The Real Reasons Why LA’s General Plan Must be Updated

LOS ANGELES

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-A hint: it is not to bestow financial gifts to major real estate investors and contractors, even if they pay-to-play and expect General Plan updates to be their Rx for even fatter profits. 

Here are some real reasons why LA urgently needs to properly update its entire General Plan: 

First, the City has a legal obligation to comply with the State of California’s laws and regulations regarding planning. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research now offers a major draft update to its General Plan guidelines. They not only carefully lay out these legal requirements, but also offer extraordinary online resources to cities and the public, especially regarding infrastructure and climate change. 

Second, the basic approach of most existing General Plan elements is sound, especially its central document, the General Plan Framework Element. It calls for planned growth, sometimes called controlled growth, in Los Angeles. In fact, this has been the City’s basic approach to city planning for nearly 50 years. The era of deliberate suburbanization and urban sprawl is long over. But, this carefully crafted plan for controlled growth has unfortunately been sabotaged by the City Council in many different ways, all of which need to be offset by a properly updated General Plan. 

  • During this entire period, from 1970 to date, the City Council has consistently departed from its own adopted General Plan elements and their implementing zoning through spot-zoning and spot-General Plan ordinances for major donors. 
  • Claiming a staff shortage, the City Planning units charged with maintaining and updating the General Plan have been on a starvation diet. 
  • In a daring effort, after 22 years of false starts, the Planning Department prepared -- and the City Council unanimously adopted -- a deficient update to the Hollywood Community Plan. This developer-driven update used inflated population figures from SCAG, while neglecting to calculate the zoning build-out potential of private parcels in Hollywood. Instead, the completed plan up-zoned and up-planned whole corridors and entire Hollywood neighborhoods without a convincing rationale. 

Of course, the real agenda was to turn the update process into a speculators’ dream palace. Not long afterward, in response to three totally predictable lawsuits, Superior Court Judge Alan Goodman rescinded the policy sections of the plan, the update’s Environmental Impact Report, and most importantly, its voluminous appended ordinances to up-zone and up-plan Hollywood. 

  • The planning Department has also failed to properly monitor the General Plan, even though the Framework required this in exacting detail through a special Monitoring Unit. Not only has the City failed to adequately monitor any of the General Plan’s elements, but it has also never properly re-calculated LA’s zoning buildout potential in light of SB 1818, the affordable housing density bonus. Similarly, it has not monitored user demand and projected capacity for the City’s infrastructure and public services.  
  • Likewise, City Hall has never managed to update any General Plan elements – with the possible exception of Mobility and Health – to reflect accurate population and employment changes, as well as startling new data on increased earthquake, freeway, and climate dangers. 

Third, if/when City Planning fully undertakes the update of the General Plan, it must carefully repair this sabotage and implement obvious conclusions from the following information. 

  • The latest data on climate change in Los Angeles, especially several recent UCLA studies that forecast neighborhood-level changes in temperature, precipitation, sea-level rises, and water supplies. 
  • The latest data on the City’s infrastructure, especially long term maintenance compared to the destruction and devastation resulting from a major earthquake. 
  • The latest data on the residential zoning build out potential of local areas, such as the 35 Community Plans. The City’s existing data is about 25 years old, and City Hall urgently needs to update it to reflect zoning laws that allow by-right apartment houses on all commercial and M-1 industrial lots. Furthermore, this zoning build out potential should be expanded by up to 35 percent through the City’s density bonus ordinance, implementing the State of California’s Senate Bill 1818. 

Fourth, if the City properly updates the General Plan, I expect City Hall will reach an uncomfortable conclusion, at least for the pols and their patrons. Despite their frequent claims, there is no demonstrable need to up-zone and up-plan Los Angeles. In fact, in light of the data I have outlined above, they should conclude that many neighborhoods warrant down-zoning because of climate change adaptation and mitigation, earthquake dangers, freeway proximity, inadequate infrastructure, scarce resources, and insufficient public services. 

This is exactly what future fights over the General Pan will turn on. Will City Hall accede to big real estate developers and rampantly up-zone and up-plan for them, like they attempted in Hollywood? Or will they follow the data, as well as community input over these issues, and make sure that public infrastructure and public services – not real estate speculation -- are their first priority? And, will they make sure no area of the city will be over-developed where there is not sufficient infrastructure, sufficient public services, or where the dangers of climate change, earthquakes, and freeway proximity warrant careful regulation of real estate projects?

 

(Dick Platkin is a former LA City Planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatch LA. Please send any comments or corrections to rhplatkin@gmail.com.) Graphic credit: LA Daily News. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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