December 30, 2022 - From the November, 1988 issue

12 Years at the Planning Commission: A Retrospective by Daniel Garcia (1988)

A lot has changed in Los Angeles developer landscape since Dan Garcia, former President of the Planning Commission, recently resigned after 12 years on the Commission. From demographic changes to the no growth movement—Garcia is candid on his time as President. Below are the highlights of his farewell remarks to the staff of the Planning Department.

Dan Garcia

Dan Garcia: "People recognized the need for economic and population growth. Today it's a dirty word. The fact is that the attitudes have changed but not the reality."

When I first began on the Commission in 1976, I had more hair and knew nothing about planning. Some things never change. I thought it was important to learn more about the relationship between the Planning Commission, the Planning Department, the Mayor's office, and the City Council. One publication noted that it is the task of most commissions to advise and direct the heads of departments, especially on policy matters.

Over the years, it's clear some City Council members have had little respect for the Department or the Commission because its members are appointed rather than elected. I think the resentment is a little less than what it was 12 years ago when the Department was viewed with contempt by some members of the Council. Also, some staff attitudes towards the Commission have varied as well.

No doubt some of you view us as unqualified part-timers while others have tried with great patience to teach us about the planning system. All of your efforts haven't gone unrewarded. 

In the city charter, the role of the Commission is a broad mandate to set policy for the Department and the city on the one hand, and give all real legislative power to the Council on the other. Because of the raw power exercised by the City Council over the Department's budget, it's been increasingly clear that they've completely dominated some work aspects of the Department. But this relation is symbiotic, and it's frustrating for Council offices who have to go through the trauma of the Commission hearings. But the Planning Commission process is part of the checks and balances of the system, and it's there for a reason. It's an important check because it's a continual reminder to local City Council offices that we are a city and the Commission has a citywide orientation. This city is not a collection of councilmanic spheres.

L.A. County presently contains 8.4 million people in its boundaries. If it grows at a mere 2% annually during the next 10 years, almost 2 million more people will be here. Most of this growth will be the excess of births over deaths of people who are already here rather than from migration. So we're really not talking about no growth or slow growth but about properly managing growth. The consequences of stopping everything are rather severe. We're all familiar with the debate.

So where have we been and where are we going? I'm not sure. It's clear that the politicians and the citizens and those involved with public policy alike have recognized the importance of planning. It's also clear through the media coverage that nobody really understands what the jurisdiction of planning and the Planning Department is and isn't. That's going to be one of the major challenges ahead of you.

In dealing with development, however, there are two lessons to consider. It's definitely the case that developers have to be more sensitive to their surroundings, that they're required at an earlier stage to deal with Council offices and with the Planning Department. I merely hope that all of you who are engaged in regulation keep reasonableness in some perspective.


By the same token, residents have to learn to be more patient and responsible. The NIMBY(Not in my backyard) syndrome simply cannot continue to exist. From where I sit, I see a lot of selfishness on virtually every concern. Nobody wants anything near them no matter how much it's needed in the region. We simply can't allow in this system for people to get away with a cheap shot, the cheap solution. Stopping growth is not going to make the traffic go away. Nor will it provide the economic basis necessary to maintain and upgrade our infrastructure for the future. Most of the problems that people complain about most on a block by block basis are a result not of the planning activities of the City of Los Angeles, but of a regional phenomenon.

20 years ago the term "growth" was an important, viable and liked concept by the citizens of this state. People recognized the need for economic and population growth. Today it's a dirty word. The fact is that the attitudes have changed but not the reality. Economic growth means it has implications for our present as well as our future. The means to achieve reasonable growth are well within the framework and tools of the Planning Department. Learning how to develop them in a comprehensive way is going to be a very serious challenge in which you will play one of the most essential roles.

Remember that we need a city, not just a series of fragmented suburbs. Remember it's always easier to oppose than to propose. Remember that the law is clear that development of one's own property is a right, not a privilege according to the U.S. Supreme Court, subject only to the ability of local government to impose reasonable regulations. Remember that economic concerns or impact should never be ignored when enacting or considering regulation.

During my administration as President of the Commission, I sought to bring rationality and intellectual honesty to the planning policies of the city. Having failed at that endeavor, I have settled on several of the following: First, I think we forced all the parties on the Commission to discuss the issues and not dwell in the rhetoric. Second, I think we explained the reasons for our decisions. Thirdly, we favored increased regulation over development in a fashion designed to allow acceptable levels of development in certain areas of the city. And finally I think we challenged all parties and interest groups in the city including the academic and design communities to join in the fracas.

The bottom line is history may or may not be kind to this administration, but the fact is we've consistently brought ideas and integrity to the planning system and the planning process.


© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.