May 30, 1992 - From the May, 1992 issue

Roundtable on Joy Picus’ Commission Proposal

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joy Picus has proposed splitting the single Los Angeles single planning commission into four regional bodies (see article here). The Planning Report asked subscribers to discuss whether they favor or oppose Picus’ proposal.

What the city really needs are newer, better Community Plans, not more commissions, because the real opportunity for local citizen planning is through the Community Plan Advisory Committees.

Council members are elected by their constituents to be vigorous advocates for the interests of their own districts first. The Planning Commission’s citywide perspective is a necessary and healthy counterbalance to the narrower interests represented by individual Council offices.

Bill Luddy Chairman, Los Angeles City Planning Commission

I don’t think Councilwoman Picus’ motion goes far enough. I think we need 35 Planning Commissions, one for each of the Community Plan areas, plus a Central Commission that would consider citywide planning issues.

Michael Wester Kaplan, McLaughlin, Diaz

Councilwoman Picus makes a good case, and there’s considerable merit to this idea. My only concern is to assure some kind of centralized oversight. In particular, the General Plan would have to be revised expeditiously to provide real, centralized direction to these localized commissions.

Roger Moon Vice President, Landauer Associates

Decentralizing routine land use issues makes enormous sense and would invigorate public participation. But L.A. needs more emphasis on citywide planning, not less. With a new regional transportation network in progress, Los Angeles should avoid using Yugoslavia’s disintegration as a planning model.

Rick Cole Mayor, City of Pasadena

I support Councilwoman Picus’ idea because it would provide localized services that are sensitive to the needs of the community. Like many other community services, planning decisions are typically made by those who are not familiar with the Valley’s needs and do not reside in the Valley. Although this idea has not been tried before, it's still worth a try.

Ellen Vuckovich Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association

Creating four regional planning commissions would be a substantial improvement. It would speed up the decision process and place decisions with local people familiar with the region. It might well also require assignment of deputy zoning administrators to each region in order to accomplish those results.

The difficulty will lie in establishing safeguards to insure that basic planning principles are uniformly applied throughout the city and administrative costs are kept at reasonable levels.

John G. Thorpe Thorpe and Thorpe

The City of Los Angeles needs planning measures which bring people together and help them see the big picture. The City Planning Commission is designed under the Charter to provide a unique citywide perspective on planning matters otherwise seen from territorial points of view. It can be helpful in encouraging balanced planning solutions fashioned for the good of the entire city. If anything, the Planning Commission’s position should be strengthened through Charter reform to insulate it further from politics.

Before the city finalizes a ballot proposal, it should inquire about experiences of other large jurisdictions which have experimented with multiple planning commissions. As an alternative to separate commissions, it might consider forming area planning advisory committees with a dozen or two members for broader representation from each subregion.

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Ken Topping, AICP Planning Consultant; Former L.A. City Planning Director

I doubt that creating four Planning Commissions rather than one will replace the feeling of citizen disconnectedness with the sense of community sought by Picus. Each new commission will be responsible not for a single community but for a million residents, in a set of communities nearly as diverse physically and culturally as the city as a whole. What time and attention is devoted to each issue will remain largely at the staff level of the Planning Department.

James Bonar President, Silver Lake Residents Association

The proposal makes good sense. It is analogous to the changes made in New York City’s planning structure in the ‘60s. Five Borough offices (for the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island, and Queens) were established to act as advocates for their areas.

This was complimented by a small but highly expert central planning staff who, in turn, advised the Planning Commission of the citywide impacts of local plans. It was through this localized planning that the Community Boards, a further decentralization, came into being. Councilwoman Picus should have a chat with incoming planning director Con Howe.

Michael Pittas TGP, Inc.

If the city were financially flush, this might be an interesting discussion to have. But given the city’s current financial situation, I don’t see it as possible. You have to staff four commissions and have four sets of public hearings.

Douglas Ring Partner, Gold, Ring, Marks, and Pepper

I have always believed that the solution to L.A.’s planning problems, which at times seem overwhelming, was to decentralize the planning process. In a mostly developed city, solutions are most often not macro-level solutions, but contextual decisions to be made at a scale smaller than the City of Los Angeles.

On the other hand, these decentralized solutions will only work if the local planning commissioners take a social responsibility for the needs of those constituents less able to participate in the process, and if the planning staff is also decentralized.

Perhaps Los Angeles should create more than four commissions.

Mark Winogrond Director of Community Development and Redevelopment. Culver City; Director of L.A. Section, American Planning Association

With all due respect to Councilwoman Picus, the idea of creating four planning commissions is not a good one. The Zucker audit called for more centralized planning and for updating the community plans to bring them into the 1990s. The city should focus its efforts on updating these 35 community plans, rather than splitting up the Planning Commission into four regional bodies.

Craig Lawson C.W. Cook and Company

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