Brian Doherty recently posted a disturbing summary of recent city council maneuvers that weaken what little public oversight of development remains under the Villaraigosa administration. "The current system requires that developers . . . seeking zoning variances and exceptions do so in public, where their request is denied or approved by an area Planning Commission," noted Steven Leigh Morris in the LA Weekly. The changes adopted by the city council give Director of Planning Michael LoGrande an administrative process that virtually eliminates public comment on variances to any of the 35 Community Plans that broadly shape neighborhood development in Los Angeles.And neighborhoods will have almost no recourse in challenging Planning Department decisions, since the city council's action ultimately will displace public hearings and appeals in favor of "ministerial" actions that are deemed - in advance - to meet all city and state regulations.
Buried in the pages of the new ordinance is an "Easter egg" for developers weary of neighborhood opposition to densification - a 20 percent increase in housing density to be granted administratively. The city's compliant and highly politicized planning officials already approve similar variances almost 100 percent of the time.
Cary Brazeman of LA Neighbors United critiqued the new ordinance in a lengthy letter to Councilmembers Ed Reyes, Jose Huizar, and Paul Krekorian of the city council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee. His letter had no effect. The city council adopted the ordinance "by consent" and without any public comment.
Brazeman's objections covered a range of issues, both substantive and procedural. But one stands out: "By not targeting infill development relative to transportation infrastructure," Brazeman wrote, "the City of Los Angeles is decoupling transportation and land use planning in a reckless way. . ." He added, "The . . . ordinance makes no effort to target growth, including population and housing density and reduced parking requirements, around transit corridors. Rather, the . . . ordinance can be used to effect growth across the entire City, in all 35 Community Plan areas, regardless of the extent to which they are or will be served by transit . . ."
Over the past twenty years, public transit advocates and social progressives have made density a moral cause. At the same time, the implications of built-out urban regions were clear to developers who regard all low-rise neighborhoods as ready for exploitation. The Los Angeles City Council and the mayor's appointees have, cynically I believe, chosen to bend over for the exploiters while assuring the advocates that transit-oriented-development is the reason. What is startling is the contempt that all of these players now have for the city's texture of neighborhoods.
A "home in its garden" was the grandest cultural achievement of 20th century Los Angeles. It was our gesture toward the future and who we wanted to be. Those homes -- except for those of the very rich and the very well connected -- are now an impediment to other people's plans.