion. Eventually, L.A. will be an absentee landlord slum city and quasi-business city. The day of the owner-occupied household will cease to exist. And Garcetti, the 15 Clowns on the Clowncil, Controller, and City Attorney COULDN’T REALLY GIVE A SHIT THAT THIS IS HAPPENING.
    Wait for the bellweather even of L.A. History—WHEN THE DODGERS MOVE OUT OF LOS ANGELES AND RETURN TO BROOKLYN!!!!!! Then the schmucks running the show will have Chavez Ravine to carve up into condos, appartments, and shopping centers. Now you know why that Rat in Anaheim renamed his stinky team “The Los Angeles of Anaheim.” Arte Moreno figures he’ll have a shot at putting his team in Chavez Ravine after the Dodgers move and get sold for 3 BILLION DOLLARS!! Like the Yankees, over in NYC the value of the team with its own paid T.V. network would fetch it an unlimited price tag. Magic Johnson and those Chicago Hedgefunders that bought the Dodgers have it all worked out. No one will see it coming when it happens, and when the move of the century happens, it’ll be something to watch. I’ve always believed the Dodgers were stolen from Brooklyn anyway, so I’d like to see it happen for that reason. The economic impact, however, will be extremely devistating to the City.

  10. Wayne from Encino gives you a view of America's future says:
    Imagine a country that went from the Spanish Armada, Bullfights, Vineyards, the Moors, and Christopher Columbus to a pile of rubble and bankruptcy. This is what Liberalism, and our Dumbocrats and sell out Republicrats will bring us (unless a few people wake the hell up and start to get with it.) Student debts both private and public funded topped 968 BILLION DOLLARS this month!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That staggering amount is NOT included in the NATIONAL DEBT!!!! A recent study concluded that the average age of a first time homebuyer (DUE TO IMMENSE DEBT OUT OF SCHOOL) WILL BE INTO THEIR LATE 30′S TO MID 40′S!!!!) This study DOES NOT include the financial wrecking ball of OBAMA CARE REGULATIONS and DOES NOT include the increased costs of utilities comming soon. Obama just called an emergency summit with China’s dictator–who is now in Mexico with the President over there begging for help at any price!! Maybe Obama will give his unconditional surrender to China and sell some property (like Alaska or Puerto Rico, or maybe Hawaii) for some major debt forgiveness?
    I want Ron Kaye for once to write a blog entitled: LIBERALISM IS A FAILURE AND I RENOUNCE IT.” Until that happens, the 100,000,000 lb Gorrilla still remains in the rooom….

    • anonymous to Wayne says:

      speaking of Planning-B&S corruption and unmentionable gorilla,
      for years, there was a King-Kong-Gorilla atop building at corner
      of Vanowen-Van Nuys. Never permitted, never legal.
      Called B& S for years and B&S would never issue citation..
      always “No Violation”…finally, we told them…
      “well, everyone can see the gorilla…look at Google maps
      and you see the gorilla on top of building…but B&S inspectors
      cannot see gorilla?” Wayne, it is no mystery:
      the neighborhoods with the greatest blight, decay and crime
      are areas with the greatest corruption within city bureaucracy.

  11. Mannie Camph says:

    I knew Platkin when he was with City Planning. You’d be lucky to get any work out of him if he wasn’t doing his personal business on city time and taking 2 hour lunches. Dont believe anything this clown says.

    • Anonymous says:

      Based on this reasoning, we should shut down the Planning Department and save some money.

    • anonymous says:

      it transcends the monetary costs…currently, Planning+Building & Safety
      do far more damage than any constructive good…corruption is rampant…

  12. Carol says:

    I see over on LA Observed that the Mayor is looking to live in Venice after his term in office living in the Mayor’s Mansion (you know, the Mansion that he said he had no interest in living in when he was campaigning for the office).

    Well, that suits us just fine over here on the East Side where we know what a corrupt little twerp thug the Mayor was when he lived over here. Yeah, Tony Villar will not be missed over here on the Eastside where people know how to work for a living and Tony only learned how to manipulate people to finance his expensive personal tastes. Stay over on Venice Beach Tony because everyone over here in City Terrace, Monterey Hills and Mount Washington hates your guts. Just go to Venice Beach and fade away to be remembered as the laughing stock that you are.

    See the wonderful news today…The smart people are comming, the smart people are comming…like a modern day Paul Revere, I see hope on the way…
    Clean out the Communists, traitors, finks, morons, idiots, and fools, and bring in a CONSERVATIVE HARD RIGHT EDITOR (ME) AND A FEW OTHER WRITERS
    (Rita, Kevin, Walter, Larry, and one liberal (Ed Reyes) and watch the newspaper business come back to life! Yes, the Nation is primed and pissed off and needs a start to the New American Revolution—Conservative Capitalism!!! Fire ALL public sector UNION FOOLS and open all jobs to the BEST QUALIFIED AND CAPABLE PERSON. Many union fools actually would easily be rehired, but many may find themselves at the Union Mission. Next—put all student loans (968 billion dollars worth) in a FEDERAL BANKRUPTCY SUIT and wipe out all the INTEREST and give each student a monthly payment of THE PRINCIPAL ONLY. NEXT, do the same with UNION HACK PENSIONS—put them in an ERISA bankruptcy, like American Airlines did (my heroes!!!) Next, at Mt. Rushmore, put REAGANS face on the mountain. Finally, give Pete Rose a FULL PARDON and order him into the MLB Hall of Fame. The Times writers KNOW this is possible and now are ready to quit. YES, CHANGE CAN BE GOOD…

  14. Amazed at the Corruption says:

    What Platkins wrote is what I had been saying that developers were telling me before I left the Neighborhood Council and the City. To all those N.C. that don’t pay attention to this merger you will be sorry in the future when you will have absolutely no say on any new project in your area. In the future all but the biggest projects will be by right and you will not be reviewing any new projects. I even think that the subdivision process will be streamlined into an almost ministerial action by the powers in Sacramento and Los Angeles.

    But don’t say you weren’t warned about this.

  15. Anonymous says:

    The only thing being expedited is CORRUPTION.

  16. I thought Villar would return to Mexico and be with his PWeePOL!

  17. anonymous says:

    What’s a PWeePOL?

  18. anonymous says:

    Oh-thanks Rita.

  19. They had the Gorrilla down on the street level first, then put it up on top of the building! In the 70′s and 80′s from Sherman Way to Ventura blvd, Van Nuys Blvd was a major small business hub employing thousands, then up to Roscoe and Van Nuys was the GM Pontiac division plant, employing over 10,000. Then over West, in the West Hills area, Aerospace employed 30,000. Today, all the jobs are GONE and in their place are parking lots and shopping centers that of course accept EBT cards! The Times never discusses this, because if they did the Liberals at the paper would clean their desk out before noon…

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  21. Anonymous says:

    “Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti on Friday called out three key areas of city operations that will get close scrutiny after he takes office July 1, saying each may need changes either in management or operations.

    Garcetti cited the Department of Water and Power, the Fire Department and the city’s disparate information technology units as being high on his list for review, starting with potential changes at the top.”

    Surprise, surprise! Planning Department is not on the list.

  22. Anonymous says:

    So is Garcetti removing Logrande and Bill Roschen? Would go a long way in healing what ails the quality of life in LA.

  23. Victim of L.A. DBS says:

    Homeowners are now fined with no prior warning of any kind by the LADBS. Allegedly City council approved this draconian measure in 2011.

    A 350 dollar fine and no way to protest the fine or have 3rd party mediation.

    I’m ok with LADBS keeping LA safe from incorrectly stored items on a homeowners lot, I’m not ok with no prior warning of any kind before a fine is imposed.

  24. Victim of L.A. DBS says:

    Please do a story on LA DBS fining homeowners over code violations even if the homeowner is fixing the violation. NO WARNINGS are being given out and there is no way to challenge the fines, which can be 350 dollars, maybe even more.

    If LADBS shows up and sees something wrong, the fine is applied with no prior warning of any kind.

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