March 1, 2001 - From the March, 2001 issue

Environment Now Pushes For County General Plan Update

At the last meeting of Speaker Hertzberg's Commission on Regionalism, presentations were made to give the Commissioners background on the problems inherent in many municipalities current land use and planning practices. One such presentation was by Environment Now's Terry Watt, who quantified not only the opportunities that the General Plan framework provides, but why the current updates must begin to involve the citizenry. TPR is pleased to excerpt her remarks.

I'm sure you're familiar with the many crises the state is currently facing-the energy crisis, the housing crisis and now, the land crisis. Over the next 5 years we have to build 250,000 housing units per year-much of that for very low-income people. Moreover, there's no comprehensive and cohesive statewide conservation plan that's aimed at determining what or where our key resources are located. And more importantly there's no framework to help local government protect them. So what we're left with is a lot of pressure for housing that spills over onto resource rich agricultural and habitat land.

To compound that problem, production of multi-family housing dropped precipitously in the 90s-less than 30,000 units of multi-family housing were added to California's housing stock in the 90s, as compared to almost 100,000 units per year in the 80s.

One of the key barriers to solving these problems are the current state of our General Plans which don't allow or encourage unique or inventive housing design to help alleviate some of the aforementioned problems.

When first created, the General Plan was a bunch of odd policies that sat gathering dust in an archive. But that has all changed with a number of recent court cases and increased observance from the Attorney General's Office and the Office of Planning and Research.

General Plans are now really local constitutions. They identify goals and translate them into binding policy-land use, circulation, open space, community facilities, services, etc. And communities are now talking about adding additional elements such as an energy element or a public health element. Because of the addition of issues that resonate with the local community, General Plans now have the potential to be a powerful tool for a grassroots visioning process.

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But, everyone is doing visioning. The real message that needs conveyance is that we need to implement. We need to do what we can to merge the best aspects of visioning exercises with the best ideas for implementation and "plug it in" to local and regional planning efforts so that they actually get realized. The current Los Angeles County General Plan update offers this type of unique opportunity.

So, how do we proceed? Environment Now has created a livability coalition to start engaging with the planning departments to provide them with immediate assistance. What we discovered was disturbing at best.

Los Angeles County's General Plan is grossly out of date. And resources are extremely limited. There's no work program for the General Plan and even if there was, they only have a staff of 3 people. They don't have the staff, they don't have a working group of agencies and the county is devoid of the kind of regional dialogue. Someone needs to take a leadership role and create a regional dialogue and it needs to happen now.

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