July 30, 1994 - From the July, 1994 issue

Competing Agendas for Change: Jackie Goldberg’s Planning Views

The Planning Report presents an interview with Councilmember Jackie Goldberg for a first year review of planning issues in Council District 13. Continued Hollywood revitalization, Metro Rail construction, and as if that wasn't enough, the Northridge earthquake has severely impacted the Hollywood area's housing stock. These are just a few of the many issues in this often misunderstood council district. 


“Frankly, I think Hollywood has to be considered a state resource and the federal government has to look at it as an opportunity to help Los Angeles’ economy revitalize.”

Councilmember Goldberg, what is your reaction to Mayor Riordan's proposals this spring to merge or consolidate such city departments as Housing, CDD and CRA?

I was pleased to see that the Mayor proposed the changes quickly. But I hope he didn't think they were going to pass on the first try, because we are talking about more than simply saving money by making things more efficient, we are talking about restructuring how and where decisions are made. There are far-reaching implications for everything that he does and I, for one, have said that I need more time. 

The premise that says we have too many departments that do planning, do economic development, have over­lapping jurisdictions, I agree with. The premise that says we have to change something to streamline it, to make it easier for the public to use it, for elected officials to understand ourselves, all of that is true. Are the Mayor's proposal's the only way, the best way? I haven't come to that conclusion. Does something need to be done? Yes. We can't continue the way we are now, which is very piecemeal, with seven departments that have economic development as part of their mission statement bumping into each other. As a result, in my view, there is very little economic development going on anywhere. 

Presently, the City Council is considering incorporating itself as the CRA Board. What is your view? 

I was one of the people who did not want to decide the matter when it was brought up, simply because I hadn't done my homework at that time. The more I look into it, the more I'm inclined to side with Councilman Ridlcy­Thomas and Councilman Hernandez's motion.

The fact of the matter is, that presently, we have CRA staff doing everything twice. That's silly, and also wasteful. That makes no sense to me at all. Does that mean that the enormous amount of time the CRA board now puts into reviewing everything is suddenly going to be done by councilmembers, I don't think so. So who is going to do it? These are the questions I'm grappling with. Should it be controlled in one location, without having two hurdles for everything? Yes. 

Originally, the Council itself proposed to merge the City's economic development functions; then the Mayors ought to have the Housing Department included in the reorganization. What are your thoughts on the inclusion of housing with economic development? 

The City needed to have a housing department because the whole issue of housing was continuously lost. I absolutely don't think housing should be brought into economic development. Not that they aren't related, because they are. We tend in this city, at least historically, to simply not pay enough attention to our housing needs. 

If there isn't a housing department to remind us, to cajole us, it could get lost again. Maybe it doesn't have to be separate forever, but for the foreseeable future, I think it needs to remain separate. 

The Development Reform Committee (DRC), chaired by Dan Garcia, is likely to release its recommendations in the next few weeks. Much of the focus of the DRC is an attempt to have more predictability in the process, more ''by-right" development. Your views as a Councilmember representing Hollywood on this would be appreciated.

I'm going to say something that is quite contradictory: I believe we should have less power in individual council members hands, but I desperately worry what would stop over development if you did take that power away. Presently, a councilmember could be a developer's best friend or worst enemy. If you give too broad a scope of development by-right, there is no buffer. Yet we have a tremendous problem. Should areas like mine, Council District 13, which is the second most densely populated, have more development? It needs more economic development, but not more overcrowding. 

Let's be very clear about this, there are people with a lot more "juice" than my constituents who have prevented any type of increased density in the city, except in other districts like mine. To do things ''by-right" will end up with further over-development in areas like mine. I'm nervous about these proposals. My theoretical position is very strong, I'd like to see things done so that an individual councilmember can't just go in and change. I don't think that in the long run that is good for the City. My practical sense says if power is unchanged based on income in this city, then you are going to end up with greater over development, that at least while I'm in office, wouldn't have occurred in my district.

So I have very candidly mixed fixings on this topic. My theoretical position is very different than my gut reaction to what would be the outcome.

Parts of your district suffered greatly as a result of the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, and the failure of the state earthquake bond puts recovery efforts in jeopardy. What is the current status of the earthquake recovery efforts? 

I think it is truly outrageous that in the Loma Prieta earthquake, which was closer to Sacramento, and in generally more affluent neighborhoods, the State authorities an instant sales tax increase; and suddenly, when the earthquake bonds fails, not in Los Angeles County, but statewide, there isn't an immediate proposal by state legislature or the Governor saying we need to look for another way to raise the money. 

I'm even more surprised that there hasn't been a hue and cry from our own city. Where is everybody? I assume it has to do with the gubernatorial election, and state legislature races, nobody wants to use the "T-World” - taxes. But I find it appalling, in terms of human suffering, that people think it's fine that the "Pit" which is, of course, Los Angeles to the northerners, continues in this crisis without any funding solution. For my district it's truly devastating, because almost all of the federal money has a matching requirement. If there is no match then there are no federal dollars. We are talking about some very serious consequences if the State doesn't find a funding solution to this crisis.

To follow up on the theme of budgets, after one year on the council, what is your view of the City's fiscal health? 

I don't think there is a simple ''yes" or ''no" answer. I would say that the fiscal health of the city is remarkably good considering all that it has been through. I've been surprised. Unlike other cities, Los Angeles did not hesitate in tightening its belt very early; it didn't do it by layoffs but by hiring freezes, it gave no employee any raise for the last two years, which is remarkable, whether you are in the public or private sector. The raises that it may be giving for the next two years will be modest at best, with one or two notable exceptions. 

The fact of the matter is, that if the local economy begins to tum around, and I don't mean by huge amounts, we will escape the worst of what could happen and what was predicted to happen after so many years of recession. If the economy doesn't turnaround, there will be a lot of pain in the coming years' budgets. All things considered, we are in much better shape than expected, which doesn't mean that we are flush. There isn't a city department that hasn't de facto cut services to the public. 

What is your urban planning vision for the communities you serve such as: Hollywood, Atwater, Echo Park, Silverlake? What are your hopes for each? 

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For Atwater, I want to encourage pedestrian uses, particularly along the commercial strips. I want to find something the community would find compatible to do with the Franciscan Pottery site, it is cleaned up except for the nine-acres under which there might be parking.

In Echo Park, I think we have a huge business revitalization project that needs to go forward. We have some new thriving businesses along Sunset that are aimed at a portion of the community, and that is fine, but we still have too many empty stores and we have got to do some serious planning about bow to attract and maintain a good commercial strip all the way down into Hollywood. I've spent a lot of time in Echo Parle looking into refurbishing and bringing up to code substandard housing, particularly along the Pico corridor. Much of the housing can be saved, but needs to be upgraded through a variety of programs which would both give people work as well as provide cleaner, safer housing. There are some slumlords in that area that we have to seriously address. 

I think that there are some portions of Hollywood that will experience some growth in housing, particularly for seniors and family housing. Much of the early Hollywood housing was really one bedrooms for people in the entertainment business. Now we have a whole new population of families that can't find housing, so I want to support family housing. In terms of economic development in Hollywood, we are beginning to finally see some projects happening that are going to make a big difference. There will be some changes near where the Galaxy is located end the building that houses the El Capitan Theatre will be undergoing some changes. Also, we are finally taking on the issue of parking and street lighting off the boulevard. 

We are working with KTLA, Raleigh, Paramount and Columbia, discussing the possibilities for expansion. Our perspective in this office is that Hollywood is an entertainment town, and we want to make it easier and thus much more likely, not for new studios to be built, although KTLA is adding studios and Sunset/Gower bas refur­bished studios, but for retaining and expanding pre- and post-production companies. 

Does the city have the tools to effectively encourage and support the accomplishment of these goals? 

We have some of them. This goes back to the beginning of the interview. Some things we are going to have to do much better. I can't sit-down to broker something that needs to be done by nineteen different departments and agencies. We need to have two or three who can sit-down to look at how we can get something done. I think we need much more support from the federal government. We were successful in getting most of Hollywood into the City's Enterprise Zone application, which was no small issue. 

Frankly, the state government has done nothing to see that Hollywood is an important part of tourism. Everyone uses Hollywood as a marketing tool to come to California, but then doesn't want them to go there once they have arrived. Think about if Hollywood could be used to get tourists to come here, then they actually would want them to go there. It is an attraction that goes far beyond the needs of the Hollywood community, yet it is continuously looked at as the thirteenth Council District's problem. Frankly, I think Hollywood has to be considered a state resource and the federal government has to look at it as an opportunity to help Los Angeles' economy revitalize. 

MTA's Metro Rail MOS-2 is currently going through Hollywood. What are the positives and negatives of that experience; what lessons would you share with other communities?

We've gone from thinking we could occasionally talk to MTA staff, to thinking we could occasionally get the community meeting together cooperatively, to our current position of almost being on staff at the MTA. Let me be very clear: I don't believe there is malice in many of the problems that occur; but because of time being money, they try to do everything as quickly as humanly possible.

I think when they write down the mitigation measures, they mean it. It's just that if our office isn't minute-by­minute monitoring their activities, the mitigations aren't implemented. It's not that people aren't being hired to monitor, it's just a massive task, and many things have happened to make the situation more difficult. One of which was the whole RtD/LACTC turf battles over who is doing what. The whole reorganization has made it very difficult to get any information at all. Meanwhile, the contractors are trying to fulfill their contracts, and they are blindly moving forward cutting down trees, creating holes, moving through communities without anyone in charge.

It's surprising that it has come out as well as it has, considering all of this, but we have now become a player. We are no longer advisors, we hold the community meetings, we invite MTA staff and thus, we are very much involved. I would say to any other elected officials if the MTA is "coming soon" to your neighborhood, don't wait, involve yourself as a player right away. We devote two staff people to MTA issues, and I personally spend a lot of time on them also. I don't think there is any way not to do that. Of course, not everyone may be fortunate enough to have six stations underway on their first day in office. 

The General Framework Process is close to moving into the implementation phase, what is your expectation of this low-key planning effort? 

My first take is, that I think it is a good planning process. We have some real expert people involved in this project. It is the first time, as far as I am aware, that the whole city is being examined at the same time, which is tremendously useful. The question is, however, "Is it real?" Is it a lovely document that is going to sit on the shelf, or is it going to mean something? That is a big question. 

There is a lot of money involved, there is a lot of politics involved in whether it's real or not. It seems to me that the Conditional Use Permit, the Zone Change process can undo any plan. Are we really going to give that up? If we are, to what extent? Or is there just going to be a different way from the current processes to achieve the same thing? I'm very impressed with the crafting of the plan, but the real $64 million question is, "Is it real?". 

The level of political uncertainty in Los Angeles hasn't been higher in a number of decades. Help our readers to understand: where a majority of the City Council might be going on policy, and the status of relations between the Mayor and City Council? 

I don't know, even after one year on the Council. I would say it's going to take a little longer than one year. It's probably been a very long time on this council since there has been real change. When Councilman Yaroslavsky's seat is filled, there will be 10 new councilmembers who will have been on the council five years or less. And none of us can be here over eight years no matter when we were elected, that is a reality. I don't know if this is good or bad, but it is destabilizing. 

There are divisions among members that are very deep, which if we don't find a way around, we are going to be part of the problem instead of leading the city. I'm cautiously optimistic but it's going to take leadership. I think there is potential for leadership on the council, but are people going to rise to the occasion? That remains to be seen. 

Does the Mayor see himself as a person whose whole goal in life is to increase the Mayor's office power and decrease the City Council's? If that is true, we are going to be in a continuous battle. If that is only something he would like to see, but not his whole raison d’etre, I think we will get through it much easier. There are some who look at everything the Mayor does as a consolidation of power, I'm not in that group yet, although I could be convinced. Everybody is asking each other, “What do you think?”, because it is not really clear how we are going to work together. After the budget process, we have reason to believe that there might be some give and take, and I thought both sides were quite reasonable. We overrode all of the Mayor's vetoes, but there wasn't much money involved, nothing to break the budget. His veto messages were very benign and soft, saying if we only had the money I'd agree with your recommendations. 

He proposed a budget that all of us could support some of, even if we couldn't support all of it I think it's going to be an interesting dance for a time, while the council figures out what everything means. People are still trying to figure out if what appears on the surface is reality or are there deep layers that we are missing. I'm not being coy, rather, the answer is that no one knows where the City Council is going to go. There have been places where we clearly could have gone to war, and both sides have chosen not to do so. That's a hopeful sign.

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