January 30, 1992 - From the January, 1992 issue

The Year in Review: Planning and Land Use Actions in 1991

For this new year’s issue, The Planning Report offers our annual look back at the past year in planning and land use — covering selected events in the City of Los Angeles, around L.A. County, in the courts, from regional agencies, and from Sacramento. 


Two of 1991's most significant land-use decisions came during August: courts overturned the La Vina decision and upheld Sacramento's housing linkage fee.

CITY OF LOS ANGELES 

Planning Department 

The Department received a jolt in July with the publication of Zucker Systems’ audit of the Department, which described planning in Los Angeles at a “crisis level.” The audit’s 267 recommendations were prioritized and sent to the City Council at the end of the year, but it remained to be seen whether the Council would provide funding for full implementation of the audit. 

Melanie Fallon served as Interim Planning Director for the entire year as the City conducted a year-long search for a new permanent Director following the 1990 resignation of Kenneth Topping. Tight fiscal times led the Department in 1991 to emphasize “fee-for-service” and private sector funding for the review of major projects. 

CRA: A New Order 

After 1990 ended with the controversial buyout of John Tuite, 1991 at the Community Redevelopment Agency was a year of political fallout and confidence building. Former Deputy Mayor Ed Avila, who took over the Agency in March as interim Administrator and was later retained as permanent Administrator, has em­phasized the Agency’s relations with its constituencies and the City Council. The aftershocks from the Tuite buyout, however, led the City Council to assume greater oversight of the CRA. The CRA during 1991 also worked on a prevailing wage policy for service employees on CRA projects, a proposal that the faltering economy relegated to the slow track. 

The Year in Housing 

Another policy on the recessionary slow track is the hous­ing linkage fee, which crept along during 1991 without going to Coun­cil. The City’s Housing Preservation and Production Department, under the direction of Gary Squier, went into its first full year during 1991. The City’s Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy (CHAS) in­curred the wrath of homeowners’ groups when an early draft contained land-use and densification policy options. 

City Council Elections 

The spring’s City Council elec­tions resulted in the election of new members Mark Ridley-Thomas, Rita Walters and Mike Hernandez, all of whom emphasized community de­velopment strategies for their inner-city constituencies. Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee Chairman Hal Bernson narrowly turned back a challenge by School Board member Julie Korenstein, who campaigned against Bernson’s support of the Porter Ranch mega-project. 

These Council results kept Bernson in control of PLUM, brought Richard Alatorre into the chairmanship of the Community Redevelop­ment and Housing Committee, and left John Ferraro in control of the Council presidency, thus freezing the slower growth bloc of Braude/Woo/Picus/ Yaroslavsky/Galanter/Wachs out of key planning posts. 

Water Hookups 

Early in the year, it appeared that the City’s dominant planning issue for 1991 would be the drought. Council members Ruth Galanter and Zev Yaroslavsky proposed stringent new limits on new water hookups: under Yaroslavsky’s proposal, a 25% cutback in water use would trigger a 50% re­duction in new water hookups. But these proposals were effectively washed away by the “March Miracle” rains, as the drought receded from public consciousness. 

Specific Plans 

As in past years, much of the real planning in Los Angeles was done through Specific Plans during 1991, particularly for “mega-projects.” Per­haps the most noteworthy was the passage in February of the Central City West Specific Plan, a comprehensive plan for 465 acres west of the Harbor Freeway downtown. 

The Warner Center Specific Plan became a heated issue through the summer and early fall, with a draft plan attracting criticism from all sides. Following Planning Commission in­structions to increase the Plan’s density and incorporate public transportation, the Warner Center Plan has gone back to the drawing board for consideration next year. 

New Ordinances 

Several major new ordinances af­fecting planning and land use were passed by the City during 1991. A few of the most important:

  • The City passed an Arts Development Fee (or “One Percent for Art” program), assessing a fee on commer­cial and industrial development to support the City’s cultural and artistic programs.

  • In May, the Council passed a policy for Transfer of Floor Area Ratio (TFAR) in the Central Business Dis­trict. TFAR allows increased density on one site by transferring unused development rights from another site, while generating a “public benefit payment” in the transaction.

  • In November, the Council passed a “Mixed-Use Ordinance,” creating a density bonus for mixed-use devel­opment, so long as the extra density is used for housing, a portion of which must be for low-and moderate-in­come residents. 

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AROUND L.A. COUNTY 

As usual, Santa Monica was a hotbed of planning and land use ac­tivity over the last year. But though the Council extended its commercial development moratorium for another year, it did not undertake the sweep­ing growth management effort that many had expected. The City also extended the Air Quality Management District’s (AQMD) Regulation XV ridesharing requirements to smaller businesses, reaching 10 employees by the third year. And during the fall, the City was considering implemen­tation options for Proposition R, which mandates that 30% of new multi-family units in the city be affordable. 

In Pasadena, 1991 saw a court settlement on the City’s Growth Management Initiative, which caps development at 250 housing units and 250,000 sq. ft. of non-residential use per year. Under the settlement, the GMI will be enforced until Novem­ber 1992, when the electorate will vote on the initiative again. The City also has until November 1992 to re­vise its General Plan.

Long Beach adopted a “corridors” policy in 1991, aimed at recy­cling old commercial strips with higher-density housing. The Council also approved a voluntary replace­ment housing program during 1991, in place of its one-to-one replacement program. The City’s year-long effort to craft a single-room-occupancy housing ordinance was scaled back by the Planning Commission and faces uncertain prospects in Council during 1992. 

Santa Clarita approved its first general plan in June, and spent much of 1991 on implementation measures, including a hillside ordinance, a zon­ing code, and a study of impact fees. A citizens group has placed on the ballot for 1992 a stringent cap on new housing units. 

Malibu became an incorporated city during March, and immediately passed a moratorium on virtually all development. Burbank voters soundly rejected two slow-growth initiatives during February, leaving intact the Media District Specific Plan, passed in December 1990. 

THE COURTS 

Two of 1991’s most significant land-use court decisions came during August In Friends of La Vina et. al. vs. County of Los Angeles, the Second District Appeals Court ruled that the use of developer-prepared EIR’s is permissible so long as the govern­ment agency independently reviews and evaluates the documentation. In December, the State Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on the La Vina case. Also in August, the Ninth Circuit upheld Sacramento’s housing linkage fee on commercial develop­ment, holding that the fee was not an unconstitutional taking. This case had been closely watched in the City of Los Angeles, which is considering its own housing linkage fee

In a major decision on vesting in California (Consaul v. City of San Diego), the court ruled that the City improperly downzoned a property after the developer spent almost two years going through the entitlements process. The court ruled that even though the developer had no building permit, the developer had a vested right to proceed.

In other decisions, Hollywood Redevelopment was upheld in the courts during 1991, giving the green light for that project to proceed after five years. In Lacher v. Superior Court of Orange County, the Appeals court held that developers may be liable for fraud if they misrepresent facts to homeowners’ groups. 

One of 1991’s biggest decisions was released on New Year’s Eve — the Warner Ridge case, excerpted on pages 6-7 of this issue. Another of 1991’s biggest court stories will be completed during 1992. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Nordlinger v. Hahn, in which Proposition 13 is being challenged as a violation of the equal protection clause. 

REGIONAL AGENCIES 

With the money from Proposition 111 and Proposition C flowing into its coffers, the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (LACTC) geared up to build a 400-mile rail system during 1991. 

The Congestion Management Program of Proposition 111, sched­uled to become a reality in 1991, was postponed until late 1992 to allow for the preparation of an EIR. The CMP will link land use planning with trans­portation planning and proposes a controversial countywide mitigation fee on new development. Respond­ing to criticism of its own land-use planning, LACTC added a joint de­velopment team to play catch-up in planning for land-use impacts around Metro Rail stations.

At the end of the year, LACTC and the Southern California Rapid Transit District (SCRTD) adopted and sent to the State Legislature a reorga­nization plan that provides for the agencies’ merger under a single policy board — the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. 

The SCAQMD during 1991 adopted its updated Air Quality Man­agement Plan, containing indirect source control measures and amend­ments to Regulation XV. Reg XV will be extended to schools, and the District will adopt rules to reduce non-work trips, extending rules to stadiums, arenas, shopping centers, and airports. The District also interjected itself into transit issues, argu­ing for electrification of the com­muter rail lines that will begin op­eration in 1992. 

SACRAMENTO 

The key planning issue in Sacra­mento during 1991 was growth management and regional gover­nance, but 1991 proved to be only a rehearsal for 1992. Governor Wilson, plagued with a budget crisis, deferred consideration of these issues by cre­ating an Interagency Council on Growth Management that spent 1991 holding hearings and making rec­ommendations for the Governor. 

Meanwhile, in preparation for action in 1992, the State Senate passed its two growth management bills in June, and the Assembly responded by sending its two bills to the oppo­site house in July. The most publicized bill of the four is Assembly Speaker Willie Brown’s AB 3, which would consolidate existing single-purpose regional agencies into larger regional development and infrastructure agencies with powers over land use, transportation and air quality. All of the bills will be considered in light of the Governor’s recommendations during 1992.

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