July 30, 1993 - From the July, 1993 issue

Nick Patsaouras: The Planning Agenda for L.A. Mayor Riordan

The election of Richard Riordan as Mayor of Los Angeles will bring major changes to the way the city plans its future. What will the Riordan administration mean for planning in Los Angeles? To find out, The Planning Report spoke with Nick Patsaouras, former mayoral candidate, who headed up Riordan's transition work on planning issues.  

You were the "man with the plan" in the mayoral campaign and you've been on the Riordan transition team, advising on land use and economic development. What priorities would you like to see in these areas and what kinds of people would you like to see serve in the Riordan administration? 

I endorsed Riordan because he gave me a commitment that he would embrace my plan and implement it. As you know, the plan discusses the integration of land use, transportation, public open space, and affordable housing. 

I therefore would like to see people on the Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, and MTA who have vision, and who are willing to dedicate the next two or three years to work hard educating the public on a new vision. It's going to be a long process because we are talking about totally destroying the planning principles on which the city has been built over the last 40 years and establishing new criteria. 

Give us some indication of what those new criteria should be. 

It includes mixed use, and increased density where appropriate. Also, when the Mayor's office is approached with a major project, it should do a careful review on how the building fits in at the street level. Today, the only thing that's looked at is whether it meets code. I'm pro­development and understand business, but by being a little creative and not always taking the architect's work at face value, we can build a healthy city. 

I hope the Mayor and his deputies invite in groups like the Urban Design Advisory Coalition (UDAC) which has volunteered to assist the city on urban design issues. We are not planning the suburbs and subdivisions anymore. We're talking about the second generation of buildings and the inner cities. Development should occur along transit lines and commercial corridors. We need people with a radical view on how we'll plan the city. 

What should be the future role of agencies such as the CRA and the Housing Department?

I knew City Hall was bad, but until I participated as a transition member in the department interviews, I didn't know how bad. There was no leadership, no coordination of the efforts of Housing, LADOT, CRA, and Building and Safety. The Mayor should bring them together to communicate: CRA should work hand in hand with MTA. People say we should abolish CRA, but I believe CRA should be the magnet and have Planning, Building and Safety, the Housing Authority and Housing Department come closer to the CRA to serve its mission. 

What might be the top priorities in reforming the planning processes in the city? 

The permit process would be the top priority. There’s incredible duplication: the Fire Department duplicates the plan check that Building and Safety is doing. LADOT has been a bottleneck for traffic comments in EIRs. This will take constant, hard work to change since every department thinks they should keep their own processes. That’s where the Mayor must step in to say, "Ladies and gentlemen, get together in one team and come back with a solution." 

All of the candidates talked about streamlining the permit process but we heard few specifics. How can the City of Los Angeles make specific changes that will make it more competitive with surrounding cities? 

I made some proposals to Building and Safety saying that in other states and cities, if the architects and engineers are licensed, that suffices to get a permit. Other cities in L.A. County have a peer review where an engineer is hired by the city to review others' work. Right there, you could eliminate six months of nonsense. 

Our profession - and by that I mean architects, planners and engineers -has been derelict. We complain to each other over cocktails but we never get involved. We've got to do more. 

In Burbank, they've taken much of the discretion out of the process and eliminated the need for CEQA. What is the chance that we can get to a system where both the community and the developers know what the rules are up front? 

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The chances are very good. Con Howe himself has proposed something like this. I think the Mayor is very committed to bringing business sense to city government, and the transition team got a lot or good suggestions in this area from department heads. I think there’s a window - if we don’t tum L.A. around now, we're doomed.

The Land-Use/Transportation Policy will be one of the first planning issues facing the new mayor. How will Mayor Riordan act upon it? 

As you know, I started it at the MTA and brought in the Planning Department. It's making its way through City Hall right now. (Planning Commission Chairman) Ted Stein has made favorable remarks about it. I think the City Council members will be receptive. Candidate Riordan spoke highly of this plan. There may be some rough edges to it, but we have no choice. 

Now that we're in a period of cutbacks at the MTA, is that affecting the vision of how the MTA can re­shape the city through joint development? 

The prospects are even better, because public-private partnerships will become more important. I think we're on our way to realize the vision. I'm not alarmed. 

But is there really support at the top for this vision, because one gets the sense that it's budget-cutting time? 

That's a bureaucrat’s point of view. It's a matter of establishing priorities of where you put money. Mine would be to do projects economically - we are wasting millions of dollars. Instead of firing people, we should run an efficient business: we are wasting millions in consultants and paying an extraordinary amount in fees. That's where future battles are going to occur. 

With our new MTA Board appointments coming up from Mayor Riordan, what are your expectations?

Two of the four are foregone conclusions: the Mayor and Alatorre. I'll speculate that one will be African American and the other will come from the Valley.

Finally, a hundred days from now, as we try to take measure of how this administration is doing in the area of planning, what should we look at?

First, if he has not started to put in place a streamlined permit process, we're in trouble. Second, the Planning Commission should have approved the land-use/transportation policy. 

Also, we must be more creative in the development of affordable housing. I was shocked when I was told that for 2,500 units (and I'm lenient with that number because it includes beds) there are 300 city employees. That includes the CRA and the Housing Department. It's a travesty. 

I would like to see fees waived for affordable housing, the permit process expedited, and a directive from the Mayor to have non-profits get more involved in the development of units so city employees can be redeployed to other functions. If you call any developer, he'd tell you he could produce 2,500 units with four or five employees.

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