PLANNING - The classic reference “Out, Damned Spot!” to Shakespeare’s Macbeth (from Lady Macbeth’s guilt-panged utterance stemming from her remorse over her role in killing the King of Scotland, and which leads to her suicide) isn’t quite the same “spot” as the “Spot Zoning” that the City of LA does on an increasingly regular basis.
Nor does it have much guilt induced to those planners, politicians and developers who promote it for all sorts of rationalized and packaged fiction for us all to swallow.
To quote the Free Dictionary, “Spot Zoning is invalid because it amounts to an Arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable treatment of a limited area within a particular district and is, therefore, a deviation from the comprehensive plan.”
I know that many reading this get bored, amused or even disdainful when the subjects of “Community Plans” come up—these Community Plans are legally required to be updated every 15-25 years (or less)—but they’re needed to determine where we have residential districts (both single-family homes and apartment clusters), commercial districts, open space and industrial/job zones. It allows us to organize the way we live, travel, commute and build water/power/sewage/transportation infrastructure.
Community Plans are like the foundation of our homes or the bylaws of an organization—they can be boring and tedious to develop, but without them, everything really falls apart. Like it or not, a society or city or organization without rules is an unpleasant and stressful anarchy within which no reasonable or sane person would want to exist.
So when we do this “spot-zoning” of changing the assigned use to build or develop or redevelop on a given land parcel, it has the potential to be both adaptable and flexible for special circumstances, or it can be similar to the McMansions that have developed all over Los Angeles and turned otherwise lovely neighborhoods into unlivable eyesores.
Hence my recent CityWatch foray into the improper and entirely too-big and inappropriately-planned Casden/Sepulveda project at the intersections of Exposition, Sepulveda and Pico, and adjacent to the future Exposition/Sepulveda light rail station.
Currently, that land parcel is zoned for industrial use (it’s a cement factory), and everyone with half a brain knows that changing the use of that land (which adjacent to the fume-laden I-405 freeway) to a residential/commercial “spot zone” with a couple of 8-10 story towers and a Target and a small shopping mall is just too big to have people live (air quality, folks) and easily commute to. The Final EIR of this project states that the traffic issues are unworkable, and it’s almost a certainty that the water, power, sewage, open space and City resources for this project would seriously and negatively damage the Westside.
Yet if we didn’t change the land use at this site (in other words, keep the use as “industrial” with respect to zoning), it could be a very necessary parking lot and Westside Regional Intermodal Transportation Center with amenities to all the car, bicycle, bus and light rail riders who would use this wonderful location to connect to their daily destinations. It would also be an awesome place to build a large Internet/Media job center to power up the City economy.
But spot-zoning a huge residential/commercial project at this site is another example of what the City all-too-often allows as it skirts the otherwise-legally-mandated Community Plans it hasn’t updated in decades. And while the expansion of mass transit in the City and County of L.A. is an excellent and overdue way of reconfiguring commuting and commercial processes for the 21st Century, anarchy won’t help anyone but those few developers and pols who have no concern for what’s best for current and future generations.
The City of Los Angeles and Metro are holding meetings for the community to weigh in and develop pedestrian, bicycle and transit-friendly neighborhoods in regions next to future Expo and Crenshaw Light Rail Line stations, and they’re frightfully (about 5-10 years!) overdue. Yet better late than never, and it’s urged that as many as possible attend or otherwise weigh in for the Monday, December 5th meeting (6:30-8:30 pm) at Exposition/Sepulveda.
Of both interest (and potential concern) is the new Transit Corridors Cabinet being created by Mayor Villaraigosa to (quoting the City news release) “streamline and harmonize City efforts, ensuring that the region’s ambitious and unprecedented invested in transportation infrastructure is properly leveraged to foster a more connected Los Angeles that provides jobs, housing and a better quality of life for all Angelenos.”
I am an ardent admirer of Mayor Villaraigosa’s efforts to create a mass transit network for the City of Los Angeles, and I am aware that compromise is needed with respect to neighborhood preservation and appropriate densification (to say nothing of making housing, commuting and living in this City more affordable and pleasant!). However, the potential of this otherwise venerable effort on the part of the Mayor to degenerate into a free-for-all to plundering developers is very real.
THE TRANSIT CORRIDORS CABINET WILL ONLY SUCCEED IF COUPLED WITH A RESTORATION AND EXPEDITION OF THE COMMUNITY PLAN UPDATE PROCESS THAT PREVENTS THIS FROM BEING A MERE SPOT-ZONING FORAY!
The regions and Community Plans that surround the future Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Line have their own needs, but certainly an expeditious establishment of the properly- and legally-updated West Los Angeles and Mar Vista-Palms-Del Rey Plans (to be done with appropriate community input, of course, and not illegally-rammed through to please a few special interests) can make these Transit Corridors work.
Mass transit is exploding on the Westside, with too few buses, light rail cars and parking to accommodate the current system and developing Expo Light Rail Line—a challenging but almost-pleasant dilemma to have after decades of being told “no one uses mass transit”—but the planning HAS to occur, and it HAS to be done legally and properly.
Whether it’s the Monday, December 3rd evening meeting at the Henry Medina Building at Exposition/Sepulveda (6:30-8:30), or the Tuesday, December 4th evening meeting at Metro Headquarters (6:30-8:30) to address development at and around Union Station, there are critical land parcels that offer exciting economic and other upside opportunities for a vibrant 21st-century Los Angeles City and County.
However, creating lousy, neighborhood-destructive projects that benefit virtually no one is a “spot” we don’t want to end up in. We can develop regionally-focused Community Plans that allow for densification and even variances from past policy to benefit the community as we focus on transit/transportation-focused planning as well.
But “Spot-Zoning” as a way to develop our community, economy and quality of life? I don’t think any rational human being can ever justify that.
Out, Damned Spot!
(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at Alpern@MarVista.org . He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)