May 30, 1991 - From the May, 1991 issue

Acting Planning Director Outlines Her 1991 Agenda

This article was adapted from a speech delivered at the Los Angeles Headquarters City Association in April. Melanie Fallon is currently the interim Director of Planning. As the City searches for a permanent Director, Fallon outlines how she and the Department are working in the Balanced Growth Element, growth management issues, and private funding for specific plans.

I have been the interim Director of Planning for four months. A nationwide recruitment effort for a permanent Director is underway, but the decision will probably not be finalized until the end of this calendar year. I am not waiting, nor is the staff in the Department waiting, for a decision about a permanent Director for us to begin to get our house in order. The planning issues facing Los Angeles are too critical to wait.

Not only can we not sit still, but we need to take on more of a leadership role on how Los Angeles is evolving.

A New Director’s Priorities

I believe the top priority for our Department needs to be to help Los Angeles evolve into a higher density city that works. We can do this through a number of techniques that include:

● Encouraging mixed-use developments which incorporate high density housing into commercial developments with a keen eye for the necessary open space and other amenities needed for a positive living experience.

● Continuing to work on designing and writing development standards which ensure compatibility between our low-density neighborhoods and our middle-and higher-density neighborhoods.

While working toward a new vision for Los Angeles is my personal top priority, it is not all that is on my priority list. These other priorities include:

● Developing the computer modeling capability which allows us to look more expertly at the transportation impacts of new development and allow us to respond with accurate solutions.

● Working toward a simpler entitlement process where every development does not need a plan or a zone change.

● Creating a planning process which includes a more sophisticated economic analysis in our decision-making.

● The Department needs to break out of the bureaucratic, green-visor mentality and work on becoming more customer-service oriented. The entire City bureaucracy needs to change its focus and work on becoming more courteous, proactive, and positive.

You are probably asking yourself, “What are we doing to begin this vision, especially in this era of fiscal austerity?” I’m trying to manage a Department that has 369 authorities for personnel, of which 50 are vacant. So we’ve taken the tack of becoming a little bit more creative about how we finance the work we need to do, particularly in two distinct areas.

The Balanced Growth Element

The first area is for the Balanced Growth Element, a two and a half to three-year work program that will cost $3.6 million in consultant funds alone. Over the last six months we have been negotiating with the three proprietary departments — the Airport Department, the Harbor Department, and the DWP — plus the CRA and the Department of Transportation. These negotiations have paid off, as we now have agreements that these agencies will pay for this work so that it does not have to come out of the General Fund.

The Balanced Growth Element will become the umbrella element of our general plan. It will set the policy framework for planning efforts including air quality, airport and facilities planning, and planning for housing, economic development, infrastructure, urban form, open space, public facilities, and transportation.

This plan has many purposes, the most important being to establish policies that will shape Los Angeles’ future development, including our urban form, the relationship between jobs and housing and ways to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion.

The second purpose of the Balanced Growth Element will be to integrate land use and transportation at the citywide level. It will explore land use changes necessary to become more compatible with the new Metrorail and light rail systems now being built in Los Angeles.

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Its final purpose will be to channel new and needed development into Los Angeles’ economically stagnant communities through a system of economic incentives.

Growth Management for L.A.

Once we complete this comprehensive land use plan setting forth the direction for the City for the first time ever, we will begin working on the second part of the Element — a growth management system for ensuring that infrastructure and public facilities are adequate to meet the diverse and expanding needs of Los Angeles.

This goal will be accomplished as follows:

● The Planning Department’s approval procedure for subdivision and parcel maps will probably be amended to include an adequacy test for infrastructure and public facilities.

● A travel demand forecast model will test the adequacy of our transportation capability in the City while development proceeds.

● If a development permit application fails a test for adequacy, then the City may either deny the permit or condition it with required mitigation measures. Conditions may include payment of development impact fees, including a Citywide trip assessment. In some cases, a development agreement may be negotiated that includes actual construction by the developer of some public facility or infrastruc­ture improvements.

● The final phase of this work will be to develop a system to monitor the amount, rate and location of new development for use in an annual update of the City’s growth policy.

Private Funding for Specific Plans

The second area where we are using monies other than the City’s General Fund is in major specific plans. Over the last four years we have prepared two major specific plans in the City, for Porter Ranch and Central City West. Not only were these two plans the largest and most comprehensive specific plans ever completed in the Department, but they were also primarily supported by funds from the private sector.

Because of our fiscal problems and our success with this arrangement on these two plans, we are be­ginning to think about embarking on three new planning projects that will be funded by some cooperative effort between the private property owners and the City:

1) A revisit to the Playa Vista Specific Plan, covering approximately 1,000 acres of undeveloped land north of LAX and south of Marina del Rey.

2) Completion of the Warner Center Specific Plan, which, next to downtown, is the largest commercial center in the City. Private funding to pay for staff costs will ensure staff allocation on this plan and completion in a timely fashion.

3) A public/private arrangement may be used for the replanning of the area around Union Station and the Terminal Annex.

Private funding for specific plans gets substantial work completed without the use of public tax dollars and allows us to use our Department’s funds for the areas in the City that most need our planning attention.

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