December 30, 1996 - From the December, 1996 issue

L.A. Planning Trends: Infrastructure Underlies Planning & Growth

By Con Howe, General Manager, City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning

Con Howe: “If the growth debate has been relatively uninformed by factual data, public information on (L.A.’s) capital needs and priorities has been practically invisible.”

It has always surprised me how little is known about the City of Los Angeles by otherwise well-informed citizens. As one professor confided to me, "Los Angeles is the least introspective city I know." 

Of course the fault lies not with the citizenry, but with planners like me, who have failed to make useful information available in a comprehensive and comprehensible form.

In the next month, Los Angeles' Planning Department will begin to rectify that problem with the publishing of our first Annual Report on Growth and Infrastructure. The document is a compilation of demographic, economic, land use, infrastructure, public facilities, and capital program data. It provides a snapshot of the City of Los Angeles in the period 1990-1994. 

This objective information has already been available from a variety of sources. The contribution of this document is to make that information comprehensive and comprehensible. It is comprehensive in the breadth of its coverage—from ethnicity, to construction permits, to school capacity, to capital expenditures. It is comprehensible in that this data is graphically portrayed on a consistent series of maps covering Community Plan areas, Council Districts, and census tracts. 

To get a sense of its content, the Report provides answers to the following questions: 

  • What area of the City lost the most population?
  • Where was the greatest increase of multi-family units?
  • How much office space was constructed in the Wilshire District? 
  • What area had the most structural fires?
  • Which elementary schools are overcrowded
  • Where are the freeway segments that became less congested?
  • What was the increase in Hyperion's water treatment?
  • What area of the City had the greatest concentration of capital projects?

The Report's intent is not to serve as a reference book for a game of “Trivial Pursuits” among bureaucrats. Its goal is far loftier—to become a useful and ongoing tool for better decision-making. Its premise is that better public information leads to better public policies and decisions. 

The on-going issue over growth in this region seems to be debated largely without reference to where, specifically, growth is occurring, what the trends are, and what the relationship and difference is between population change and development activity. 

As a fundamental program of our recent General Plan Framework, the Planning Department committed to monitor growth and to report on it annually. At reasonable time intervals, the information should be used to adjust land use plans. As a more immediate use, the information should provide a factual screen to weigh such typical testimony us "my neighborhood is being over-run by new development." 


The flip side of growth is infrastructure. Are the infrastructure and public facilities being constructed to handle the growth where it is occurring? Increasingly in our built communities this question should be: is the maintenance and capacity of our existing infrastructure adequate for a changed population? 

If the growth debate has been relatively uninformed by factual data, public information on our capital needs and priorities has been practically invisible. Decisions on where and how we invest (or more likely re­invest) in our infrastructure should be based on the best possible information on existing conditions, relative need, and projected demand. Better public information on our infrastructure should help build a constituency that recognizes that infrastructure is critical to our regional economic competitiveness, and that we have been skimping on our capital investment. 

Given the period covered by most of the data, 1990-1994, the effects of the recession are clearly seen, as well as possibly some impact from the January 1994 earthquake. A considerable drop in employment, and the low development activity are examples. Readers will be surprised to see a 10% increase in Central City office space (4 million square feet) but will recognize that these are buildings begun in the late '80's and completed in 1990-92. Even at low construction levels the transition from single-family homes (0.5% increase) to multi-family dwellings (2.6% increase) is evidenced. Despite the recession, the greater than 10% increase in retail space in certain Plan areas, may indicate the coming of the big-box retailers. 

In terms of public facilities. the maps of their distribution and capacity give only a part of the picture. Whether it be parks, schools, or libraries the condition of current facilities must be an increasing priority. Different departments maintain different levels of detail in their facilities assessments, but all are dealing with aging facilities. Even the 1990-1994 capital construction record demonstrates a trend to major rehabilitation rather than just new construction. 

On a positive note, where significant capital investment has been made, there are clear results. The biggest example is the wastewater program which consumed 86% of the City's capital funding, with the largest single project being Hyperion Water Treatment Plant. Undeniably, this investment has increased capacity and brought us closer to full secondary treatment. Presumably. it is partly responsible for the improving water quality in Santa Monica Bay. The correlation between freeway and ATSAC investments and improvements in congestion are another cause-and-effect example. Proving to voters that they get something for their capital investment will be key to future financings.

Our modest first attempt at an Annual Report on Growth and Infrastructure will neither resolve the growth debate, nor reform the capital program. If it raises the level of public debate and informs decision-makers, then it is a step forward.


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