41. The revenge of Usher

As David Zahniser noted at L.A. Now, a recent court ruling has monkey wrenched at least part of City Hall's rush to density. "Superior Court Judge Thomas I. McKnew," Zahniser wrote, "invalidated the city's approval of any real estate project that received concessions from Los Angeles that went beyond those that could be offered under a similar state law."

Struck down were concessions "? approved by the City Council last year with little review and no independent analysis "? that granted developers extraordinary rights: to build bigger, build taller, and build denser if they set aside even a tiny fraction of new units for affordable housing.

It's not known how many developments won approval from the city's Planning Department with these concessions or if any developments have been built. "But political types," Zahniser pointed out, "had another urgent question about the decision: Is it the revenge of Jane Usher?"

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It is. Usher confirmed to Zahniser that the suit against the city's "density bonus law" was prompted by an e-mail the former Planning Commissioner President sent last year to Neighborhood Council members outlining how and why they should push back against the city's supersized concessions to developers "? concessions which Usher saw as corrosive to the quality of life in the city's neighborhoods. Her e-mail led to her resignation as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's key appointee to the Planning Commission.

In her letter to the mayor last November, Usher wrote, "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."

After the ruling was announced, Usher compared the "density bonus" law to the failed Measure B on solar power. She said both were pushed through the City Council without adequate review. Perhaps because both were pushed by major campaign contributors.

As I wrote here after Usher submitted her scathing resignation letter, "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."

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

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