February 28, 1989 - From the February, 1989 issue

Do People Make A Difference? The Planning Report’s Conversation with William Luddy, the new President of the Planning Commission

In July, 1988, William Luddy was elected by the members of the Planning Commission to replace outgoing President Daniel Garcia. The new administration includes three new commissioners: William Christopher, Carmen Estrada, and Ted Stein. Luddy, the Executive Director of the Carpenters Contractors Cooperation Committee, was first appointed to the Planning Commission by Mayor Tom Bradley in 1984. The Planning Report recently met with Commissioner Luddy to discuss the priorities and direction of the new Planning Commission.

What is the focus of the new Planning Commission?

I'm not sure if the focus has changed since the previous Commission, although some of the levels of expertise have shifted. In particular, since we have an architect, William Christopher, and a developer, Ted Stein, on the Commission, we have the ability to do some quick reality testing when issues arise; we can immediately test their feasibility. It's something we have not been as strong on in the past

Is there a higher level of expertise on the current Commission?

Yes, we have more technical expertise than we have had in the past. Ted Stein's background as a developer makes him capable of judging a project's feasibility. For instance, last week we were discussing standard conditions on open space requirements for residential projects. Ted wanted to revisit the issue and discuss what it meant to the development of affordable housing. We decided the condition needs to be renewed as an environmental condition; when people work with the Environmental Review Committee, they should get early notice that such a condition is going to be required of them before they're too far down the road. These insights derive from Ted's understanding of the mechanics and the cost factors which are involved.

On the other side, William Christopher's talent as an architect provides him with a good sense of what might be feasible with a project. Bill's background also includes his experience working in a homeowner's group. If someone says, I can't meet this height requirement, Bill is very attuned to the questions of architecture and landscaping which leads him to quickly establish a more workable landscape arrangement. Those additional pieces of information fit into the puzzle, yet other than that, planning problems continue to be thrashed around much as they used to.

What role does Carmen Estrada play on the Commission? Is she the swing vote?

Carmen's role has not been defined as clearly as Bill's and Teds. And one of the most interesting factors to come out of the new make-up of the Commission is that there is no one person you can identify as the swing vote. Depending on the issue, sometimes you will find Ted, Suzette Neiman and I supporting the same case. It really depends on the particular issue. Nobody is so locked into a position that you can predict it; there's a much higher degree of debate now, which raises more opportunities and questions and different perspectives. The debate is sharper, and we're getting better information.

It sounds as if you're critical of the previous administration.

What we have now is professional expertise which wasn't there previously. Now we have a broader range of technical information which adds to the discussion.

What do you bring to the discussion?

What I bring to the Commission is a view of planning that is formed from representing people who both work at construction and live in the city. Maybe of the five Commissioners, I fall more to the middle-of-the-road than any of the others because the economic requirements of the city-to provide for job opportunities-must be implemented within the framework of maintaining a good, livable city. My experience within the building trades and union movement is attuned towards people who are involved in the building process.

What's the thinking now on the permanent sewer hook-up?

We are in the middle of establishing the second phase of the interim sewer hook-up control ordinance, which will remain in place until the Hyperion plant is finished. It will be a more detailed version of the first ICO and will try to set priorities. It will set aside some percentage-around 20% of sewage capacity-to be awarded to projects that can go to the head of the line if they meet certain requirements probably in the areas of affordable housing, transportation and the jobs-housing balance.

The permanent ordinance will use the thinking of the Freilich consultant team to focus the discussion. It will include discussion, for instance, to encourage development in South Central Los Angeles.

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What are the other central priorities of your administration?

Beyond the sewer hook-up, we are begin­ning the establishment of a long term growth program to insure that as the city grows, there will be an infrastructure to support it. At the Commission, I want to help people with the planning process so that they have something to rely on. I want to increase the reliability of what comes out of the Department, so that the community plans can be relied on by both sides of the debate, the homeowners and developers. A community plan, if it functions properly, must meet these needs.

Currently the Planning Department is going to rewrite all 35 community general plans with the counsel of the Community Planning Advisory Committees. But there has to be a structure for the process, so that when the plan is written, we can relax and count on something. That may require changing the votes required for plan amendments, so its more difficult to do a plan amendment once the new plan is written. That gives serious reasons for people to sit down and be a part of the process. The plans are only as good as the people who sit down and participate. If one whole section of the community opts out because it feels either it can't get a fair shake or it can take care of it later, then how valid is that plan?

And why would people put effort into the plan revisions with any seriousness when there will be three ways to amend the plans once they are done. If the plan is constantly amendable, how will it ever develop out? The plans need to be given an opportunity to mature. They are not snapshots; plans are not intended to freeze things in time. Plans are intended as a vehicle which looks down the road and says, this is where we believe the community is going. It takes some time for the plans to come to fruition. If we adopt the plan today and constantly amend it, what can you count on? There's a tremendous flux.

What will be the effect on land-use development now that Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky has withdrawn from the race?

I cannot say that if there had been a heated campaign, that the land-use development process might have been a target. It might have resulted in pressure to slow things down or add more issues to our work program. That is actually one of our problems. We 're trying to establish a work program, so that the Planning Department doesn't take on what it simply cannot do.

How has the Los Angeles 2000 report influenced the Commission's agenda?

The L.A. 2000 report served as a guide for what we should be aiming for in the future. And much of what the report detailed are issues we are focusing on in the growth management area. The 2000 report confirmed much of what we have been working on, and it raised new questions of what might be interesting mechanisms for resolving these issues. We know that we have to go to a more complex and detailed approach to solve these problems. What I would like to do is move away from having discretionary movements so that developers know what is required and can count on that. Amendments constantly get added on by ad-hoc planning, and after a while, we treat them as standard conditions because we use them so often.

Is the Commission working on the parking ordinance to increase parking standards for commercial use?

I haven't seen the Planning Department's revisions yet. But we're looking to adjust commercial parking standards based on the specific community so that there is no one figure for the entire city. Another interesting aspect of this ordinance, which Caltrans and the Sierra Club brought up last year, is that if we are looking to reduce traffic, does it make sense to require so much parking? If we add parking, doesn't it add more people? It goes to the question of how do you establish a mass transit system. If we are serious, then we want people to get to commercial areas by other means.

How is the Planning Commission responding to the forays into land use by AQMD?

Well it's important not to add another layer of government to tell developers what to do. We'll try to balance land-use decisions with attempts to clean up the air, and hopefully we will resolve the question of air quality control or at least avoid the situation where someone has to come in and do it for us. The growth management plan will look at how to create an incentive system to do what is necessary. But AQMD has one charge, and they have no need to balance other priorities or to consider whether it's even possible to achieve the standards that they want to.

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