October 30, 1992 - From the October, 1992 issue

Point-Counterpoint: Watson and Burke Debate L.A. County Planning

The Second District Supervisorial election, matching State Senator Diane Watson and attorney (and former County Supervisor) Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, has been a closely contested election to succeed outgoing supervisor Kenneth Halm, who served four decades on the Board.

To get a sense of the future direction of land-use planning in the County and in the Second District (which includes such areas as Culver City, downtown L.A., South Central L.A., Inglewood, and Carson), The Planning Report this month presents a point-counterpoint between the two candidates on planning issues.

1) How do you intend to use land-use planning and zoning tools to spur the economic revitalization of your district? With the recent demise of the Tucker revitalization bill (AB 394), should the County now assume a leadership role in the revitalization of inner-city areas, perhaps through the creation a joint powers entity?

Watson: Because the majority of the property damage sustained during the recent riots is located in the Second District, the Supervisor’s number one priority must be to work with Rebuild L.A. to obtain commitment from the private sector for significant economic investment in the region. As Supervisor I would accept primary responsibility for harnessing the County’s ability to offer incentives and to remove disincentives to private investment. Equally important, I would work with the affected communities to ensure that they have input and can therefore support Rebuild L.A.’s terms of investment.

Because the County’s growth must be directed to where growth is both desirable and sustainable, as Supervisor I would not support major development projects in areas which are already job-rich, housing-poor or infrastructure strained.

Although the Tucker bill would have fast-tracked redevelopment in riot-torn areas, the Los Angeles CRA can and should still be prodded to utilize its resources and powers in rebuilding South Los Angeles. Frankly, there is virtually no other source of public funding available for the rebuilding effort.

Working with L.A. City Council members, the Second District Supervisor must negotiate between the CRA bureaucracy and communities which are suspicious of its broad powers and ties to big developers. Because my opponent was retained only a few years ago to “sell” an unpopular CRA project to South Central residents — an attempt which ended in much-publicized failure — I am the only candidate in this race who has the credibility to successfully conduct the needed negotiations.

Burke: There is a tremendous opportunity to employ specific zoning designations to both increase property values as well as encourage the private sector and public nonprofit organizations to both invest and reinvest in the economic vitality of the district.

The use of Specific Plans is an appropriate tool in helping to define areas for economic development. This process involves extensive citizen participation; site- and use-specific zoning; and clearly defined “desirable” uses in shaping a neighborhood’s current and future use. This effort helps neighbors, both businesses and citizens, come to a consensus regarding both the character and vision for the area in which they live and work.

The use of current California State Enterprise Zone legislation through the “Waters Bill” will link business and entrepreneurial interest desiring “favorable” economic conditions with local residents eager for employment opportunities within their community. After the recent “civil disturbances,” it seemed that everyone was emphasizing Enterprise Zones but without the local employment component that gives the investors and the residents the confidence and the mutual benefits of partnership.

Moreover, the County should seek a joint powers agreement with incorporated cities, to utilize redevelopment and revitalization tools in an effort to impact blighted areas.

2) How would you assess the quality of County government’s current planning for future development in the incorporated areas? Specifically, should the County take a more prominent role in regional planning issues, addressing land-use issues and disputes across jurisdictional boundaries?

Burke: It is evident that planning and land use issues in adjacent counties impact Los Angeles County in the areas of traffic, air quality, water resources, waste management and hazardous waste. In an effort to mitigate these issues the County should play an aggressive and preventative role with regional planning organizations, such as the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB). The County cannot stick its head in the ground and expect the regional impacts to go away.

The County has not made balanced development in unincorporated areas a priority within the planning process. Much attention has been paid to the more affluent areas. However, as the recent civil disturbances have indicated, the opportunity exists to create viable neighborhoods through new planning and economic tools in cooperation with local residents.

Watson: For the past decade, the County of Los Angeles has received poor reviews with regard to its land use plans for unincorporated areas. The County has been criticized for its failure to adhere to plans adopted by the Board of Supervisors and the County Regional Planning Commission. Too frequently the adopted plan has been overturned to accommodate new subdivisions. Failure to abide by the plans has led to development in unincorporated areas that is lacking in consistency.

While it is imperative that the land use powers of the city government be respected, we must deal with the fact that regional problems such as air pollution and transportation cross jurisdictional boundaries. Unfortunately, the current system is not designed to handle such overlap. Therefore a conflict resolution process must be devised and implemented.

3) Given our local crisis in meeting critical needs such as affordable housing and homelessness, do you support raising the Community Redevelopment Agency’s Central Business District cap as a way of addressing these unmet needs?

Burke: The City of Los Angeles should seek a Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U.) with the County of Los Angeles regarding a greater share of revenues accrued as a result of the establishment of redevelopment areas. Each redevelopment area in the City of Los Angeles “freezes” the tax base upon establishment, thus initially deferring (if not denying) revenue to the County and school district.

Should the County agree to “lift the cap” of the Community Redevelopment Agency’s Central Business District, the City of Los Angeles must agree to share an “equitable” amount of tax revenue to help address the County’s homeless, affordable housing and social service needs. Both the homeless and the poor know no political boundaries. The cap issue must be settled in the interest of those who need the services the most.

Watson: Yes, I believe the CRA cap should be raised. The cap is arrived at by census count number by a certain date imposed by Congress. As an example, the administrative delay in the release of the 1990 population figures cost California $38,812,500 in volume cap and $870,000 in tax credits. The tax credit reduction meant that 150 to 200 low income apartment units were not funded. The volume reduction meant that 350 to 400 first-time homeowners did not have the benefit of reduced mortgage costs.

This delay, forcing California to use the population figures of the previous year, thwarts the intent of Congress and unfairly penalizes those states which are growing and most need the increased volume cap to meet their housing needs. Raising the cap alone will not suffice to relieve the housing crisis. Public/private ventures in housing must be encouraged. Congress must be urged to modify its cut-off date. I would further expand the increased cap from the Central Business District to the larger area served by CRA.

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4) In planning for the outlying unincorporated areas, what specific land-use strategies will you propose to create incentives for new housing construction while still preserving open space and the environment?

Watson: The traditional suburban sprawl creates problems by depleting open space and the development of affordable housing. We must begin to look at neighborhood models that accommodate the needs of our growing population. For instance, the European model which reserves the first floor of a building for commercial use while upper floors constitute a “residential zone” must be encouraged. It is inappropriate to continue to build low-density communities which lack focus and the ability to support needed commerce.

Land use plans for incorporated areas must be updated with maximum public input, particularly in the areas recently impacted by the riot (including View Park, Athens, Lennox). The plan must be sensitive to issues involving open space, affordable housing and infrastructure capacities.

Secondly, the County must adhere to its own adopted land use policies. Currently, subdivision after subdivision is being approved without regard to previously adopted guidelines. Aside from resulting in poor planning, such non-policy becomes a beacon to attract opportunistic developers.

Third, “LULU’s” (particularly liquor stores, gun shops and swap meets) must be closely scrutinized. Disadvantaged areas cannot be targeted for “LULU” development exclusively. We must pursue a fair share plan where development is prudently directed and equitably distributed in all areas.

Burke: The Second District needs to explore the use of Interim Control Ordinances, Specific Plans and Redevelopment Areas as the principal tools in helping to shape, reshape, build and rebuild areas that are either underutilized and/or blighted. However, we must also demand that we address some of these problems in non­traditional ways. We must explore changes in zoning to allow for more mixed-use developments, combining commercial and affordable housing, to meet the growing demand.

We must be more aggressive in the reintroduction of state legislation for “emergency” redevelopment areas that do not negatively impact County revenue sources. Moreover, the opportunity exists to amend existing open space fees, derived from commercial development, to achieve more flexibility in the use of funds. The expansion of the current limits would allow areas deprived of open space to plan housing and greenery through a comprehensive perspective.

The current approach of separate financings for affordable housing and open space, without regard to the interdependency of the two, will simply not bode well for addressing our current dilemma in the future.

5) Since all County Supervisors also serve as County Transportation Commissioners, what policy changes would you advocate in Metro Rail, joint development and the county’s overall transportation/land-use planning?

Burke: As a member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, I believe the policy on Metro Rail should be amended to provide a uniform or singular mode of transportation throughout the County of Los Angeles. In doing so, you provide a system which utilizes interchangeable components that can be manufactured domestically, thereby increasing employment opportunities and strengthening the economic base of the local company.

A great opportunity for joint development exists with the construction of a first-class rail system that will offer accessible, safe and efficient transportation to our community. Increasing joint development will lessen the financial burden on our local tax base and this in turn will allow us to use those monies to provide more essential services such as fire and police. In addition, new opportunities for small business locations will become available.

Lastly, the issue of transportation/land use should be carefully evaluated to insure that the most beneficial sites are used as transportation hubs. This in turn should insure that the highest level of ridership is captured. Costs can be drastically curtailed by determining if removal of housing for a selected route is absolutely necessary.

Watson: The politicization of Metro Rail delays the project and drives costs up unnecessarily. LACTC board members need to consider the relevant facts, costs and community concerns, make decisions and act, eliminating the policy paralysis which results from the public second-guessing of those not involved. For example, rail cars need to be identical to ensure interchangeability and cost savings.

The revitalization of older, depressed and riot-devastated areas depends upon improving transit access. Gridlock relief depends upon routing more traffic away from congested areas of the city. Thus, revitalization and growth management are compatible urban policies which transportation planning should facilitate.

When Southern Pacific Railroad put their Exposition Right-of-Way up for sale, I immediately launched a grassroots campaign to get LACTC to purchase this last open right-of-way in the County. LACTC responded by acquiring the right-of-way and this strip of land from the Harbor Freeway to Santa Monica is now under study for future transportation projects.

For much of the last decade I led the effort to prevent heavy- and light-rail systems from being routed around South Los Angeles, arguing that the rail lines were bringing people and development into areas where they are neither needed nor wanted while bypassing areas desperately seeking development.

I single-handedly fought to extend a spurline from a mid-Wilshire Metro Rail stop south past the Santa Monica Freeway and the Crenshaw-Baldwin Hills Mall, through Inglewood connecting with the Green line on the Century Freeway and LAX. LACTC has finally recognized the need for this line. I would make funding it a priority as Supervisor.

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