January 30, 1993 - From the January, 1993 issue

Planning Trends of the City, State, and Region: 1992, a Year to Forget

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

Unfortunately, for Los Angeles and the region, it was, in many ways, a year to forget .

"The debates of the late 1980s over how to limit growth became transformed by 1992 into debates over how to spur economic development."


Rebuilding L.A. 

The April riots in Los Angeles were surely the top planning story of 1992. Though their roots went deeper than land-use issues, the riots pointed out the City’s glaring structural weaknesses — visible not only in the riots’ causes, but also in the City’s inability to assemble a coherent response in their aftermath. 

Mayor Tom Bradley appointed Peter Uebberoth to lead a private organization called Rebuild L.A. (later redubbed “RLA”) to spearhead the rebuilding process. But at the end of 1992, few tangible results were visible, and RLA was receiving criticism from all sides for its lack of inclusiveness, overemphasis on attracting large businesses, and overall inaction.

At the grass-roots level, a Coalition of Neighborhood Developers developed a proposal to prepare community-based plans in several riot affected areas. But it, too, ran into some organizational difficulties and had few concrete results by the end of 1992. 

A somewhat more successful effort was the “Rebuild Crenshaw” campaign, a community-based planning effort convened by Councilwoman Ruth Galanter’s office, which did succeed in producing a plan for the area. 

In May, the Planning Department quickly steered to Council passage an ordinance expediting the reconstruction of damaged properties. The ordinance deferred fees, created a simplified hearing procedure for temporary uses, and simplified reconstruction of destroyed structures.

Given the City of Los Angeles’ historical inability to coordinate City departments, it actually seemed remarkable to many last fall when four department heads — of the Planning Department, Community Redevelopment Agency, Community Development Department, and the Housing Preservation and Production Department — issued a joint policy strategy on rebuilding. 

One ongoing planning legacy of the riots is the debate over whether to allow liquor stores to rebuild in South Central L.A. As the first liquor store cases moved into the Planning Commission, a Mayoral task force on liquor stores sought to develop incentives for store owners to rebuild with other uses. 

City Planning Department 

New Yorker Con Howe assumed the position of City Planning Director in April, taking over a department that the 1991 Zucker audit of the department found “in crisis.”

But Howe’s attempts to implement the audit’s recommendations went to the back burner when the riots occurred during his first month in office. Their aftermath demanded the attention of the department in pulling together a long-term rebuilding strategy for the city. 

Howe enjoyed a honeymoon period in the difficult position of Planning Director. But by year’s end, some department staffers were complaining that Howe had become “too timid” and was failing to implement the Zucker audit’s reforms.

The department undertook a large two-year comprehensive planning effort called the Citywide General Plan Frameworkthat will — among other things — reexamine the Centers Concept, propose how to direct future growth, and analyze the effects of infrastructure investments. 

The department also was working during 1992 on a “Land Use/ Transportation Policy” with the L.A. County Transportation Commission — a policy meant to steer growth around transit stations and corridors. But after a draft was made available during the summer, work slowed somewhat, though a new draft is expected in early 1993.

The department also reformed the environmental impact report process to create new rules for applicants and their consultants. Though applicants may continue to choose their own EIR consultants, the new rules require submittal of more information directly to the Planning Department. The city also set the goal of completing EIR reviews within one year. 

Bill Luddy stepped down as President of the Planning Commission, and was succeeded by Ted Stein. David Louie, a commercial real estate broker, was appointed to fill Luddy’s vacancy. Meanwhile, Councilwoman Joy Picus’ proposal to split the Planning Commission into four regional commissions to promote local accountability was defeated in the City Council. 

At year’s end, the Planning Department was fighting — apparently successfully — Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky’s proposal to cut 23 staffers from the department due to the City’s budget crunch. 

Community Redevelopment Agency 

Though the Community Redevelopment Agency continued to remake itself under administrator Ed Avila, it suffered some setbacks during 1992. After the riots, the CRA supported state legislation, AB 394, sponsored by Inglewood Assemblyman Curtis Tucker, Jr., which would have spearheaded rebuilding by establishing an expedited process for creating or expanding redevelopment areas in the riot-affected areas. 

However, after finding that the CRA’s legacy of eminent domain left some residents suspicious, the freshman Assemblyman — without permitting testimony from grass­roots redevelopment supporters such as the Ministerial Alliance, the Korean-American community, and Latino leadership — abandoned the bill. 

The CRA’s budget placed an unprecedented emphasis on affordable housing — proposing to spend $103 million, or a record 39%, on housing for fiscal year 1993. The CRA then found $25 million of its funds tapped by the City to balance its 1992-93 budget, and later took a hit from the State for the same purpose. Monica Lozano and Christine Essel became new CRA Commissioners. 

The Downtown Strategic Plan, expanded to include Central City East, progressed in its quest to create a new vision for Los Angeles’ core. A new Downtown Strategic Plan Advisory Committee worked with a star-studded consultant team to prepare a draft plan to be released in early 1993.


L.A. County Cities

The City of Pasadena has a busy planning year during 1992. As the result of a court settlement to a lawsuit challenging the City’s 1989 Growth Management Initiative (GMI), the City agreed to put the GMI before the voters again in November and to complete a new General Plan. Emphasizing an inclusive public participation process, the City met its General Plan deadline and the Plan was approved (and the GMI thereby repealed) by a 53% to 47% vote. 

Santa Monica, as usual, also had an active year. A homelessness task force made recommendations for a package of housing issues — including reduced parking standards, density bonuses, and waiving of fees. That package was approved last summer, but the homelessness issue ultimately claimed longtime City Attorney Robert Myers, who was fired by the City Council for failing to enforce an anti-encampment ordinance. 

Santa Monica lost a legal round in its attempt to implement Proposition R, an inclusionary housing law requiring that 30% of new multi-family housing be affordable. The Superior Court ruled that the City should have amended its housing element before passing the implementing ordinance. And the City moved toward passage of Specific Plans for the Bayside District and the Civic Center area. 


The City of Santa Clarita approved its first hillside ordinance to control development on ridgelines in the area. Santa Clarita’s April ballot contained Measure A, a stringent growth control initiative that would have limited new housing development to 475 units per year. It was defeated, 56% to 44%. And the City passed its first Unified Development Code late in the year. 

Burbank gained a reputation for regulatory streamlining during 1992, taking steps to simplify its planning process and make the city more economically competitive. With a new mall, a revitalized downtown, and reasonably low vacancy rates, Burbank also seemed to be weathering the recession. Late in the year, the City was considering easing some of the multi-family housing restrictions approved by voters in 1989. 

In Long Beach, the redevelopment agency has prepared a comprehensive plan for downtown, proposing to bring more activity to the downtown side of the water. Meanwhile the Pike Project — a partnership of the Ratkovich Company and Enterprise Development Corporation — was on hold due to lack of financing. 

Culver City began revitalizing its downtown with a comprehensive new master plan… Glendale approved a new Specific Plan for South Brand Boulevard, created the city’s first redevelopment area in 20 years along San Fernando Road, and moved toward passage of a hillside ordinance. 

Studio Expansions 

With the economy slow, few large projects worked their way through the entitlements maze in 1992. But with motion picture studios requiring additional space, their expansions have become the highest-profile planning debates around L.A. County. Burbank’s City Council approved Disney’s development master plan, as well as Warner Studios’ expansion. 

In Los Angeles, Twentieth Century Fox’s 771,000 sq. ft. expansion plan met with heavy Westside opposition and lawsuits during 1992. But with the final EIR now complete, public hearings are expected in early 1993. Sony Pictures’ 1.1. million sq. ft. expansion plan in Culver City had its final EIR certified and will likely go through the public process in 1993. And in West Hollywood, Warner Hollywood Studios’ expansion neared approval by the end of 1992. 

Regional Agencies 

In May, Governor Wilson signed into law the merger of the L.A. County Transportation Commission and the Southern California Rapid Transit District into the new L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The merger will become effective early in 1993. Meanwhile, “Metrolink” commuter rail service opened and Metro Rail moved toward completion of its first leg. 

L.A. County’s first Congestion Management Program, linking land-use planning to transportation planning, was approved by the LACTC Board in November. The dispute over the Westside extension of Metro Rail flared again during 1992, with Congressman Henry Waxman at year’s end agreeing to support a new study of the Wilshire Blvd. alternative to the Pico/San Vicente jog to the south. For the San Fernando Valley, LACTC voted in December to support aerial transportation above the Ventura Freeway over a subway along the Burbank/Chandler route. 

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) neared implementation of its RECLAIM “smog exchange” program, which could profoundly affect real estate decisions. And SCAQMD proposed new amendments to its Regulation XV ridesharing program which its Board will vote on next year. 

The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) began its first-ever Regional Comprehensive Plan in 1992— a massive effort involving 14 elements and 14 subregional planning groups. By year’s end, SCAG’s initially ambitious timetable had been pushed back somewhat, and it remained to be seen whether the unprecedented subregional talks would generate significant progress on major planning issues. 


On New Year’s Eve of 1991, a Court of Appeals struck down the City of Los Angeles’ hierarchical scheme of zoning under which the City permitted zoning for a less intense use than that specified in the community plans (Warner Ridge Associates v. City of Los Angeles). Though the city expected a flood of lawsuits on consistency cases following the Warner Ridge decision, the slow economy has limited the legal activity. And, by the end of the year, the City had still not developed a policy on how to deal with cases of inconsistency. 

Proposition 13 survived a major legal challenge during 1992. In Nordlinger v. Hahn, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the law did not represent a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 

On June 29th, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the landowner in the closely watched case Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council. The Court held that a landowner may require compensation for a taking when he is subjected to a regulation denying him “all economically viable use” of the property. But legal commentators were divided over whether the case added a significant new twist to takings law, or merely reiterated earlier decisions. 

In November, in Board of Supervisors v. Sacramento LAFCO, the State Supreme Court, in addressing the incorporation of Citrus Heights in Sacramento County, ruled that residents in surrounding unincorporated areas have no right to participate in votes on incorporation. 

The Supreme Court in April also unanimously rejected a challenge to a mobile home rent control ordinance in Yee v. City of Escondido. The Court held that the government effects a physical taking only where it requires the landowner to submit to the physical invasion of his land. Such ordinances, however, could constitute a regulatory taking, leaving the door open to further legal action on mobile home rent control. 


As 1992 began, it appeared as if growth management issues would be high on the agenda of the Governor and the Legislature. Governor Wilson had hinted that he would unveil his long-awaited growth management proposals in his January State of the State address. But that speech came and went with hardly a mention of these issues and, preoccupied much of the year with budgetary battles, the Governor never did unveil his proposals. 

Frustrated by inaction, a coalition of state legislators and key business and environmental groups tried to jump-start the process in June by proposing an “economic and environmental recovery plan” focusing on infrastructure investment. In the end, however, the bill never got off the Assembly floor. And local governments took a $1.3 billion hit in the state budgetary wars. 

On the housing front, the State Attorney General, acting on the request of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, issued stern warning letters to 47 cities which have failed to comply with the state’s housing element law, warning them that they are vulnerable to litigation against their general plans. 

The State Legislature in 1992 for the first time allowed cities to transfer redevelopment housing funds to another locality. SB 1711 (Bergeson) will allow localities to trade their fair share housing allocations and low­ and moderate- income redevelopment housing funds, under certain conditions. Governor Wilson vetoed another housing transfer bill, AB 3330 (Costa). Other bills were passed to allow transfers of funds by specific cities. 

Richard Katz's AB 1246 was signed into law, creating voluntary contributions by property owners of a dollar per acre to go toward a Long Range Planning Trust Fund for the City of Los Angeles. 


Of course, coloring all land-use planning issues during 1992 was Southern California’s deepest recession in recent memory. The debates of the late 1980s over how to limit growth became transformed by 1992 into debates over how to spur economic development

Specific plans and infrastructure programs that relied on developer fees were stowed as the fees no longer poured in. And the region’s much discussed “mega-projects” — such as Porter Ranch, Central City West, and the Alameda District Plan — mostly sat on the shelf awaiting better times. 

Perhaps nothing will affect the planning and land-use issues of 1993 more than the state of the economy.


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