August 30, 1994 - From the August, 1994 issue

O’Malley Miller: Orchestrating State Office Consolidation with Authority

The Planning Report presents an interview with O'Malley Miller, an attorney with the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson, on the current state and future of planning and development in Los Angeles. A recent appointee by Mayor Riordan to the Los Angeles State Office Building Authority and a member of the Development Reform Committee, chaired by Dan Garcia, Mr. Miller brings a wealth of experience to the field of planning and development. 


“Los Angeles has been viewed as the most hostile development jurisdiction in Southern California. This is what the DRC is trying to correct.”

Mr. Miller, share with us, as a new member of the Los Angeles State Office Building Authority, the mission and board organization of the Authority.

We are charged with overseeing the proposal to relocate several thousand state employees into a governmental core in downtown Los Angeles; it is a viable and important proposal by Governor Wilson and endorsed by Mayor Riordan. It's an exciting opportunity to house a substantial number of white-collar employees in the urban core, which we hope will have the long-term effect of revitalizing the entire downtown. 

The joint-powers authority was originally established for the purpose of developing The Ronald Reagan State Office Building, but has maintained its viability as the lead agency for the purposes of effectuating this relocation effort. I was appointed to the Authority by Mayor Riordan. All together there are three members, Jerry Epstein is the Chair and an appointee of Gov. Wilson, Gov. Wilson's other appointee, Doug Hallett, has not been reappointed and his successor has not yet been named, and myself. 

Technically, I am an appointee of the board of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) which appoints one member to the joint authority. 

What would constitute success for LA. State Office Building Authority? 

To complete the EIR process by the first quarter of 1995 and to have identified within that same time period the locations to which the state employees could be located, so that we'd be looking at something like the end of 1996 for occupancy. 

Some have suggested that the ambitious relocation plan is being delayed, that it is off the fast-track schedule. Could you share with us the timeline for the State office relocation to the Historic Core, and what might be holding it up? 

One thing in particular is holding up the process - the realization that we have to comply with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Since January of 1994 the Authority has been engaged in discussions with both representatives of the State of California on the one band, and on the other, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). We believe that now we will delegate authority to the staff of the CRA for the purposes of completing the EIR. Over the past several weeks a RFQ went out, and we are now going forward to select an EIR consultant. Next, we will begin the EIR process, but we want to make sure all of this is done properly, so that the entire process doesn't get side­tracked by some CEQA challenge at a later date. 

Seemingly inconsistent with the objectives of the Authority is the development of new office construction at First Street North. What is your position on this development? 

All I know is what I read in the papers, which is that the financing has not come through, the developers are renegotiating with the City, and I have seen pronouncements by some elected officials questioning whether it is a particularly good idea. That's about all I know. 

As a member of the State Building Authority, I'm involved in an effort to relocate state employees into existing historic buildings, so I view that effort [First Street North] as being somewhat at odds with our proposal to relocate government employees into the Historic Core. If our proposal is right, it's hard to see how both can be right. 

There is an assertion by Dan Rosenfeld, the State Real Estate "Czar" overseeing the relocation for the Governor, that the older buildings in the Historic Core can be retrofitted at 40 to 50 percent of the cost of new construction. How reasonable are such projections? 

Assuming for the moment that you don't get eaten alive by change orders for structural retrofitting, then those figures could be correct. Construction people tell me that such projections could be reasonable. In any event, we need a lot more information before anything is approved. 

As The Planning Report goes to press, The Downtown Strategy Plan (DSP) is likely to be adopted by the Los Angeles City Council. Share with us your views on how the DSP squares with the State Consolidation Plan. 

I see the State Building Authority's objectives being four­square within the Downtown Strategic Plan. Once again, the proposal to develop new office space at the First Street North location seems antithetical to the findings of the DSP. 

To change topics, you've also been involved with Dan Garcia's Development Reform Committee (DRC), which is likely to release its findings shortly. Share with us what is at stake with these forthcoming proposals. Why are they so important? 

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The reform proposals are important because the entire development process, to the extent itis discretionary, has become the most cumbersome, difficult to analyze process that I have been exposed to in any municipality in Southern California. Because the City of Los Angeles proceeded in a lawless fashion for years, that is, not requiring its zoning to be consistent with the General Plan and not requiring EIRs when they were clearly mandated, we saw a tremendous swing of the pendulum against development as a matter of right. Because the then Mayor and City Council fell down on the job, the electorate had to turn to the courts in order to redress the lack of planning and compliance with CEQA. We first saw this in AB 1600, the zoning consistency law, brought forward to halt the construction of multi-family housing in areas where it was properly zoned but where the General Plan indicated it should be zoned for single­family housing.

Next, the Friends of Westwood decision was, in effect, quasi-codified by Mayor Bradley's directive requiring that any project which would have gone into the Major Projects Section of the L.A. Dept. of Building and Safety, would be a discretionary approval. As a result, apartment buildings over 40 units and office buildings over 100,000 sq. ft. all of a sudden had to go into a full EIR procedure. Also, all this needs to be seen in the context of the fact that the City Council had given directions to the City Planning Department not to accept applications for discretionary approvals until environment review was completed. 

Thus, the developer was faced with the problem of not knowing what the mitigation package might be, not knowing the time frame for development, not knowing that there was a baseline of cumulative mitigation measures against which a project could be gauged. Basically, going into the entire discretionary process with hands tied and eyes blindfolded. That is not the type of atmosphere which is conducive to economic development. This is the basic reason why Los Angeles has been viewed as the most hostile development jurisdiction in Southern California. This is what the DRC is trying to correct. 

The report put forward by the DRC is not going to be a bunch of generalized recommendations like “do good and eschew evil", or "let's speed up the process". Instead there will be over 150 specific recommendations about who should be doing what, and how things should be specifically done. The goal is not to circumvent or to undercut the discretionary review process. Quite the contrary, it is just an attempt to try to make the process known. 

I would much rather try to get a project approved in Santa Monica than in the City of Los Angeles, because in Santa Monica the process is known, but in the City of Los Angeles, the process has been more often than not, a slow "NO". 

The thrust of the DRC's recom­mendations is likely to challenge the discretionary authority of the City Council. How do you deal with Council concerns about giving up discretion? 

Once again, you have to be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. Former City Council member Pat Russell had lots of discretion in her council district, and you could easily argue that is why she lost her seat on the City Council. I think members of the City Council have to come to grips with what is good for the city and/or members of their electorate on a city-wide basis. We cannot afford in the latter part of the 1990s to go forward in a city where land-use planning is balkanized. We simply can't afford to have the same type of despotic review that we have had in the past. 

Share with us your opinions on the proposed take-over of the CRA by the City Council and the concurrent proposals by Mayor Riordan to consolidate economic development. 

I am in favor of elected officials and the Mayor's Office exercising increased control of the LA/CRA, because that control has been absent for a very long time in my view, producing very unsatisfactory results. I think the Mayor's proposal to combine the CRA with an economic development department makes a lot of sense. I heard someone make a reference to the American military, that it makes no sense to have three armies, three air forces or three navies. Similarly, it doesn't make sense for the City of Los Angeles to have duplicative agencies with conflicting policies, trying to accomplish similar tasks. 

The benefit of the Mayor's proposal to consolidate economic development would be that the City would not have duplicative lead agencies. I've had the experience, and I'm sure many others have also, where a project receives approval by the CRA Board, then goes to the appropriate City Council Committee, then back to the CRA Board, then back to Council Committee, then finally it might get to the full City Council at which time, somebody requests a modification, and thus, starts the process over again. That is not a good process. 

As long as there is Council oversight, the approval of projects should stay at that level. I'm also in favor of consolidating the City's housing programs with the CRA's housing programs. As I understand it, the two staffs are largely duplicative. 

The first year with a new Mayor and City Council was completed last month. With respect to land­use planning, how are they doing? 

Too soon to tell. I think it is likely that the new Mayor and City Council will do a better job than has been done in the past, but that would not be hard to do. On the other hand, the economy continues to scrape along the bottom, having survived one of the more severe recessionary cycles that Southern California has ever experienced. So to say that there has been a lack of development activity would be the understatement of the year. 

Success would be: the ability to build a significant project, where it is properly zoned, as a matter of right, without having to go through an interminable review process; to have the zoning in the Community Plans, brought up to speed in the next 18 months, as opposed to having the planning process always be a vanishing point off in the distance - like Achilles trying to catch the tortoise, but he never quite gets there.

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