February 28, 1991 - From the February, 1991 issue

Council President Ferraro: New World Order for Planning

Council President John Ferraro has served on the City Council for nearly 25 years, and has spent seven and a half of those years as President. 

In recent weeks, Ferraro has found himself at the center of some heated planning and land use issues. Not only has Farraro led the 15 Council members in reassessing their relationship with the Community Re­development Agency, but the most controversial development project in his own district — Farmers’ Market — was approved by the Council in January by a 12 to 1 vote.

Kenneth Bernstein of The Plan­ning Report interviewed Ferraro about these recent developments.


John Ferraro

“We need a strong person (as Planning Director) who’s not afraid to speak out. We’ve had Department heads who very strongly tell us no, and this gives us a greater respect for them.”

The Community Redevelopment and Housing Committee of the City Council, rather than proposing full City Council takeover of the CRA, has passed the more moderate of the Council oversight proposals for the CRA. Does this measure go far enough, in your opinion? 

I think it goes a long way. In the summer of 1989 we restructured the committee system to provide greater oversight of the CRA — previously several committees had jurisdiction over its business. 

But I didn’t think the CRA was giving the committee the proper attention — the Agency was frequently slow in providing the Committee with information — so the committee didn’t have an opportunity to look carefully into CRA affairs in a timely manner.

And then, of course, we had the buyout of John Tuite’s contract on December 28th, the Friday before New Year’s when the Agency gave Tuite a check for $400,000 the same day, for a total settlement of nearly $1 million. 

Since then I’ve had discussions with the Mayor and his staff to develop the ability for the Council to have greater oversight authority. 

One of the most important provisions we discussed is that we’d like to have the ability to remove a commission member. The Mayor agreed that if two-thirds of the Council members asked him to remove a Commissioner, he would live with our vote. But according to the City Attorney, this Mayor and future Mayors wouldn’t be bound by that commitment, and we’ve discovered that we can’t do this without chang­ing the state law that specifies the appointing authority, or by changing our status for a few hours. 

Given the new oversight arrangement, on what types of CRA issues do you foresee the Council becoming involved? 

I think if we had the type of control I’m advocating, there would be even fewer issues we’d want to look at. The arrangement itself would serve as an adequate check on the Agency. The approvals process would also be quicker and less uncertain, something developers would know upfront. I don’t foresee any problems once it’s understood that we have additional authority. 

Do you think that bringing in the already overworked City Attorney’s office to oversee the Agency’s legal matters will result in additional de­lays on projects? 

Of course, there is that possibil­ity. But there’s also criticism of the present attorneys for the CRA, who I think have done a pretty good job. I do think that the City Attorney, as the City’s legal adviser, should have more say and that the City Controller should be the Controller for the Agency. If the Controller’s signature was needed on the $400,000 check, I doubt they could have obtained it. 

We on the Council are the elected officials. If something goes wrong, the CRA doesn’t get the blame — we do. If we’re going to get the blame for something, we better have some say over it. 

Turning to Farmers’ Market, you’ve successfully completed a lengthy process, will the Council voting in January to accept your scaled-down proposal for the site. What are some of the features of the final product?

I’m very happy with the final project — we knocked down the re­quest from 2 million square feet to 700,000 square feet of new retail. The developer originally wanted an enclosed mall, something ugly like Beverly Center, but we got it changed to an open air development. We wanted to assure that Farmers’ Mar­ket remained, and that the parking remained the same. Farmers’ Market is one of the great tourist attractions of Los Angeles at 6 million visitors per year. 

Our negotiations also resulted in several important benefits for the community. We obtained several street improvements, including a street through the project to help circulation. 

There’s a senior citizens’ facility and 150 senior citizens’ housing units, with 20% allocated to low-income. On transportation, there’s a “Ride Home Program” and an expansion of the Fairfax Trolley, both of which will provide transportation service to people in the community. We also have assured on-site jobs-housing balance by providing an employment center for local residents. 

Do you think Councilman Yaroslavsky and the local commu­nity groups are as satisfied with the outcome? 

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We’ve had complete support from the Park La Brea tenants and from Rancho La Brea, all of whom live in Yaroslavsky’s district. We’ve also had support from Hancock Park and many community activists who typically oppose development pro­posals. 

We’re only talking about one additional store because the May Company is moving, a net addition of only 280,000 square feet. 

Years ago, this property was zoned for 14 million square feet of development, and it was reduced to 4 million. Then Prop. U allowed 2 million, which is 1.5 FAR and we're only giving it a 0.7 to 1 FAR. So this was a very reasonably sized development.

The Farmers’ Market/Beverly-­Wilshire area was the subject of a planning and urban design “charrette” spearheaded by the Mayor's office. Do you see this as a model of how the City should do its planning? 

Not at all. What we were propos­ing was a lot better planned than the charrette proposal. The charrette proposed 2,500 housing units, plus a hotel, department store, and office building all on 31 acres. 

Park La Brea has 4,200 units on 167 acres — how could you put that many units on 31 acres? It would have meant nine 25-story towers with an FAR of 2.4. The proposals of this group were simply unacceptable.

In another article in this issue, Ken Topping argues that City officials need to agree that the Planning De­partment should not only be more “efficient” but should be allowed to be more “effective” in terms of wielding greater power. Would you be willing to support an agreement among Council members and the Mayor to allow a powerful Planning Department and Planning Director? 

It would be nice, though I doubt we could all agree to that. I don’t profess to be an expert in planning, so I’m not about to tell a Planning Direc­tor how to do his or her job. But I do know that we need a strong person who’s not afraid to speak out. We’ve had Department heads who very strongly tell us no, and this gives us a greater respect for them, as opposed to a mealy-mouthed department head who wants to give in to the Council all of the time. We need someone who’s strong and who can convince us that what they are recommending is the right course. 

How far are you and other members of the Council willing to go in letting a Planning Director become involved on matters in your districts?

Again, if they tell you why your proposal is wrong, I’m certainly go­ing to listen. On Farmers’ Market, the developers told us that they went to the Planning Department very early looking for direction. But when they asked the Director what he would recommend for the site, he had no recommendation. So we need more direction on these matters up front from the Department.

You have an extremely diverse dis­trict, both geographically and demo­graphically. What are the attitudes toward growth in different parts of the district? 

I do represent a very diverse district, from Fairfax east roughly between 3rd and Olympic across roughly to Vermont. Then I have a little sliver through Echo Parkand Silver Lake, part of Los Feliz, Griffith Park, Atwater, Toluca Lake and North Hollywood. This resulted from our efforts to create a predominantly Hispanic First District to which Gloria Molina was ultimately elected. 

In North Hollywood we have a redevelopment project, and, with the exception of a few people, the com­munity is generally supportive. In Toluca Lake the biggest concern is parking. It is a very diverse district but in many ways communities such as Hancock Park, Los Feliz and Toluca Lake are alike. And of course ev­eryone reacts when development comes to their backyard. 

If people in Los Angeles don’t belong to one homeowners group they belong to two — homeowners groups are the biggest growth industry in the City. But I’m encouraged by this because it’s an indication that people today are taking a much greater interest in their City.

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