Fri, Jan

LA City Planning: “You Can Complain, but No One is Listening”

VOICES - Last week at yet another City hearing, I yet again presented factual information on inadequate time for citizens and communities to review and have input into major policies now being rushed through the Department of City Planning (DCP) process to passage. 

Yet again the DCP responded with broad ascertains to prop up the clearly dysfunctional system.   The response echoed a statement hurled earlier at me in an office, “You Can Complain, but No One is Listening”.

What I have learned over the years is this is “Standard City Policy” provided to us by a City Council and City Departments we pay for with OUR tax money.  I don’t know about you, but when I pay someone to provide a service, I expect results.

The same citizens who are paying politicians and city departments to perform properly and without bias have no voice in City processes, meetings and venues.

In all the meetings and hearings I’ve attended – and there have been at least six-a-month over the past 5-years--greater weight, time, and attention are given to the concerns of “business and professional” groups, those with the money.  If the community is even mentioned, it is only cursory.

It is a very transparent exclusionary process.   I have also witnessed a process of carefully “selecting” certain citizen comments to bolster targeted arguments.  Meanwhile, many legitimate citizen opposition complaints that SHOULD be heard are simply graciously dismissed or studiously ignored.

A quick reality check is in order.  The “new” DCP  administration is fully comprised of members of the “old” administration – and that continues to strain credibility as it frames slick, stylized promises of “reorganization,” “transparency,” for “full community voices.”  

Meanwhile its systemic processes are essentially the same flawed practices this writer cited in the CityWatch article “Illusion of Inclusion” [At the end of this article] a few years ago.

Unfortunately, repeated “old” problems in the DCP identified by various citizen groups have been met with “new” denials and declarations from DCP administration.  “New” procedures said to promote and provide greater community outreach and input is just lip service.

Once the DCP decides a direction, its unfounded statements and rationalizations are then taken “whole-cloth” by different City bodies and in hearings WITHOUT further research of data or follow up on citizen complaints.   

The City gives a litany of excuses as to why these problems continue to exist -- reorganization, budgetary and staff cuts, even (if you can believe it) “technical difficulties,” all the while as MAJOR code, zoning, and policies are being changed or passed without wide community review and input.

Meanwhile, the City explains it as a lack of adequate citizen involvement.  That is simply not true.

What IS true is what I was told:  “No One Is Listening.”  The fact of the matter is, there IS no City Planning operational process that allows citizens and citizen groups to provide adequate review and input.

We, as citizens, have organized our communities so we are represented at hearings and meetings, but the pattern has been as I was told, “No One Is Listening.”

The citizens DO come forward and WANT to be heard … but face the same obstructive culture.

This is NOT what’s best for our communities and our city.

The city may not be listening, but Citizens are and we’re not taking it anymore.

(Lucille Saunders is a Mid-City West neighborhood activist and heads the La Brea Willoughby Coalition. She can be reached at: labreacoalition.org.)  -cw 

Tags: City Planning Department, citizens, policy, tax money

Vol 9 Issue 58
Pub: July 22, 2011

City Planning

The Illusion of Inclusion

By Lucille Saunders

The Housing Element Framework of the General Plan is being propelled through the hearing process by the Los Angeles City Department of Planning (CDP) with the thinnest guise of public comment.   Below are the components of this illusion of public inclusion into this planning process, vital to all of us and required by state law.  (More info on this update of the general plan … the Housing Element …at the end of this column.)

These components are so orchestrated and practiced that it cannot be an accident that public input is being left out.   Again.   We must recognize these practices and expose them for what they are in order to stop the hypocrisy.

Task Force Fifty members from various familiar lobbying groups and “contributing project partners” from city agencies met for eight to 18 months to develop this framework. This process allowed for the forging of relationships, the exchange of information, and access to the process not available to the general public.  No homeowner, neighborhood council or community group(s) were involved.

Community Meetings: A marathon seven meetings was held within a two-week period. Very short notice was given to select community members.  Glaring reports noted that the CPD  staff outnumbered community attendees at several meetings.  Public comment was limited to one-third of a page.

Public Hearings Two (downtown and valley) public hearings were scheduled a week a part.  Public and input were not the operative words here.  The agenda favored presentations by special interest groups (also on the Task Force) to monopolize the first/downtown hearing.   Afterwards, the public was marginalized by 2-minute comment periods each and cut off when the designated hearing time expired.  Thus, a number of the public who wanted to speak, were not able to address the hearing.

Then, for those under the illusion of two hearings being held to attend to accommodate the Valley and City geographical areas, it was simply that: an illusion.  The Valley hearing will be limited to issues raised in the downtown venue.  How does one know/learn what those issues are?  In a week?

Materials- The limited, and in some cases lack of, availability to the public of materials essential to informed investigation and discussion of the process or the plan seemed deliberate.  These elusive materials included a 700-plus page appendix and a 1600-plus page Environmental Impact Report (EIR) available to the Task Force.   At the Community Meetings, a 12-page “draft” executive summary was distributed.  It was written as though the meetings had already been held and community input was already incorporated.

I have attempted to remain involved throughout the Housing Element process with checkered results.   Though it had been in the CPD pipeline, the first alert for community input was the “invitation” to the first Community Meeting--with 3-days lead time given.  At the meeting, there was no organized presentation or group process for the community to have guidance from the city or learn from each other.  We were advised to individually wander the “stations” and ask questions of the staff.  All staff answers fit the preset conclusions of the draft reports.

Though the “draft” executive summary was distributed at the community meetings, the public was referred to the website to retrieve the 225-page “draft” report.  A violation of the Brown Act? So, to come prepared for the hearings, one would have to have downloaded the 225-pages … assuming all of LA’s citizens have access to computers.

Stunning in its breadth, this writer sought the support documents noted in the draft report.  After several calls and emails to designated CPD staff members resulted in no response, I went to the CPD office.  After a two hour wait, the secretary brought  a 700-plus page (A-H) appendix.  Section H identified the properties by assessor lot numbers? Question: how many Angelinos  even know their own property by lot number(s)?

I have attempted to question the blatant lack of public participation and input of the process at various venues.  When this was pointed out to the CPD Director, I was urged to call her office for an appointment.  When I called the next day, I was informed that the director’s appointments were “made months in advance.”  I offered to take an appointment “months in advance” then.” I have yet to receive a response and no appointment was made.

This smoke and mirror show gives the City’s Planning Department a “deniability” defense for the real public outcry:  the lack of obligatory public input in these processes due the consistent lack of time, access, and materials.

This can, of course, also galvanize citizens’ resolve to expose this lack of responsiveness and generate organized pushback to ensure real public education and input into the planning process.

The public is constantly planned out of the planning process. And, we’re getting mad. And … as Howard Beal screamed in Baddy Chayefsky’s Network … we’re not going to take it anymore. (Lucille Saunders is a community activist, a member of the Melrose Neighborhood Assn and the LaBrea Coalition.)

More info: As required by state law, the Planning Department is updating the Housing Element of the General Plan. Explanation from the City’s Public Hearing Notice: This project is about an amendment of the current 1998-2005 Housing Element of the General Plan for the 2006-2014 planning period. This update to the Housing Element is intended to satisfy the requirements of Government Code so LA can receive funding for affordable housing (“housing that meets the needs of all income groups”) through the year 2014. The Housing Element of the General Plan is supposed to be amended every five to seven years.

This is important to you because the decisions being made could affect where and how you live, including concessions to builders and zoning changes. Click here to get the current draft from the Planning Department website.

Next hearing is scheduled for Thursday, June 26 (8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. at Van Nuys City Hall-14410 Sylvan Street, Van Nuys. Questions? Contact Naomi Guth at 213.978.1363 or [email protected].

Send your comments on this story to: [email protected].


Vol 6 Issue 50

Pub: June 20, 2008