February 28, 1989 - From the February, 1989 issue

TPR February 1989 - Full Issue

TPR Online Archive presents 1989's February issue. A range of topics is contained within, from an op-ed by then 5th District Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky to a case study on the public engagement process in Hillside. 


Zev Yaroslavsky

"For too long, Los Angeles has had a boom-town philosophy. When we ran out of room to build, there was always some place further out to go."—Zev Yaroslavsky

Unfinished Business: What We Must Do To Face the Future of Los Angeles Squarely

By Zev Yaroslavsky, Councilman, 5th District

As we look ahead to the 1990's, the Fifth Councilmanic District faces a host of issues and problems: What can we do to make our neighborhoods safer places in which to live? How will commuters get to and from work when the freeways and main highways which serve the area are often gridlocked? What are the limits of commercial development?

One of the most important areas we must focus on is uncontrolled growth and its relation to transportation; a clear relationship has been established between the construction of new buildings and the amount of traffic generated by the uses of that building.

I helped create the Century City Specific Plan, the first planning document in the City to limit new buildings based on the number of trips generated by the use of those buildings. Since that time, other planning documents have utilized this technique, helping to link transportation needs with development concerns.

By limiting development, we can reduce the number of cars gridlocking our streets and freeways. Prop. U, passed by almost 70 percent of the voters in 1986, reduced the density of most commercial buildings by one-half. Through this slash in density, potential traffic growth in the future will be averted.

For many years now, I have down-zoned the allowable height of commercial buildings on most major streets in my district to three stories. Along Melrose Ave., the limit is two stories. These actions have fostered development that is compatible with the area.

We also need a combination of innovative strategies to meet the complex transportation challenges of the coming decade. For example, we need to encourage commuters to rideshare, by carpooling or by taking the bus. Cyclists who live close enough to work to bicycle should be encouraged to do so through provision of bicycle facilities such as showers, lockers and secure locks. Another strategy is to encourage companies to institute flex-time scheduling, which permits workers to arrive and leave at more flexible hours.

One way to maximize our transportation resources is to remove trucks from the freeways during rush hours. I've successfully removed fifteen percent of all trucks from the Ventura freeway construction project area through a voluntary truck avoidance program which asks truck drivers to avoid using the freeways during the morning and afternoon rush hours.

According to a Southern California Association of Governments study, on any given workday, one major accident involving a truck can tie up traffic for from two to four hours, reducing the available capacity of the freeway by as much as 76 percent. Nearly one-third of major truck accidents occur on or near the peak commuting hours.

If we can get the Federal government to agree with us, and amend trucking laws to accommodate a total ban, imagine the bonanza of benefits we could reap: air quality would be improved, freeways wouldn't be clogged because of time-consuming truck accidents, and more cars would be able to utilize the available lane space.

In the future, I see a need for long-term strategic planning which examines land-use patterns in a comprehensive manner, taking into account such variables as traffic circulation, open-space and the impact of a project on the City's infrastructure, such as the sewers and water. For too long, Los Angeles has had a boom-town philosophy. When we ran out of room to build, there was always some place further out to go.

We've run out of room; we have no place to hide. We must face the future of Los Angeles squarely, and rise to the challenges it presents. 

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Insider Planning

By David Kramer, Editor

The citywide study to increase parking standards is finally appearing before the Planning Commission on February 28. The ordinance provides enabling legislation for the Planning Commission to establish districts in order to raise or lower parking standards. The current requirement is 1 space per 500 square feet of gross floor area. The ordinance would increase office space requirements to 3 parking spaces/1000 sq. ft., retail to 4/1000, and restaurants and bars to 10/1000. There can be a reduction in the requirements if the project is located within 1000 feet of a transit station.

The Planning Commission, at the behest of Commissioner Ted Stein, is reconsidering an Open Space Condition, whereby a developer is required on multi-family units of 5 or more to provide 100 square feet of usable open space. Stein has often vocalized his concerns about affordable housing, and he feels the condition is not workable because of what it means for affordability. To get around the requirement, developers either build fewer or smaller units. Planning Department staff is studying the issue and will come back with a report in mid-April.

Although the Planning Commission has survived the fire safety crisis for the Hollywood Hills, there continue to be concerns about inadequate Hillside infrastructure. The Bureau of Engineers is currently in the process of surveying a 2-3 square mile area near Laurel Canyon.

One reason that there is a crisis of affordable housing is because 4,000 units of housing are demolished each year, and 2/3 of that housing is affordable housing. One of the housing initiatives to emerge from the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Committee is a regulatory attempt to provide incentives not to demolish affordable housing. For instance, if you replace affordable housing which you are demolishing, you go straight to the front of the line at Building and Safety. However, if you don't replace the housing with affordable stock, don’t expect to move so quickly.

Other incentives to come out of the report: developers who agree to dedicate 20% of units in a completed project to very low income occupancy will receive a density bonus of 50% over maximum. The city will also provide tax exempt bond financing to reduce mortgage interest rates for developers who commit 20% of the units to be rented at 50% of median income. Another incentive is tax credits, which the City hopes will produce 1500 more units of affordable housing each year. And if a linkage program is created, developers might be afforded a construction option instead of paying a fee. These incentives have not be acted upon yet.

What happens when word hits the street that a Specific Plan in the making will be far stricter than the current ICO? A rush for building permits perhaps? A Citizens Advisory Committee for Ventura Boulevard was concerned that the current ICO restrictions were too permissive, and it was imperative to speed up the adoption of the Specific Plan for the commercial strip. Councilman Marvin Braude, who represents the largest percentage of the strip, is the logical candidate to carry a motion to severely limit the F.A.R. from its current 1.5:1, before the Specific Plan being written becomes out-of-date.

Councilman Hal Bernson recently introduced a motion to Council which instructs the City to start making studies to see to what degree the City can decentralize some of its planning operations so that people don't have to come to City Hall for various functions, such as building permits. Imagine, going to Building and Safety and not have to worry about parking. The motion also intends for decentralization to force better use of computers in planning and zoning updates.

The Council recently adopted an ordinance initiated by Councilman Nate Holden which requires a conditional use permit for new auto repair facilities if they are within 300 feet of a residential zone. The ordinance also provides the mechanism for a conditional use hearing for an existing auto repair facility if it is not following current requirements. The new head of Code Study in the Planning Department is Lourdes Green.

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The Hillside Restrictions: A Case Study of the New Planning Commission

By David Kramer

On September 16, 1988, Councilmen Michael Woo and Zev Yaroslavsky led reporters up narrow, winding Laurel Canyon streets to illustrate what they called the "nightmare in the Hollywood Hills." Woo declared, "Picture hook-and-ladder trucks trying to make their way to a heart attack victim or a house fire. Even worse, imagine these narrow, unpaved roads clogged with residents trying to flee a brushfire or a mudslide. I think you'll agree with me that would be a nightmare."

Now picture hundreds of Hillside and Bel Air residents storming an open public hearing and two Planning Commission meetings. Even worse, imagine three confusing alternative ordinances the Planning Commission had to consider in one of their most raucous meetings since three new Commissioners were appointed. Imagine one Commissioner adding a last-minute amendment which completely surprised Council deputies and the Fire Department. I think you'll agree that would be ... another day in the city's planning process.

In first attacking the problem introduced by Yaroslavsky and Woo's motions, the Planning Department had several issues to consider. On April 22, they were asked to extend the expiring moratorium for the Hillside area on substandard lots. They were also asked to close a loophole on what was the definition of an improved street. And finally, they were instructed to focus on the issue of fire safety, which had been brought on by a construction boom on non-existing streets. What resulted was "a hodgepodge, an omnibus bill which included a provision that affected remodeling in the future as well as new houses," said James Nelson, Chairman of the Laurel Canyon Coalition of Homeowners and a supporter of Councilman Woo's original motion.

Coupled with the problem of this "omnibus bill," was the introduction of a new system in the public process whereby an open meeting with the Planning Department's hearing examiner provided an interim step between the staff report and the Planning Commission. "What came out of the first hearing is that everyone agreed to focus on fire safety and access," notes Commission President William Luddy." Councilman Yaroslavsky even said that the Planning staff had gone too far and not done what he wanted." What also came out of the first meeting was a second bill written by the hearing examiner.

By December 1, the Planning Commission meeting was packed with advocates of the measure and opponents of the remodeling restrictions. "I've never seen more people up in arms," said Luddy. Nelson adds, "It was extremely difficult for the Planning Commission to keep things in control given the atmosphere." A third alternative emerged, crafted by new Commissioner William Christopher, which was also tabled because it addressed more issues than fire safety and access.

The crisis was finally resolved at the January 5 Planning Commission meeting. The Commission eventually approved temporary restrictions on construction in the Santa Monica Mountains which makes it more difficult to build homes on narrow, or non-existent roads. One interesting twist, however, occurred at the very end of the meeting: Commissioner Ted Stein was able to join with William Luddy and swing-vote Carmen Estrada to add an amendment allowing a limited number of permits to be exempted from going to the Zoning Administrator, if the projects already meet the criteria previously agreed upon. ''The exemptions came as a total surprise to the Fire Department, the Plan­ning Department and the Council offices," explains Charlie Justis, a Fire Department inspector.

“It was a bolt out of the blue," said Virginia Kruger, Yaroslavsky's planning deputy. "The Fire Department clearly said that if you are dealing with streets that are less than 20 feet, you have to look case by case even if the projects meet our criteria. This will just lead to a rush for building permits." Stein, meanwhile, argued that if projects met such criteria as installing sprinklers and paving 20-foot wide stretches of road abutting the property, there was no use in extending a costly city review. The City Council, however, is expected to block the added exemptions.

The Hillside restrictions were thus one of the public's first looks at the actions of a newly revamped Planning Commission. "Commissioner Suzette Neiman acted as the seasoned veteran, explaining the ways of the Planning Commission. She was the Parliamentarian. She was very good during the meeting and patient as well,'' noted James Nelson. Planning Deputy Ralph Crouch added, "Neiman is the conscience of the committee."

Neiman's ally on the Hillside restrictions, William Christopher, took a very active role in the process. "He had conversations with the Fire Department and the Bureau of Engineers, and asked the questions that planners and architects ask," said Kruger. "He is very hands-on and tries to structure compromise legislation. Most commissioners don't draft legislation-it's unusual."

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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.

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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.

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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What's Next For Housing? Focus Shifts to the City Council

On December l, 1988, the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Committee for Affordable Housing released its report which assessed the seriousness of the city's housing problems and established a framework for addressing them. Two months later, one bond measure is on the April ballot, many of the initiatives are in City Council committees. and a Housing Commission will soon be established to develop housing policy for the city.

Among the initiatives of the Committee were suggestions: to more than triple the current housing resources from $90 million annually to $300 million annually; to create a Housing Commission to generate those resources as well as review housing planning; to preserve the affordability of units which are threatened by seismic rehabilitation or the expiration of federal rent restrictions.

Gary Squier, Housing Coordinator for the Mayor, is now responsible for tracking the 10 initiatives which were a direct result of the Blue Ribbon Committee (see box below). One attempt to increase housing revenues by $5-15 million is the establishment of housing linkage fees. The Committee estimated that there are 5 million square feet of commercial construction annually, and a Community Development Department's task force hopes to charge between $1 and $3 for each square foot of commercial development. One issue the CDD is focusing on is the nexus to be determined between the fees and the commercial project, and the task force will be establishing legal arguments to support the linkage fee. "If you build an office building with workers who need housing, they will be putting a demand on a housing system that is already overtaxed," states Squier.

In the Committee's discussion of the linkage fee, several of the developers on the Committee pointed out that such an exaction will be more of a problem for those who have already purchased their land and created their budgets. "The exaction hurts landowners more than developers,'' notes Squier.

In other housing news, the Housing Authority will soon elect a new Chairman, to replace recent resignee Alvin Greene, once the seventh member has been appointed. Gary Squier will replace Grace Davis as the Mayor's liaison to the Housing Authority, which will soon begin to prioritize its agenda for the coming year. Employees at the Housing Authority have recently discussed the need to improve the conditions of the 21 housing projects; improve communication and management within the Hous­ing Authority; improve relations with private property owners they lease from; and begin to develop day care and job training for their projects' tenants.

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Guest Columnist

The Legalization of Citizens

By Ralph Crouch, Planning Deputy, Councilman Hal Bernson

On February 5, 1988, the City Council adopted a resolution to initiate the formation of a Community Planning Advisory Committee (CPAC) in each of the 35 community planning areas. This adoption marked the most organized method to date of ensuring that residents, merchants, and community groups play an active role in planning on a city-wide basis.

When Councilman Hal Bernson first took office ten years ago, he set up Citizen Action Committees for such issues as planning, recreation and parks, and police and fire. The committees play a significant part in influencing how Councilman Bernson considers activities in his district. The residents who serve are always the first people to tell him when something is wrong and to suggest possible solutions. In fact, on any controversial planning matter which affects the district, the Citizen Planning Committee will review plans with the expediter or developer and make recommendations which Councilman Bernson usually adopts.

My background in planning started in Northern California, and when I first worked in Los Angeles, I was quite surprised by the lack of community input in city planning. In the city of Monterey, it was unthinkable to work without citizen input. You simply had to get the data you needed, listen carefully in open forums; follow citizen guidelines, and do not duck anything. There was very little of that interaction in Los Angeles.

Two years ago, the Citizens Advisory Committee report of the Planning Commission endorsed the idea of CPAC' s. Last year, Mayor Bradley also was interested in the idea and felt the city was ready to implement it. Both the Mayor and Councilman Bernson were distressed that A.B. 283 drained resources from the Planning Department. In addition, plans were getting older and existing plans were not being updated. Ideally, a plan is reviewed cursorily every 5 years and should be restudied every 10 years, since we continue to learn about air quality, ground pollution, and the environment in general. Now, we will have the resources to rewrite plans.

Each CPAC will be selected by individual councilpersons, and the number of members will range from 15 to 21. Members should represent a broad range of community groups and interests. Generally, CPAC's will consist of members representing resident groups, tenants, commercial, industrial, and multiple-family property owners. merchants and professionals. The CPAC' s ultimate role will be to identify the concerns and desires of the community and to review all the work done by the Planning Department.

In the past when we reviewed plans, the Planning Department was never given the proper money and resources. EIR' s would lag behind the study by 2-3 years. Citizen groups were involved, but they were not a requirement. In the future, citizen groups will be involved in the planning process, they will have the Planning Department as a resource, and the Planning Department will have the resources and money to write plans more quickly and more efficiently.

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