March 30, 1994 - From the March, 1994 issue

Inside Planning: Around the City and the Region

Updates on the Northridge earthquake hold most weight in this TPR roundup of urban planning news in Los Angeles. 

First Street North Under Review 

The First Street North project is scheduled to be heard in the Budget and Finance Committee in March. Meanwhile, the Chief Legislative Analyst's Office has decided to request additional information on different aspects of the project before releasing their report. Mayor Richard Riordan has voiced his opposition to the city's plan to build more office space in Little Tokyo, the site of the project. 

Santa Monica Civic Center Plan Goes to the Voters 

The recently approved Santa Monica Civic Center Specific Plan which includes improvements to the RAND property, a new Police building, an expansion of the County Courthouse facility, and an upgrade to the circulation pattern, as well as creating a much more aesthetically pleasing civic area will be going before Santa Monica voters after a successful recall petition drive spearheaded by State Senator Tom Hayden. Opponents of the plan site traffic concerns and environmental impacts for their opposition to the plan. If voters reject the specific plan, the city has several options, including restarting the specific plan process. 

L.A. Earthquake Update

Tenants who have been displaced by earthquake damage have the right of first refusal on their apartments thanks to an ordinance passed by the L.A. City Council. Once landlords fix a unit, they must offer the same unit -at the same rent - to the tenant who occupied it before the January 17 quake. This law is intended to prevent landlords from using the earthquake as an excuse o evict their old tenants in order to fill their buildings with new tenants who will be charged higher rents. Once repairs are finished, tenants have five days to inspect their unit and decide if they want to move back in. 

Councilman Richard Alarcón has asked for an investigation into why more than $350 million in voter approval bonds for seismic upgrading have not been sold, and for the Board of Public Works to come up with a plan to expedite bond-financed construction projects. 

The Department of Transportation is reviewing safety procedures of gas pipelines that run under L.A. city streets. No new pipeline franchises will be granted during the 45-day review, which was prompted by a fire, caused by a quake-ruptured pipeline in Mission Hills. 

Demolition of earthquake-damaged buildings will be done by city workers, who will do the job for half the price of what private contractors would have cost. The Board of Public Works originally awarded contracts without competitive bidding to three management teams, but were sent back to the drawing board when city council members balked at the notion of using firms from outside of Southern California. As the board re­assessed its options, it lowered its estimale of the number of buildings that would need to be demolished (based on the experience of the riots, when original estimates of the work needed was far higher than the final total) and decided that city employees could do the work at a substantial savings: $6 million instead of the $12 million using private contractors would cost. Given these numbers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to reimburse the city for these expenses. The plan was endorsed by Mayor Richard Riordan but opposed by Councilman Richard Alatorre, several of whose political allies had won the original contracts. 

Non-conforming buildings damaged or destroyed during the earthquake can be rebuilt as they were before the emergency. They will not have to conform to new planning codes that were promulgated after their original building date. This applies to non­conforming uses, yards, height, number of stories, lot area, residential density, parking and other codes. However, current rules on buildings with historical or cultural designations remain in effect, as do the rules in Historic Preservation Overlay Zones. The council did approve a policy directive authored by Councilwoman Laura Chick requesting that city agencies give permit priority to structures that will be rebuilt to current codes. 

The ordinance also gives the Zoning Administrator (ZA) wide latitude in granting approvals for temporary uses that aid in emergency relief (for instance, he can waive public hearings under some circumstances). For new conditional uses, the ZA can waive public hearings if the project won't have a significant effect on the neighbors or neighborhood or if it won't evoke a public controversy. However, hearings for liquor stores, swap meets, gun shops, pawn shops and auto repair establishments can't be waived.

L.A. Readies For Federal Empowerment Zone Initiative

On February 25th, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development held a community workshop in Los Angeles, formally introducing the Clinton Administration's Empowerment Zone/Enterprise Community initiative. Attended by a diverse group of over 800 people, from federal officials to local elected officials to businesses to lending institutions to community organizations and non-profits, the group received first-hand information on the latest federal urban renewal program. Presently, the city of Los Angeles is working on an empowerment zone application, discussing with the County the possibility of a joint application along the Alameda Corridor. Los Angeles is sure to get one of the six empowerment zones, and to be very competitive for the 65 lesser financed enterprise communities. Look forward to heavy politics, particularly between L.A. Councilmembers Ridley-Thomas, Alarcón, Hernandez and Waters, as empowerment zone boundaries are formulated and various community groups vie for these important federal funds. 

Sacramento Update 

State Senator Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) has authored a bill (SB 517) to encourage mediation of land use and environmental lawsuits. Bergeson's bill allows judges to suggest mediation in lawsuits over land use planning, development decisions, and CEQA issues. "I am convinced that land use lawsuits waste time, money, and talent that we should be investing in California's future," Bergeson explained. After passing the State Senate, SB 517 is in the Assembly Local Government Committee which will act on her bill on Wednesday, March 23. Gov. Wilson has endorsed the bill saying the Bergeson bill will be part of his Administration’s program to convert military bases to civilian use.

Citing the fact that two-thirds of California hospitals do not meet current earthquake safety standards, Assemblyman Burt Margolin has introduced legislation to require the retrofitting of all California hospitals built before the 1973 standard was established. The Margolin bill, AB 3110, also would require the toughening of seismic safety standards to ensure that electrical, water and other crucial systems inside hospital buildings continue operating after a major tremblor. 

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Renters who were displaced by the recent Northridge earthquake will have an opportunity to purchase their first home under a new $75 million program by the California Housing Finance Agency. Anyone who was forced to move out of their rental home or apartment because of damage caused by the tremblor and meets the income requirements will be eligible for the low-interest loans. In most instances they will be able to purchase a home with no down payment. 

Which Way Ward Valley? 

As the public relations war continues to heat up over the proposed Ward Valley low-level radioactive waste facility, a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge has ruled that the Department of Health Services was not required to hold an adjudicatory-style hearing prior to issuing a LLRW license to U.S. Ecology for the Ward Valley site. But while that was good news for supporters of the site, the U.S. Fish and Wildfire Service has issued a decision to include the Ward Valley site as part of the critical habitat of the endangered Desert Tortoise, bad news for the site proponents. Dump proponents were hopeful after Judge O'Brien's decision that Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, would at least commence the process leading to transfer of the site. However, the opponents have raised several other issues in their lawsuit, including CEQA violations and other state and federal statutes. The issues are scheduled to be heard by Judge O'Brien beginning on April 27.

MCA/MTA Site Agreement 

After some behind-the-scenes negotiating by Mayor Richard Riordan, entertainment giant MCA and the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority have approved an agreement to link a planned subway stop with MCA’s Universal Stu­dios complex through a people mover system. The deal ends a lobbying campaign by MCA to relocate the station from Lankershim Boulevard to a site nearer MCA's City Walk, a move MTA planners considered too expensive and time consuming. For MCA, the next step is to study and consider its options for a people-mover system, which would be at least 1,000 feet long.

BEGIN Program Targets Low-Income Home Ownership 

A new pilot program, Building Equity and Growth in Neighborhoods (BEGIN) by the state Department of Housing and Community Development has awarded $4.3 million to twelve local jurisdictions who will make housing more affordable to low income families through a reduction in the regulatory costs associated with housing construction. The BEGIN pilot program was developed by the department after numerous studies including the Governor's Competitiveness Council Report, identified regulatory barriers that were adding up to $40,000 to the cost of housing construction in some parts of the state. The city of Los Angeles proposed two projects including one which will enable 14 low-income families to be able to afford to buy homes in a new 114 single family home development in South Central Los Angeles.

L.A. Neighborhood Housing Services Chosen for National Home Ownership Initiative

The Los Angeles NHS was recently selected as one of 20 programs nationwide to participate in the NeighborWorks Campaign for Home Ownership sponsored by the National NeighborWorks Network and the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation. The national pilot program will kick off on June 8th, targeting home ownership opportunities for 10,000 low- to moderate­income families over the next five years. 

Housing Bonds On Hold, Housing Elements Moving Forward 

As TPR went to press, the two state housing bonds, SB 131 and SB 132, by State Senator David Roberti have been put on hold as a result of negotiations surrounding the Governor's proposed $1 billion earthquake relief bond measure. Recently increased from $280 to $350 million, the original agreement was to have SB 131 included in the Governor's earthquake relief package, but with the earthquake cost estimate possibly reaching as high as $2 billion, lawmakers have put the bond measure on hold. 

Look for Housing Element reform to be a hot topic in the 1994 State Legislature. After the Senate Local Committee sponsored hearing on the issue in December, there have been a number of proposals put forth. AB 1499 (Campbell), a reform bill sponsored by the Council of Governments was recently killed, but Assemblyman Campbell will be coming back with another proposal. The State Department of Housing is also drafting language and the League of Cities will possibly sponsor their own bill. Housing Element reform is likely to include a self-certification process by local governments, a quantifiable performance standard, increased sanctions for nonperformance, and the ability to transfer fair share allocations. 

On The Move... 

Linda Griego has taken over Rebuild LA as its new CEO, while Arco Chief Executive Officer, Lod Cook takes over as RLA 's new volunteer chairman. Tom Kruesopon, formerly communications coordinator for Mayor Richard Riordan, has joined the staff of Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr. as director of communications. Annette Castro, who had been Riordan's press secretary, is now chief of staff for Councilman Richard Alarcón. She has been replaced by Noelia Rodriguez, formerly director of corporate advertising for Southern California Edison. Also, rumor has it that USC's School of Urban & Regional Planning has chosen Edward Blakely from UC Berkeley to be the new dean. 

In other news around L.A. City Hall, Riordan staff transitions continue with two new deputy mayors and five new staff members. Mary Leslie has been named as Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Sofia Garcia-Conde Zuckerman as Deputy Mayor for Finance and Administration. Riordan also announced the appointment of five staff members: Reginald Jones­Saywer, Sr., Caprice Young, David Michaelson, as Assistant Deputy Mayors; Fidel Vargas as Senior Policy Analyst; and Kimberly Dupree to the Mayor's Field Staff.

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