15. Winners and losers in the city's oldest game

Kevin Roderick (at his LA Observed site) nominates Jane Usher's resignation from the city's planning commission as the political farewell likely to resonate most in 2009. Her still warm seat on the commission was filled by Sean O. Burton. I don't have to tell you that Burton is both politically connected and development smart.

But don't mistake that as being smart about growth. Usher, as commission president, surely knew what sort of insider would replace her after she suggested that Los Angeles residents could sue the city over development policies hostile to their neighborhoods.

Roderick's reading of Usher's resignation letter is characteristically blunt: She "essentially called BS on the mayor's approach to letting developers build wherever a bus might someday pass, in the name of transit friendly growth." Blunt but also correct.

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In a city that was essentially "built out" by the mid-1970s, the growth machine has struggled to find product to pitch. There are no more tracts of little houses to sell. Downtown redevelopment took up some of the slack in the 1980s and 1990s, but now there's nowhere left but the city's endless miles of older neighborhoods. In each of them, there are modest, low-rise retail strips, small commercial centers, and disused manufacturing sites that can be cynically reimagined to be ideal locations for "transit-oriented development."

As Usher warned Mayor Villaraigosa in her letter of resignation, "Our shared goal . . . demands that we build vertically, but only in my view at major commercial or employment centers or within walking distance of locations where we have or will provide a substantial mass transit stop. We still need . . . to define these sites with precision, a controversial process because it requires us to identify land use winners and losers "? an essential task that our government has shied from. Please reject any proposed update that relies on the careless, sprawl-inducing approach of adding density at every Rapid bus stop; this would be unnecessarily hostile to many of our appropriately low- rise residential neighborhoods that also reside along our long, multi-faceted corridors."

Winner and losers . . . Usher's coded phrase isn't only about the fate of particular neighborhoods (which might be a winner or a loser in an unruly rush to greater density). It's also about which developers (and consultants and lawyers and city council members) will win or lose in the high-stakes Monopoly game that is land use planning in Los Angeles.

The game has never had any place at the board for you. It's always been the machine's game.

The growth machine has been processing the landscape of L.A. for more than 100 years. Its practices are embedded in the DNA of the city. At times, the machine's aims have appeared to be all that there is of the city "? in each generation, what we want Los Angeles to be is turned into a sales pitch for the same old illusions about building a better paradise. The marriage of political juice and naïve utopianism has always made money for someone in L.A. using the same old bait and switch.

The image on this page was taken by Flickr user Hyperbolation. It was used under Creative Commons license..

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