January 4, 1989 - From the January, 1989 issue

Sewer Hook-Up .... AQMD! .. CRA Cap! .. Mayoral Elections?! .... Slow Growth! .... Earthquakes! The Planning Report's Roundtable Discussion: Issues for the New Year

The following are excerpts from a symposium sponsored by The Planning Report to discuss critical regulatory trends in real estate development and growth management. The Symposium was the first in a series of roundtable discussions for The Planning Report. Present at the discussion were Carlyle Hall, Co-Founder, Center for Law in the Public Interest; Maria Hummer, Partner, Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg & Phillips; Cindy Miscikowski, Planning Deputy, Councilman Marvin Braude; Kenneth Topping, Director, Planning Department. Moderating the discussion were Leon Whiteson of the Los Angeles Times and David Abel, Publisher of The Planning Report. These excerpts focus on predictions in land-use development and regulatory change.

David Abel: What will be the focal areas of concern in which both the City and the local neighborhoods can work to promote managed growth in the future?

Cindy Miscikowki: One issue of concern is the permanent sewer hook-up ordinance, which will be very close to adoption. And the most important element in the sewer hook-up strategy will be our air quality plan. I also believe that the housing/job balance in both the sewer hook-up plan and the air quality plan will ultimately give the City the outline of a regional management plan. But when the question becomes how to sell future projects to the local neighborhoods, I think the answer must focus on urban design.

Previously in this city you never heard discussion of urban design. But in working presently with local neighborhoods, groups are more concerned with the way a project looks than with the number of units or the amount of square footage in a commercial project. And if we want to create more housing in our neighborhoods, we must provide a good design which makes sense and is not an atrocity. Too often I think people look at the high density housing projects, and they might be tenements, and they say that density has got to be rolled back. Everyone saw R-3 as a bad zone, a bad density. I think if a project were part of an integrated proposal, and it was handsomely designed, the density problem should be lessened.

Carlyle Hall: My guess would be that the Air Quality Management Plan will be approved in almost its current form, and the interim sewer ordinance will be changed in a timely fashion in August. The permanent ordinance will take into account public benefit factors which the Planning Department will use in some sort of growth management element to be incorporated into the general plan and the 35 community plans as well.

As far as the political dialogue, it seems to me that the slow growth movement which has been the focus of land use activity and politics in the last few years in California, has a foothold in the city of Los Angeles. But I do not see a substantial constituency for a no growth movement. You see such constituencies in other communities, but I think there's a general recognition in Los Angeles that the community is much too complex. I think political frustrations relate basically to issues of accountability. With a large city like Los Angeles, it's hard for the individual citizens to feel they are participating and have any control over their future.

Consider a large entity such as the Department of Water and Power which has a special mission, and if you happen to be in their path, you know it's very difficult to get them to change. I think that as a result of some of these agencies, there is a great deal of frustration on the part of the average voter out there. Just how can they participate and interact? Events are so overwhelming for the City and its voters that there needs to be responsiveness on the part of local government in Los Angeles. That is why it's an important step, as Kenneth Topping has discussed, to begin the establishment of the proposed Community Planning Advisory Committees(CPAC's) in the 35 community plan areas.

David Abel: Do you have a prediction on the CRA cap and the CRA government structure?

Carlyle Hall: Well my prediction is that it will take a while to work out. There are a lot of players in the game, and the county of Los Angeles has a financial stake that it wants to protect There are some politics that still have to be played out, and negotiations will probably take some time.

Leon Whiteson: Do you feel that the CRA, assuming the cap is raised, is the appropriate body to administer that housing fund, given their past record?

Carlyle Hall: Well I don't think that there's any doubt that in the real world, the CRA will be administering the money to some extent. The central issue is what the administrative arrangements will be and who will co-administer the increased funds. I think it would be very useful to have other people participate in the administration of that money, and it’s my understanding that the CRA does not insist on having the sole and exclusive power over the way that those monies are spent.

David Abel: What is the future of regionalism after the L.A. 2000 report and the Chamber of Commerce report?

Kenneth Topping: I think that regional concerns will coalesce around the issue of transportation. We do not currently deal very well with the connection between transportation and land use at any level of government. However, I think that coordination between land use and transportation will emerge within the next decade so that regionally, we can have a better functioning metropolis. But there is a tremendous amount of trust building that has to be developed between the entities that presently see themselves as inherently at odds.

I'd like to just identify one issue which is a" sleeper,"--and that is seismicity. How do you rebuild after the "big one?" One of the answers is to have a plan to build more safely and to rebuild speedily. What's most important is to have that plan beforehand. Recently, 22 general managers of the City and their key staff met to address the issue of how to plan ahead of a major earthquake, recognizing all the agony that comes with the loss of lives or property. For rebuilding afterward, we are now starting to write a plan which will come out later this year.


David Abel: Carlyle, do you have any sleeper issues you want to tell us about?

Carlyle Hall: I'm not sure how politically explosive it will be, but I think that a sleeper issue we will be facing in '89 is the issue of open space zoning and public facilities zoning. The city for years has had an open space element in the plan but it hasn't had a zone that corresponded with parks and open space. Our parks have even had R-3 zoning. I think Pershing Square, for example, is R-3 zoning, and now the city will be coming up and addressing the issue of getting an open space zoning ordinance hopefully by December 31, 1989. That is going to be a very important issue.

It doesn't compare in magnitude to some of the other things that we've been talking about, but there is a lot of land that's publicly owned. Caltrans, for example, and the school districts own a significant amount of land in this city and the revenue and the public policy dimensions are extremely large. There's also a very important public policy component to those issues because the neighbors and the residents in the surrounding area have very strong opinions about parks and open space.

David Abel: Any final thoughts?

Maria Hummer: Although I wouldn't term this a sleeper issue, I feel the issue of affordable housing is of primary importance in the city. It has not received as much attention as other significant issues such as transportation matters, sewer capacity, and air quality; however, I believe that working towards solving what some call the affordable housing crisis should be a primary goal of 1989.

Progress towards the solution can best be made through a working together of the public and private sectors--not just on a citywide, but on a region wide basis--to address this complex problem.

Leon Whiteson: My feeling is that Los Angeles is continuing in its makeshift way of action and reaction without knowing or understanding what is happening to it, and what is happening to regional metropolises all over the world. In the last decades since World War II, the world has developed into a network of regional metropolises that trade and react with one another.

But we do not have an intellectual grasp at how the situation of L.A. relates to what has happened globally; decisions made in Tokyo could change everything that happens here, yet we still look from an extremely localized perspective. We can't even think regionally within Southern California! Therefore, while Los Angeles prides itself of being part of this mythical entity, the Pacific Rim, we do not think of how Los Angeles relates as a power center in relation to other power centers, and what the implications are for itself in doing that.

L.A. has always been a makeshift city, designed not to get in people's way. People could go about, make their livings and enjoy themselves without even having to look at the city or notice the streets. You look at the mountains, perhaps. None of our leaders have the--1 wouldn't say intelligence--but the intellectual capacity to frame this and say: L.A. is now a big boy in a very different world than used to be, and we have political structures and social structures and attitudes that are ante-diluvian.

We need to understand much more about the city than we even begin to know. We have used buzz words like design, urban design, linkages. I’m as much in favor of urban design as anybody else, but we don't know what that really means. Not even architects or urban designers quite know what they're talking about. Every economy is vulnerable to every other, yet we talk about very local kinds of situations, and that makes us deal with problems in a series of makeshifts, which may or may not work. The community planning advisory committees, for instance, have been set up as a kind of makeshift solution. Maybe L.A. will survive through this series of make-shifts and maybe it won't, but I'm doubtful. Such limited perspectives don't work that well in the world we now live in.


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