May 30, 1992 - From the May, 1992 issue

Picus: Split L.A.’s Planning Commission Into Four

Here Councilwoman Joy Picus proposes a four Planning Commission versus the current singular Planning Commission for the entirety of the City of Los Angeles. 

Democracy is becoming a casualty of urbanization. Participatory politics, the basic tenet of our American system, has devolved into a closed system dominated by lobbyists, lawyers, consultants, the media, and special interest groups. The average citizen, discouraged by an inability to have a voice, is increasingly opting not to participate.

This threat to our political system is evident locally. The ever-increasing population and complexity of life in Los Angeles presents a challenge: how to provide the individual citizen with a meaningful role in local government.

Many residents feel disconnected from public life and question whether they have any ability to affect policy decisions made in City Hall. It is vital that citizens be reconnected to government and provided every opportunity to create change while maintaining a sense of community.

Greater accessibility is especially critical in local land-use planning issues. Decisions rendered by the City Planning Commission affect the daily lives or each city resident This five-member board meets once a week and has the impossible task of considering hundreds of diverse development applications each year.

Sheer volume dictates that limited time and attention can be devoted to each case. Public participation is severely limited, dominated by paid lobbyists, and average citizens are not provided a significant voice in determining the future of their own communities. Due to the size of Los Angeles, the commissioners are additionally hampered by the inability to become knowledgeable about the character, problems and needs of local neighborhoods.

Four Planning Commissions

To increase public access and participation, I have proposed the creation of four local planning commissions. Each board, comprised of five local residents, would be responsible for land use issues within a specific geographical region of the city. This would present a manageable caseload for each commission, ensuring careful consideration of every issue. Local, convenient hearings would afford greater opportunity for citizens to attend. Adequate time could be provided for the public to testify. Commissioners would be knowledgeable about the communities they serve, familiar with neighborhood concerns, and able to develop satisfactory consensus.


I have suggested that the four districts consist of a Valley District, West Los Angeles District, Central/East District, and Harbor District. The commissioners on each of these geographically-specific boards would be appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council to serve staggered five-year terms. This proposal will require an amendment to the City Charter. I will ask the City Council to place the matter on the ballot for the Spring 1993 municipal elections.

Citywide Perspective

There is, of course, a need to maintain a citywide perspective to guide overall master planning. This can be accomplished through several means. The local commissions could meet as one body to address citywide issues, or a panel comprised of the presidents of each of the regional bodies could serve as an umbrella oversight committee. In addition, the Planning Department could provide a more systematic educational effort to inform each commissioner of issues affecting all communities. These solutions would actually provide more geographical representation for important citywide issues… and result in greater consensus and acceptability.

A Response to Critics

Some critics have wrongly suggested that local planning boards will promote parochialism, aggravate an '”us vs. them” attitude, and encourage the '”not-in-my backyard” philosophy. I disagree. It is our existing, dysfunctional, planning process which has given unfortunate vitality to these attitudes.

By bringing planning closer to the people and by improving public accessibility to decision making, a greater sense of community can be accomplished. Participatory democracy reduces alienation and is critical to reconnecting citizens with each other and their government.


© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.