CityWatch, June 17, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 48
RETHINKING LA - LA’s City Hall confuses growth for development.
There is a huge difference between growth and development, a distinction that is lost on the caretakers of LA’s future as they gamble on size over substance in a planning Ponzi scheme that is consuming our resources. Growth is simply an increase in size, something third-world countries are capable of doing to the point of absurdity, resulting in unstable governments, illiteracy, disease, high mortality rates, low economic development, high levels of poverty, low utilization of natural resources, the lack of a middle class and heavy dependence on developed nations.
Development, on the other hand, is an improvement in the quality of life for a community, regardless of increases or decreases in populations, and results in improved infrastructure, health care, education, economic opportunity and prosperity, arts and culture, justice and freedom, mobility, and a commitment to a sustainable future.
For years, City Hall has held fast to a planning strategy based on the assumption that the hordes were at the gates and that the population of Los Angeles was going to spike dramatically, straining the infrastructure of an already challenged city.
City planners stoked the fears in local communities, and politicos pushed agendas that paved the way for speculators, builders, and investors by softening restrictive code and supporting construction with public funds.
Mayor Villaraigosa went so far as to claim the construction boom was an indication of economic prosperity and promised to name the “construction crane” the official bird of Los Angeles. The fact that LA’s biggest years for construction coincided with the slowest population growth in over a century was lost on Villaraigosa who continues to tout publicly funded construction sites as evidence of economic growth and employment opportunity.
The State of California doesn’t leave county and city development to chance, requiring all municipal authorities to adopt a General Plan that will serve as a “constitution for future development.”
It’s unfortunate that the term “development” is used so freely, diluting the impact of a word that at one time was used to refer to the implementation of goals and policies that improve the quality of life in a community. Now it symbolizes a commitment to growth at the expense of quality of life, an investment in construction at the expense of infrastructure, and all for a market that doesn’t exist.
LA’s General Plan has seven required elements; Land Use, Transportation (now referred to as Circulation), Housing (recently updated), Conservation, Open-Space, Noise, and Safety. In addition, LA includes elements such as Power Systems, Libraries, Public Schools, Sewerage and Wastewater, Cultural and Historical Monuments, and Water System.
None of this means much because the elements lack integration, have been adopted or updated independently of each other, and are fairly consistently ignored. In fact, it’s safe to say, the City of LA is being run as if the only thing that mattered was funding public safety at the expense of city services and infrastructure maintenance while projecting bold optimism in the restorative power of crony speculation.
Through it all, the members of the public most engaged in the civic process spend the bulk of their time on land use issues, from hillside construction to McMansions to parking to fence heights.
Even the most committed eventually tire and fall by the wayside, leaving scant few to fight the larger battle, a Mayor and City Council leading the City of LA into the future without the benefit of an updated General Plan, without a commitment to investing in infrastructure, and without the full delivery of city services.
The City of LA is looking more and more like a third-world country, broken streets, failing schools, high unemployment, a disappearing middle class, and an unstable government that is unable to deliver on its city service commitment. These are the symptoms of a city led by people who confuse a commitment to growth with a mandate for development.
It’s evident that the Mayor and the City Council are in denial, ignoring State Law and City Charter mandate by engaging in Community Plan updates charades that rely on fictional data that is contradicted by reality.
LA has within it the elements of a global city, capable of taking a leading position in culture, technology, communications, industry, economics, politics and human rights. All that’s missing is the leadership of the people to demand of City Hall a General Plan that commits to development as a refinement, not simply expansion, and a commitment to infrastructure and city services to support the Great City vision.
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)