Tuesday, July 27, 2010

CityWatchLA - Rubber Meets the Road for City Planning

CityWatch, July 27, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 59

The Department of City Planning is a lightning rod in the City of LA, drawing controversy and conflict its way no matter which direction it moves. At the same time, no city department has a greater responsibility for the quality of life in Los Angeles.

Land use issues are volatile, often leading to adversarial positioning that results in fractured communities. For too long, the LA has squandered incredible amounts of human infrastructure in project-by-project battles while the "Do Real Planning" banner wafts gently in the breeze. Some would suggest that planning became something that is done to the community not with the community.

All that may change if the Mayor and the City Council embrace the challenge of selecting a new City Planning Director and use it as an opportunity to reaffirm and revitalize City Planning. Now is the time to position a Director who will protect the future of Angelenos by developing a shared vision, by updating the General Plan and the Community Plans, and by partnering with the community to protect the quality of life in the neighborhood.

The actions of the Mayor and the City Council over the next few days will have a significant impact on the future of Los Angeles.

1) If the process of selecting and confirming the new Director of City Planning is open, engaged and transparent, the people of Los Angeles can expect the future of City Planning to be open, engaged and transparent. If the public isn't involved in the process, it sets the tone for the future of City Planning. Now is the time for the Mayor's office to embark on a tour of the city, engaging the public and providing Mr. LoGrande … the Mayor’s choice nominee for new City Planning Director … with an opportunity to connect.

When Chief Charlie Beck was nominated by the Mayor to lead the LAPD, Beck visited neighborhood councils, community groups and town halls throughout the city, establishing a standard and forging relationships that gave him a strong foundation upon which to build. The people of LA deserve no less as a Director is selected for City Planning.

2) If the mandate for the new Planning Director is to move all elements of City Planning "further, faster and more aggressively" then the people of Los Angeles can expect the future to include greater efficiencies in the movement of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Now is the time to position and support someone who can use LA's General Plan, Community Plans, Specific Plans, Master Plans and Vision Plans to make the projects that benefit our communities easier while making the projects that are at odds with our neighborhoods harder.

Speed, in and of itself, is not a community benefit but effective planning that improves the quality of life is. Most importantly, any movement must leave in its wake a significant commitment to infrastructure improvement, traffic mitigation, community space, connectivity and parkland that actually exists.

3) If the future of the Department of City Planning is one of greater efficiency and organizational effectiveness, but the current General Plan and Community Plans are out of date and lacking in common vision, then the City will just continue off-course with greater speed and impact. If the ongoing refinements (ex: 12-2 program) in process continue but are not partnered with sufficient enforcement authority, City Planning will simply become a higher volume "Department of Yes!"

The ability to say "No!" is as important as the ability to say "Yes!" and the community must fight for a City Planning Director who gets the title and the authority that must come with it or we are simply engaged in the process of selecting a spokesmodel for City Planning.

4) If the success of the City Planning Director requires a combination of diplomatic, political, and administrative skills and the ability to get the Planning Commission, the Area Commissions, the City Council's PLUM Committee and City Planning in sync, it is imperative that the community take a leadership role in communicating clearly that vision, priorities, standards and community benefits are the foundation, not the payoff, for real planning.

Now more than ever, the people of Los Angeles must stand up and take a leadership role in positioning City Planning and its new Director firmly on course, communicating clearly to the Mayor and the City Council that we're in this for the long haul.

In the spirit of implementing a long term vision for City Planning, the people of Los Angeles must step up and insist that the new Director of City Planning connects to the community he serves, that he engage the neighborhood councils in establishing standards, that he implement a foundation of community benefits, and that he commit to increasing the quality of life as a condition of development.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net. Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

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