Friday, July 16, 2010

LA Needs a Plan that Endures

CityWatch, July 16, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 56

The upside of having LA's Historic Preservation Department housed within City Planning is that it makes it simpler to care for LA's General Plan, dusting it off periodically and waving it about to prove that, at one time, LA actually had a plan for the future. LA's General Plan is mandated by State law and Municipal Code and is intended as a blueprint for the growth and development of Los Angeles. In reality, it is a ceremonial document, an unmonitored relic completely lacking in enforcement authority and political support. It is, by definition, a piece of history preserved for antiquity.

This is not to say that old plans are not good plans. The Chicago Plan is very old, yet it continues to guide and inspire.

Visitors to Chicago are greeted at the airport by an exhibit that offers an overview of the plan.

The Borders bookstore on Michigan Avenue has an entire display section dedicated to the Chicago Plan along with maps, commentary and updates.

It's fair to say that the Chicago Plan's co-author was correct when he said ""Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will not themselves be realized."

As for visitors to LA's airport, they are greeted by huge banners urging them to "Visit Las Vegas!" While one might argue that this is part of a creative revenue enhancement scheme, the "anywhere but here" strategy for encouraging tourism is of dubious merit.

It also reveals a lack of identity, something the Los Angeles Plan should provide, if only as the starting point for a General Plan that moves Los Angeles forward into the future.

The City of Los Angeles must have "A Plan that Endures" for these four reasons:

1) It's the Law. The City of Los Angeles, like any other municipal authority, is required to plan for the future. LA's dusty, outdated and ill-enforced Plan creates an adversarial environment that is generating lawsuits against the city. Community members should be partners, not plaintiffs, and a solid General Plan with enforcement authority would move LA forward.

LA's current General Plan is the beginning point for negotiations and challenges and variances that make a mockery of the process. By design, the Plan should clarify policies and ideals, ending debate over challenges, and serving as the beginning point of actions that are consistent with LA's Great City vision.

2) It brings LA's vision to life. The City of Los Angeles has allowed the development of our communities to take place project-by-project, requiring community members to fight individual variances and specific curb-cuts, one at a time.

This process is profitable for the consultants and lawyers, it's simply the cost of business for the developers, but it is absolutely painful and demoralizing for the neighborhood.

The tyranny of development must stop and a General Plan that clearly articulates the policies and ideals of LA's vision for the future must be the blueprint for moving forward.

3) It's an active solution to our challenges. No city can afford to function without a plan, especially one in a budget crisis.

Yet Los Angeles continues to engage in short term planning, political wrangling, and data-free decision making. It is imperative that the City of LA double down on Planning, collect the data, engage the public, and commit to implementing long-term solutions to the challenges that threaten the quality of life in Los Angeles.

4) It moves our communities forward. The quality of life in our communities is threatened. The people of Los Angeles deserve a General Plan that can be held up as the guiding document for all land use and development decisions.

Now is the time to develop and implement a General Plan that allows the community to come together on issues ranging from mobility to air quality to the environment, avoiding the piecemeal debates that take place when planning is conducted project-by-project with no vision for the city as a whole.

Los Angeles is a city of talent, recognized around the world for innovations and creativity. LA deserves a General Plan that is more than a museum piece, a dusty vestige that merely satisfies an administrative requirement.

LA deserves a General Plan that moves this city forward, a Plan that brings our vision to life, establishing a narrative for the future that sees Los Angeles taking its place as a Great City.

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

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