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City Planning Process to Get Further From Citizens

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A new plan pushed through the City Council could end citizen and Neighborhood Councils ability to speak up during the city planning process.

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The latest step in a multiple-step change to Los Angeles' planning process was done unanimously and with no opportunity for citizens to speak on the issue last week. The L.A. Weekly has more on the changes on their way:

The current system requires that developers or home-owners seeking zoning variances and exceptions do so in public, where their request is denied or approved by an area Planning Commission.

The new overlay districts provide a structure to eliminate those protective vetting requirements. The geography of each new overlay district will be proposed by the Planning Department, followed by a Planning Commission hearing and final approval of the new district by a City Council that almost always votes unanimously.

Once that happens, says land-use attorney and consultant Brad Rosenheim, neighborhoods inside an overlay district will have no recourse to challenge edicts of the Planning Department.

The new overlay districts will turn [city planner Michael] LoGrande into a land czar with full authority to approve new building projects. His department could grant an administrative, executive "clearance" without a hearing, notice or EIR.

The ordinance does require that executive clearances be consistent with local zoning codes but modestly so. Two biggies -- density and parking -- are not included in the list of zoning definitions developers must obey, and the Planning Department may grant an automatic "adjustment" allowing buildings up to 20 percent larger than those permitted by zoning.

The Weekly's story quotes many leaders and representatives of the city's Neighborhood Council system expressing their unhappiness with what they see as further empowerment of developers and builders, and elimination of citizen's means to control or amend private property owners decisions about what to do with their property.

L.A. city government-watcher, and derider, Ron Kaye has more on what he sees as a new planning regime that will damage the city's ability to attract and grow employment:

You can't buy jobs with massive public subsidies. You have to create the environment for investment by building healthy neighborhoods and a city that believes in itself and its future -- not one that is in a perpetual and escalating uncivil war..

Cary Brazeman, leader of LA Neighbors United and a leading campaigner for rational and effective planning rules and processes, submitted a devastating nine-page analysis of this ordinance along with 240 pages of supporting documents.

The Council, in its haste to ignore the public, wouldn't even allow him and other critics to speak during public comment. He argues that before any major changes are made, the out-of-date community plans need to be updated.

"Community Plan updates necessarily entail a high level of community engagement over a substantial period of time. The initiation of these CPIO Districts, however, will require a far lower level of engagement, including a potentially very limited period
of review," he wrote.

Brazeman's full critique of the new planning regs.

Past City of Angles blogging on shifts in Neighborhood Council power.

Image taken by Flickr user Mr. Littlehand. Used under user Creative Commons license.

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