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Don’t Be Fooled by City Hall’s Half-Baked Reforms

While we applaud the mayor and City Council for attempting reforms that try to mimic the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative heading for the March 2017 ballot, today's City Hall proposal (see below **) is a half-baked effort that continues to shortchange Los Angeles residents in favor of developers who shower the City Council and mayor with money.

 

Real reform will come when voters enact it, through the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that will soon begin gathering signatures for the March 2017 ballot.

The mayor and City Council are clearly unnerved by our 70% support from voters. Voters agree we must end the behavior of individual city council members who take money from developers, and then act as land czars, personally seeing to it that these wealthy developers get their land "rezoned" from two or three stories to 6 or 10 or even 30 stories.

Los Angeles residents pay for this instant wealth transferred to developers: a massive loss of green spaces, livable neighborhoods, quiet streets and street parking, even as these outsized luxury complexes and skyscrapers suck up our water and max out the surface streets, aging water mains and emergency services.

Los Angeles residents pay dearly, with higher rates, higher taxes and harmed communities.

This is a corrupt system, whether it is legal or not.

The fine words from the mayor today are very gratifying to hear. We do appreciate his, and the City Council's, unspoken acknowledgement of our citywide Neighborhood Integrity Initiative movement, popular in every neighborhood from Brentwood to Boyle Heights.

But sadly, their own plan falls far short.

Our March 2017 ballot measure ends forever the gaming of land in Los Angeles by the City Council. The mayor's and City Council's reforms announced today continue to allow the City Council and the mayor himself to behave badly -- by personally seeing to it that developers who shower them with cash can erect giant projects in neighborhoods that don't want it and can't handle it.

The City Council's destructive policies encourage widespread demolition of perfectly sound older buildings. Their own policies are pushing out thousands of longtime residents from Highland Park to Palms, leading to the destruction or conversion of more than 20,000 affordable rent-stabilized units since 2001, mostly in favor of luxury buildings few can afford.

The City Council is allowing developers to destroy neighborhood character from Westlake and Highland Park to Valley Village and Koreatown, and selling out Los Angeles for a future that people here in Los Angeles do not want.

The efforts at reform do nothing to challenge this.

In addition, our Neighborhood Integrity Initiative requires that "Community Plan" hearings be held throughout the city, in every neighborhood, on weekends and weekday evenings only so the public has real access to this important process of shaping the future of their neighborhoods.

As much as we appreciate the mayor's acknowledgement that LAs' biased system for writing up Community Plans must be fixed, the City Hall proposal contains no tools for meaningful public input.

Our measure does provide these tools: We require the city to hold all Community Plan hearings during times and on days when the real public can attend, and the hearings must be held in the communities themselves, not downtown.

The related City Hall measure announced today involving Defunct zoning is, unfortunately, not a reform but a land grab, focused largely on the San Fernando Valley.

The City Council clearly intends to broadly rezone parking lots to allow for density. But LA parking lots are not defunct zoning areas awaiting giant luxury condo projects or pricey rental complexes going for $3,000 per unit.

What Los Angeles residents want, and have been promised by the mayor and city council again and again, is parks. Parks, not towers.

Los Angeles is the most park-poor big city in America, a shameful ranking that harms everyone.

The "reform" should have said that Defunct zoning parcels will be targeted for parks, and that the City Council would stop sitting on millions of dollars in unspent parks funds. But nobody asked communities like Reseda, Palms, Venice and Pico-Union what they want.

What the people of LA dream of, and what the mayor and city council dream of, could not be further apart.

One additional reform proposed by the council and mayor today was taken directly from the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, and we appreciate the effort they made to clean up the city's broken and biased Environmental Impact Report system.

But today's plan falls woefully short:

Our ballot reform will forever ban developers from choosing their own consultants to write the infamous Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) that habitually overestimate population growth and underestimate traffic, infrastructure stress, environmental harm, noise and other harms caused by developers' projects.

In contrast to our clear ban on letting developers' consultants write the EIRs, the mayors' and city councils' plan would create a list of private consultants pre-approved via a highly politicized process. The city needs to do better than that.

Finally, we applaud the mayor's unspoken acknowledgement that the Coalition to Preserve LA has hit upon the greatest worry Angelenos share: the frenzied overdevelopment that drives up our skyrocketing rental prices on every block where these rule-bending luxury projects are granted by the City Council.

But silent agreement about this from City Hall is not enough. Our plan creates a highly focused and narrow moratorium only on these projects that bend the zoning rules during backroom deals.

Despite some highly creative claims by our opponents, who laughably say the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative "stops development" in Los Angeles, our pin-pointed moratorium goes after only the 3% to 4% of projects that are allowed to stomp on the zoning rules, often after the developer gives cash and gifts to city officials.

These huge projects are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the gridlocked surface traffic, infrastructure stress, loss of green space, and the rash of ugly boxlike buildings that offer children nowhere to play and pave over the very character of Los Angeles.

 
This City Hall plan does nothing to end the soft corruption that grips Los Angeles City Hall. Voters will make that fact clear in March.

 

(Jill Stewart is Campaign Director for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. She can be reached at [email protected].)

-cw

 

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** CITY LEADERS LAUNCH REFORMS TO STRENGTHEN PLANNING PROCESS AND PROTECT NEIGHBORHOODS 


LOS ANGELES— Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council today introduced reforms to help guide the City’s growth and development, and protect the unique character of our neighborhoods. The Mayor is calling for the update of all of the City's community plans and will include funding in his upcoming budget to support this effort. And in a motion introduced today by Councilmembers José Huizar, Gil Cedillo, David Ryu, Bob Blumenfield, Mitch O’Farrell and Mike Bonin, and seconded by Councilmember Paul Krekorian, the City Council instructed the Planning Department to report back on overhauling the Community Plan program. They also called for recommendations on ways to increase oversight of the environmental review process, and upgrade outdated technology.

City leaders also called for a new Citywide General Plan, a blueprint that guides responsible growth and lays out a framework for key areas of urban life, including transportation, housing and open space. The General Plan has not been fully updated in more than 20 years.

“We have a responsibility to plan for prosperity and growth in ways that reflect the energy of this great City and protect the character of our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti. “I want Angelenos to have a sense of ownership over the development of their communities and these reforms help us get there. Together, we’re creating a blueprint for the Los Angeles of today, and the Los Angeles of tomorrow.”

The City’s 35 Community Plans lay out guidelines for what can and cannot be built in any given neighborhood. This helps determine the different types of housing that can be developed, the jobs that can be supported in a community and other key quality of life measures. The City Council motion will be heard in the Planning & Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee.

“As the chair of PLUM, my colleagues and I have been working with the Planning Department to review and improve a myriad of planning processes through ReCodeLA and other efforts,” said Councilmember Huizar. “Our 35 Community Plans affect scores of communities, each as distinct and vital as the next, and cover more than 500 square miles across the City. Addressing the backlog and updating our Community Plans is a priority that needs immediate action. Today's collaborative Council action looks to expedite this process so we can bring accountability and transparency back into our General Plan and Community Plan review processes.  I thank the Mayor for supporting our Council motion and I am confident that we will have a number of strong recommendations to review in PLUM and the Council in the coming weeks.”

Mayor Garcetti pledged to nearly triple the Planning Department’s community plan staff, to better ensure all plans are updated in no more than 10 years. The Mayor will include $1.5 million in new funding for the Community Planning program and General Plan program, as part of his upcoming 2016-17 budget. He also laid out a plan for ongoing funding for the program to ensure updates are completed – start to finish - within 36 months.

Updated plans will provide new guidance and respond to current land use changes, minimizing the need for general plan amendments. Creating a cycle of regular city-initiated updates to Community Plans will ensure these plans are current and reflect community-driven goals.

"Our city, simply does not have adequate housing to meet our current population needs, renters are currently paying more then 30% of their income towards rent. Our General Plan and Community Plans  must be updated to reflect the current population and allow for smart and responsible housing production. These new plans will allow Los Angeles to plan adequately for our current and future housing needs all while keeping the character of each of our communities intact. "

The City Council’s reform-driven motion requests the Planning Department to report back on options that will improve management over the environmental review process, increasing transparency over the preparation of technical documents including creating a list of professional consultants aimed at streamlining the process.

"Our General Plan and Community Plans set the direction for the future growth and character of the City, and that's why it's crucial to update them with modern standards in line with each community's vision for their area,” said Councilmember Bob Blumenfield. “It's time to modernize our plans, establish more certainty and transparency about those plans, and take advantage of technology to educate and engage people in this work."

“Angelenos deserve a transparent and fair process when evaluating impacts on their residential neighborhoods and to ensure that the city can effectively deliver on its land-use responsibilities,” said Councilmember David Ryu. “Today’s motion is a step in the right direction to rebuilding trust in the city’s planning process.”  

"We must approach planning reform in a responsible way that addresses homelessness, increases and preserves affordable housing, and creates jobs to grow our local economy,” Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell said, “Our motion strikes the right balance, with a look to legislatively tackle the issue of updating the city's community plans in a more timely manner and effectuate an independent CEQA process, while encouraging the kind of investment and infrastructure improvements that will enhance the quality of life for all Angelenos."

"Since being elected, I've been working hard to reform the City's broken planning process to better protect our neighborhoods," said Councilmember Bonin. "This motion is an important, giant step toward accomplishing that goal."