PLANNING WATCH - The Planning Report’s 30 year old article by Richard Platkin on the Ventura/Cahuenga Boulevard Specific Plan is still mostly current and correct.
It notes that most of the "planning" along the boulevard has been done by the private sector, by the developers in response to market demand, with the City's planning process and regulations being weak and focused only on just the basics of land use, density, height, setbacks, parking and some modest on-site landscaping requirements. Over the years it has become evident that the market has done most of the planning of Los Angeles.
On implementation the article correctly stated that it has consisted almost entirely of permitting, the issuing of building permits and project permits with no streetscape and intersection improvements, utility undergrounding, transit, and parking improvements. The revenue from the trip fees turned out to be much less than expected. However, the article now needs an update to discuss the subsequent push back against the trip fees by property owners and the development community, with an unfortunately successful campaign to gut the trip fees and replace them with a lower flat fee unrelated to vehicle trips. There have been no City-financed streetscape and intersection improvements and utility undergrounding that I am aware of. The only streetscape improvements that have been done along the boulevard have been privately organized and financed; such as the tree planting along the Sherman Oaks section of the boulevard and the median landscaping in the already attractive Studio City business district.
The final paragraphs note the need for strong leadership from the local City Council members and from the senior management of the Planning Department to fund an adequate number of staff to implement the plan, including the streetscape, intersection improvements, transit, and parking projects called for by the Specific Plan. It appears thar during the past 30 years there has been a lack of such leadership. Part of it is due to the hyper-politicization of planning, where it takes a substantial number of activists to put the pressure on the City Council, to bang down the doors of City Hall and demand that action be taken. Otherwise, if the public does not appear to care, the politicians will not care, and if the politicians donot care, then senior City Planning management will not care. Hardly anybody wants to stick their necks out and offend the development community if the public is silent. Except for the initial push by the homeowners associations to get the Specific Plan started, it appears that the activists have not followed through to push for the Specific Plan to be implemented.
Then there are the other bureaucratic reasons given. There are the revenue drops from four recessions during the past 30 years. And then there are always higher priorities as in "don't you know we have a housing crisis, and the ongoing crisis of homelessness is worse than ever" and all City funding and attention must be focused on those two urgent problems. And finally, "we need to get back to doing just the basics" and not spend scarce City resources on frills, such as streetscape improvements that make the City look "pretty".
Now the Specific Plan is being restudied with the main impetus being to increase heights and densities to accommodate more housing on the boulevard with the resulting traffic congestion becoming even worse. So, the City appears to be going full circle, to overturn the original reason why the Specific Plan was prepared in the first place.
(John Issakson is a long-time observer and occasional commentator on the urban scene in Los Angeles. His previous CityWatchLA articles include: The Filtering Process: Will More Mansions (Indirectly) Provide Low and Moderate Income Housing for LA?")