November 30, 1989 - From the November, 1989 issue

Councilman Hal Bernson Defends Porter Ranch, Proposes Bond Issue, Wants No More ICO’s

Councilman Hal Bernson represents the 12th District of the City of Los Angeles, an area in the Northwest San Fernando Valley which includes Northridge, Chatsworth, and Granada Hills. Bernson has recently been in the news for his growth control plan and his seismic expertise. The Planning Report recently met with Bernson to discuss his latest activities.


Councilman Hal Bernson

"There is no such thing as low-cost housing; there is only high-cost housing for low-income people.”—Richard Weiss, Housing Chairman of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce

What are your priorities as Chairman of the Planning and Land-Use Management Committee?

Our top priority for the next 18 months is to complete the framework of the Growth Management Plan which is scheduled to go to the City Council for adoption in February, 1991. We have already been working on some of the components, such as the sewer hook-up ordinance, site plan review, and the revision of the 35 community plans.

But we want to take these and other ingredients which we are doing piecemeal and put them into a larger framework. Our growth management plan will essentially deal with traffic, transportation, air quality, a jobs/housing balance and will address the social and economic needs of the City to stimulate growth for areas that desperately need jobs and investment. We also want to give high residential priority to areas such as downtown which desperately need housing.

How will this initiative work complement the Mayor's planning agenda?

I didn't know the Mayor had a planning agenda. This is not the Mayor's plan, despite what you read in the media. The initiative was mine, but we are a team with this plan. The Mayor has certainly initiated some very important portions including the call for a safeguard on the sewer system and the air quality task force. And we will work with the Mayor's office and the Planning Commission to adopt the Plan.

Is the Planning Department's staff up to the task that the Council and Mayor will put to it over the next 18 months?

No, but we are taking steps to improve the situation. We will be asking for approximately $1.8 million for the purpose of formulating the growth management plan. The Planning Committee has already approved the expenditure. We have already increased the size of the Planning staff appreciably during the past budget year, and we anticipate adequate staffing for our programs.

In addition to the Planning Department, we will be using outside consultant services in traffic and environmental issues, and we intend to create a task force from the private sector.

What is the jurisdictional relationship between the new Community Redevelopment and Housing Committee and your Planning and Land-Use Management Committee?

The purpose of the Housing and Community Redevelopment Committee chaired by Ms. Molina is to create policy on housing and to oversee the CRA, while my committee will confront the issues of how land is used and development takes place. There is not much of a relationship. There might be some consideration of policies established by the Housing Committee on housing and land-use which we will need to address, but that will be the extent of it.

What Council Committee should address the issue of housing linkage fees?

I think it's appropriately an issue for both committees and ultimately for the full Council. The Housing Committee certainly has some jurisdiction because its purpose is creating housing. We need to take a look at it and see how it affects other land-use development and how it impacts us both from a land-use and economic point of view. I think we will both probably want to look at it.

Is Councilman Holden's district moratorium a precursor of future Council behavior?

I hope not. I seconded Nate's motion without looking at it too closely because I thought it would go to committee. I was out of town when the motion was passed by Council. But I think we have resolved the need for any more Interim Control Ordinances (ICO) because the site plan review will probably eliminate the need for most ICO's.

I have another ordinance for demolitions which will solve other problems, because no demolition permit may be issued for any residential unit of 4 or less without first submitting plans, having them approved, and being issued a new permit for what you will build on that site. That will remove the need for ICO's because we have the right of review on virtually everything.

But don’t Council members want ICO's to protect neighborhoods in the period when the community plans are being revised?

Sure, but they won't need them. When you have a site review plan and a demolition ordinance, what will be the need of an ICO? We will have discretionary review on virtually every project of any consequence until the new community plans are in place. We have been driving the Planning Department crazy and chewing up untold amounts of manpower and dollars on crazy ICO’s.

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Due to political pressure, we have been literally subverting our planning process. These two ordinances will remove the need for virtually any ICO. It will be a little more onerous for development. Any developer or property owner will be subject to some kind of review on projects, but we knew that when we started with AB 283.

How do you balance this need for extra review with concern for building affordable housing and streamlining the development process?

I don't think there's such a thing as affordable housing. To quote Richard Weiss, Housing Chairman of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, “There is no such thing as low-cost housing; there is only high-cost housing for low-income people.” He's absolutely right; the only thing that is going to be affordable will be subsidized. But I think that we have the ability to create bonuses in certain areas to allow some incentive through development rights, and that will be a form of subsidization, just as the linkage fee is a form of subsidization.

What is the significance of Porter Ranch for future large-scale developments in Los Angeles?

Large scale developments are always controversial whether it is Porter Ranch, the Westwood Specific Plan, or Warner Center—it's never simple. But the reason we are in the problems we have today with traffic and air quality is that we did not have proper planning.

Porter Ranch is a plan. People do not understand that it is a 20-30 year plan. When we talk about 5.8 million square feet, it's in the future. People do not realize that after 30 years, Century City was only halfway built to capacity before they even made the plan. The Warner Center at 25 years old is less than 50% built, and in Downtown which is 200 years old, less than 50% of the allowable square footage from the plan has been built.

But some people want to take political advantage of the situation, and they tell stories that Porter Ranch is going to be 5 times the size of Century City—that's the latest. If Porter Ranch were built out to its entirety—which would probably never happen—it would be about 20% the size of Century City.

The plan’s opponents also talk about the bridge at Sesnon over Aliso Canyon. The bridge has been on the City’s plans for 20 years. It’s a major highway, which is scheduled someday to have a bridge over it. The plan does not address the bridge; all the plan says is that any construction which takes place in this area will contribute money towards Sesnon Bridge or any other traffic improvements which need to be done in the area.

The plan also provides $80-l00 million in other capital improvements. This is a heavy duty plan. It provides for a school site, for a major fire station, a library, and probably one of the best planned regional centers anywhere in the world. Even Marvin Braude who I don’t always see eye to eye with on land-use thought it was a marvelous plan. Anybody who is impartial has felt the same way about the plan.

When the plan was first proposed, I thought I would be opposed as well. But when I looked at the traffic studies and saw what would happen in the area if nothing was done, by the year 2010, the existing intersections would be severely congested. If the capital improvements are undertaken as required by the plan, all of those intersections would be better than they are today. And that is if every square inch is built that is allowed by the plan. My attitude definitely changed.

Chatsworth was originally intended to be a regional center in the plans of Calvin Hamilton, the former director of the Planning Department. And now our citizen’s advisory committee has approved of the plan. We have, however, reduced the size of the plan. The Planning Department cut off 500,000 square feet, and I cut off another 1 million square feet. The original plan requested 9 million square feet, and the size currently exists at 5.8 square feet.

Arter the Bay Area earthquake, we have to reconsider our policy towards unreinforced masonry buildings. The voters wouldn’t even pass the most recent bond act for financing. What’s next?

We are going to come back with another bond measure. But that’s not the answer. I don’t think the bond act would have been sufficient anyway. I have proposed an assessment bond issue similar to Mello-Roos which would allow us to place an assessment on a building and sell a bond issue.

We would then estimate the rehabilitation costs—seismic, asbestos, sprinklers, or renovations. If you look at the mortgages and interest rates which exist on these buildings, most of these buildings have numerous mortgages and cannot get financing.

And some of those mortgages have pretty high interest rates. What we would do is buy down the existing mortgages, which in many cases can be discounted substantially, consolidate them, bring in a new loan at 8% instead of 14 %, and do all the repairs without raising the rents too much. If we don’t buy down all the mortgages, the assessment district would be a lien against the property that would take first place over all other mortgages. These are revenue bonds secured by the property.

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