February 28, 1992 - From the February, 1992 issue

Howe Will He Do?: Reactions to Planning Director Appointment

The search is over. Mayor Brad­ley has appointed a new LA. Plan­ning Director — Con Howe, former executive director of the New York City Planning Commission (more information about Howe and his appointment may be found at the bottom of this article).

In future months, The Planning Report will cover all of the changes at the department under the new regime. This month, we present subscribers’ reactions to Howe’s appointment and their suggestions on what his top pri­ority should be upon taking office. 

I’ve heard good things about Con Howe and he has the experience of a large city behind him. His most obvi­ous short-term challenge is to respond in some systematic way to the bud­getary and management issues facing the department and in the mid-term to increase the department’s effective­ness. In the long-term, he has the opportunity to help the city develop a shared vision of the future to which many different interests may sub­scribe. This is the toughest challenge, in light of the tremendous diversity of perspectives, both within City Hall and beyond. 

Kenneth Topping L.A. Planning Director, 1986-1990; Urban Planning Consultant

Focus on traffic congestion and the housing shortage. Solve these two areas of community concern and the rest of the job will be a cinch. 

Allen Alexander Beverly Hills City Council Member

“Before the new director can even look at priorities and planning issues, the following must occur: 

  1. The immediate need is for the department to become coherent again, not subject to buffeting influences from other departments or from the outside. 

  2. Once it becomes a cohesive unit, then a second look at the Zucker report is in order. 

  3. The new reality of Los Angeles is much more complex, with many more difficulties and economic prob­lems, than even one year ago. The new director must get out and come to a new understanding of Los Angeles, separate from that of the Bradley administration, which only listens to the development community and its asso­ciated legal advisers. Others need to be listened to.”

Barbara Fine Federation of Hillside & Canyon Associations

“In order to be successful, the City’s new planning director must be a strong, effective and fair manager. Without these capabilities, he will not be able to execute all the great planning ideas and insights or utilize all of the experience and knowledge that he may possess. The number one priority will be to boost morale among the department’s staff members. Then the new director, with staff support, must restore the confidence that the public and city officials (primarily the Mayor and Council) once had in the City’s beleaguered planning process.”

Larry Kaplan Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade, and Douglas

“The top priority will be to establish the credibility of the position and the department with the political leader­ship, the business community, and community-based or­ganizations. The department has to assume additional leadership roles while at the same time improving its internal administrative capability. No easy challenge.”

Ray Remy Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce

“I think it was probably wise to hire someone with experience in a complex urban environment The first thing to do — and I hope he’s done this already — is to get the commitment of the Mayor and the Council that they will take planning seriously and let the Planning Depart­ment do the city’s planning. Unless he can get that commitment, he will not succeed.”

Jane Pisano Dean, School of Public Administration, USC

“The San Fernando Valley Board of Realtors is hopeful that the arrival of Con Howe from New York City will kindle a new sense of vision within the City’s Planning Department and bring a much-needed enhancement to customer rela­tions. As has been cited in the recent audit, the realtor/development community needs a department that is willing to implement immediately an expedited planning approval system. Housing affordability is dependent upon this department’s willingness to quicken the development pro­cess and work in harmony with the Housing Preservation and Production Department.”

Millie Jones San Fernando Valley Board of Realtors, Public Affairs Director

But you’ve gotta know the territory. — Harold Hill, “The Music Man”

“The first priority for the head of planning in L.A. is to learn the territory — both geographically and politically. L.A.’s new Director of Planning must not be entombed in City Hall. He must get out to the City’s diverse communi­ties and meet the people who live and work in L.A., rather than merely talking to the downtown regulars. Only then will the most fundamental task of a Planning Director — developing a coherent, consistent and bold general plan which actually serves as the guiding principle for the future of L.A. — be possible. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”

Debra Bowen Environmental/Land-Use Attorney; 53rd Assembly District Candidate

“The single biggest challenge for the new City Planning Director in 1992 will be to provide the vision and leadership to help Los Angeles become the model city in the 21st century — a world center of finance, commerce, culture, and urban lifestyles. Mr. Howe’s prior experience suggests that he possesses the necessary professional skills and abilities to be successful as Los Angeles’ new Planning Director. I believe the business and development communities are committed to working with Mr. Howe to achieve a desirable balance of growth, jobs, and quality of life.”


Chris Stewart Stewart and Associates

“In order to undertake any policy that is more than makeshift, he needs to start with an examination of the basic urban design character of this city — a city that is not like any other in its constellation of urban and suburban areas. In the past, there’s been an official, nonsense vision — the Centers Concept — that has never truly been applied. Yet the city has never really been fully understood. Howe’s first order of business should be to throw his resources into a study of the city’s character: until that occurs, no real planning can be done.”

Leon Whiteson Architectural Critic

“The new director should not only think about short-term projects but long-term goals. His top priority should be to articulate and communicate a vision for this commu­nity. A second priority should be to bring divergent groups into the process. And a third need is to bring a strong management hand, to shape up the department. He needs to develop his own political savvy, both to survive and to assure that planning programs move ahead and are accept­able to the Council and the community. Finally, the city’s plans must be coordinated with other public agencies, including the CRA and regional bodies.”

Joy Picus L.A. City Council, Third District

“Howe seems like an appropriate choice for Los Ange­les, in that he combines planning experience with political savvy and a deal making sense. He must learn how to work within the economic and political structure of the city, yet to look beyond it, weaving new patterns into a city whose skeletal pattern already exists. He must not get bogged down in pet political projects (the pork barrel of L.A.), whether it be protectionist specific plans, isolated urban design ordinances, or pet developer proposals. He must be a conductor.”

Clifton Allen Meyer-Allen Partners

“The first thing the new Planning Director should do is to look for his own housing in a mixed-use, pedestrian oriented, attractive-looking neighborhood. Then, hav­ing learned his first lesson about L.A. planning, he should hold a press conference and declare war on the anachronistic community plans. He should pledge to update them all within five years.”

David Kramer Skid Row Housing Trust

“The new Planning Director should focus on eco­nomic development issues to better South Central Los Angeles and other under-developed communities. This is what has been missing. In particular, the director should develop an interdepartmental work plan utilizing all the city’s resources and the following departments: Planning, Community Development, Transportation, and the Community Redevelopment Agency.”

Mark Ridley-Thomas L.A. City Council, Eighth District

Howe Brings Big-City Experience to L.A.’s Planning Department

Con Howe, 42, worked for the New York City Plan­ning Department from 1978 to 1991, rising to the position of executive director, in which he served for four years. 

During his tenure, Howe worked on such programs as establishing “contextual zoning” to reinforce neighbor­hood character; developing a “fair share” program for undesirable land uses; simplifying zoning barriers to housing; refurbishing Times Square and the theater dis­trict; and working with New York’s 59 community planning boards. 

Howe left the City of New York in March 1991 to become director of the Lower Manhattan Project, a pub­lic/private partnership in Downtown Manhattan. He received a masters degree in city planning from MIT in 1975, and an undergraduate degree in political science from Yale University in 1972. 

Why Howe Was Selected 

According to Jane Blumenfeld, planning advisor to Mayor Bradley, working in Howe’s favor were his expe­rience in a big city like Los Angeles, in managing a large department, in working with diverse community groups, and in creatively addressing issues such as housing, transportation, urban design, and joint development. 

Interim Planning Director Melanie Fallon may have been hurt by last summer’s release of the Zucker audit, which strongly criticized the department’s manage­ment, and by the general feeling that the department needed new blood. Though former Cleveland Planning Director Norman Krumholz is well-respected in the profession and received the much-publicized endorse­ment of homeowners coalition PLAN/LA, his ‘60s­-style planning, years away from management, and willingness to ruffle feathers might have left him out of sync with L.A.’s political realities in the ‘90s. 

Deputy Director Frank Eberhard dropped out of the running for personal reasons and the other two candi­dates, Phoenix’s Ronald Counts and Fort Worth’s Bruce McClendon, lacked experience with very large plan­ning departments. 

Howe will arrive in Los Angeles for his confirmation hearing before the Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee, expected to occur on February 18th 1992. Confirmation by the full Council could come that same week. He will likely not assume direction of the department until March.


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