The war of the releases

Cary Brazeman and LA Neighbors United are suing. On Thursday, the group filed to block implementation of the city's new Community Plan Implementation Overlay District Ordinance (CPIO).

Brazeman calls the CPIO (along with the related Core Findings ordinance) a "Trojan Horse" that will "mark the beginning of the end of real community planning in Los Angeles." Brazeman is pushing back, he says (from a press release), because:

"¢ The ordinance does not target the location of these new districts in any way, such as around fixed-transit nodes. The ordinance allows intensified development districts, with more density, less parking and less open space, everywhere in the City.

"¢ The ordinance introduces a new administrative clearance process for project approval in these districts. The Zoning Administrator will be able to approve, at their own discretion with no public hearings, development bonuses of 10-20 percent for every project, making bigger projects by-right.

"¢ In these new districts, variances no longer will be required for significant deviations from underlying zoning. Only exceptions, with lower thresholds for approval, will be required to build larger nonconforming projects.

"¢ The new districts can be as small as one parcel. This is an invitation for spot zoning and political corruption. Why would a property owner pursue a zoning variance if he can simply request that his site be designated a special district, and then build whatever he wants through adjustments and exceptions?

The city Planning Department calls some of these claims "myths" and in its own press release presents the CPIO and Core Findings as tools for more efficient and transparent planning process that will be keyed to the specifics of an individual neighborhood. According to the Planning Department:

"¢ The new ordinances cannot be used to approve larger, taller, or more massive buildings than are otherwise allowed by a property's zone. . . . On the contrary, the new Community Plan Implementation Overlay offers better neighborhood protection by treating neighborhoods or corridors individually and responding to community concerns about the scale, size and character of development.

"¢ When the CPIO tool was presented at a publicly noticed workshop on March 19, 2009, the audience was in general support of the proposal. . . . When the CPIO tool came before the City Planning Commission, two speakers spoke in favor of the ordinance.

"¢ All projects within future CPIO districts will be subject to California Environmental Quality Act requirements and the City's adopted thresholds of significance. None of the proposed ordinances could directly or indirectly weaken the level of environmental review.

Dueling press releases, and decidedly different perspectives on zoning measures that will ultimately decide the character of many of the city's neighborhoods. What's lacking in all of this is an impartial analysis, not just of the language of zoning reform but the ways in which the reform process has (or hasn't) been inclusive and transparent.

I tend to be a skeptical optimist when I watch planners planning, particularly in a city with a long history of connivance with developers when there's money to be made (and spread around). And history is likely to be the surest guide to what happens next.

The image on this page was taken by flickr user the Library of Congress. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

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