July 16, 2010 - From the June, 2010 issue

Gail Goldberg Retires: TPR Reader Quotes-Whither Planning in the City of L.A.?

In response to the retirement this summer of Gail Goldberg, following a tenure of more than four years as the director of planning for the city of Los Angeles, The Planning Report surveyed a distinguished group of its readers: developers, planners, architects, advocates, and policy-makers on whither planning in the city of Los Angeles. The question asked, and their thoughtful responses, follow. Because of a dearth of local news coverage in Los Angeles, copies of forthcoming issues of The Planning Report will include even more insider viewpoints on this and like issues; the August issue of TPR will be available in print and online next week!

Gail Goldberg

TPR Survery Question: In choosing a new City Planning Director, should Mayor Villaraigosa select a candidate who will continue Gail Goldberg's game changing, reform of city planning processes* or someone who will roll back her reforms to better staff and expedite individual development projects..."the way it always was in L.A.?"

*See The Planning Report, June Issue: "L.A. City Planning Reorganization Is ‘Game Changing'" http://www.planningreport.com/tpr/

TPR Reader Responses:

Wayne Ratkovich, President / CEO, THE RATKOVICH COMPANY

Gail Goldberg was a gift to the City of Los Angeles, deserving of enormous gratitude. The best way for the city to express that gratitude is to ensure that her policies and practices will continue.

Mark Winogrond, FAICP, Planmark Associates

In Los Angeles, there is only one team dedicated to a better physical future: City Planning. To say that a better future can (or should) be "expedited" is a foolish and dangerous idea. The Mayor selected his first Director of Planning wisely; he will hopefully apply that same wisdom to this selection. The quality of a city is decided by the courage of its leaders, not be the speed of its approval stamps.

John Greenwood, Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council

Gail Goldberg believed in the integrity of the zoning process and opposed speculative zone changes. She was a breath of fresh air to Neighborhood Councils concerned about projects that increase traffic in already congested neighborhoods. L. A. needs to continue her thoughtful initiatives.

L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky

The next Planning Director should have a broad vision for how to manage the City's inevitable growth, without destroying the unique characteristics that make many of our communities livable. "One size fits all" planning is tempting in a city the size of Los Angeles, but it tends to produce lowest common denominator results. Los Angeles and its neighborhoods deserve better.

Renata Simril, Vice President, Forest City

It would be advisable that the next Planning Director continue the reforms instituted by Gail Goldberg. Gail's focus on neighborhood planning - detailed, robust and seeking to provide more certainty and balance is the right direction for the Planning Department to be going. It is better for developers and better for residents. New Community Plans and the reorganization of the Planning Department to a geographically based structure are the 2 most essential foundations for assuring positive change in the planning and development process in LA.

James Rojas, Urban Planner; Artist; Co-Chair, Latino Urban Forum

The new city planning director should have a background in a field other than planning. The profession has become very inward-turning, with the same cast of characters having the same conversations. The new director needs to attract new participants to the conversation, and to tap into the creative thinking of every Angeleno to solve our city's problems.

Len Hill, Partner, Linear City Development LLC

Much of the challenge that any new Planning Director will confront is political. How can you motivate an understaffed department? How do you deal with administrators who have virtual tenure? How do you make coherent planning decisions in an environment that has given City Council Members exaggerated authority over the planning process? How do you contend with the outsized role that developers play in financing local political campaigns? We need to spur smart development and to do that we need to candidly confront some real political obstacles.

Dan Rosenfeld, Chief of Staff, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas

All of the important selection criteria for this position—planning vision, community sensitivity, integrity and courage—suggest that the City should rehire Gail.

Joseph T. Edmiston, FAICP, Hon. ASLA, Executive Director, State of California-Natural Resources Agency, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy

Gail went the right direction, but not far enough or fast enough. There are enough expeditors/lobbyists in the private sector; public planners shouldn't be the expeditor's handmaidens.

Gary Toebben, President and CEO, L.A. Chamber of Commerce


We need a planning director who will create new efficiencies in the planning process and continue efforts to develop neighborhood plans to outline entitlements in advance.

Michael Woo, L.A. City Planning Commissioner

The next Planning Director should continue Gail Goldberg's reforms-and pick up the pace and expand the scope of the reforms. The Mayor and the City Council should give the next Planning Director what Gail Goldberg didn't have: the staffing, the budget, and most important, the political support not only to speed up the permit process for individual projects but also to make individual projects "better". Better fitting the scale of their block and their neighborhood, better architecture, better pedestrian orientation, better availability of housing closer to jobs, better compatibility with new rail and bus transit service, better sustainability, better vision.

Andy Lipkis, President, TreePeople

Keep up the momentum--hire a well qualified senior staffer. L.A. has invested years (and millions) in bringing the Commission and senior staff into a transparent culture committed to sustainability and historic community integrity. Why return to the all too recent days of Wild West deal making over our future?

Kathi Littmann, VP School Operations, Knowledge Corporation Distance Learning

The proposed city planning structure is an important foundational framework for accountability, transparency, quality community service, and much needed streamlined processes; it also has all the makings of a bureaucratic boondoggle as the agency attempts to develop new processes, procedures and behaviors while continuing to deliver projects already in the pipeline. The new City Planning Director will need to provide proven experience, politically savvy leadership and a sustained and clear focus on cultural change both within the agency and within community expectations to take advantage of this opportunity. Let\'s hope Mayor Villaraigosa both continues and supports Goldberg's initiatives.

Bill Witte, Related Companies

The new Director can't just be a "placeholder". But this shouldn\'t be just about one person: the Department has lost a lot of its senior leadership and is understaffed. The Mayor's Office is rightly focused on job creation, but a lot of community interests are more than ever resistant to growth. Whoever is named, reconciling those two agendas will be a huge challenge.

John Kaliski, Principal, Urban Studio-LA
Former President of the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

As a global city, no planning will not establish the environmental amenities and atmospheres Los Angeles needs to compete economically, culturally, and socially. Los Angeles absolutely needs to hire a real planner with real vision to lead a division of planning and urban design. However, let the planning director dedicate themselves to this singular activity. Find a second individual capable of leading entitlement efforts. To leverage resources for the new planning director, consolidate the City's multi-agency planning functions into one division and let them do their thing (with democratic oversight of course)!

Julie Gertler, Chief Executive Officer, Consensus Inc.

Change the game! The old compartmentalized process has created the "blind man and the elephant" syndrome. Each planner in each specialized unit sees a project only through his/her narrow lens, leading to different and often conflicting requirements. Give one person the responsibility and accountability for seeing a project through its lifecycle. Reduce tunnel vision and encourage holistic thinking.

Jay Stark, JH Stark Companies

It is not as much a question of who, but why? Given the city's structural deficits, lack of resources for real planning and continued layoffs, how do you convince a nationally recognized candidate to take LA\'s top planning job? It will have to be one heck of a PR job to attract the candidate that LA deserves.

Daniel A. Mazmanian, Professor & Bedrosian Chair in Governance Director, The Judith and John Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise

The choice can't be framed as between thinking big and boldly or returning to considering each development proposal incrementally, since the real challenge is finding a way to do both. City leaders must be both extremely sensitive to the changing effects of climate that are bearing down on us, and equally so in designing the physical infrastructure and business policies of the city to attract global commerce and finance. While our geographic location gives us enormous advantages in goods movement and quality of life, there is far more to being an internationally attractive and model green city.

Will Wright, Director, Government & Public Affairs for AIA|LA.

Why not both? Mayor Villaraigosa should empower the next Planning Director to provide expedient project development services. Additionally, this candidate must continue Goldberg's excellent reform initiatives and place a strong emphasis on updating the community plans, which will enable more certainty and deliver maximum economic and environmental value to our City as a whole.

Robert Scott, Director, Mullholland Institute, the Valley Economic Alliance & Former Chair of the L.A. City Planning Commission

The City of Los Angeles is a city of cities, with 15 major political districts and dozens of unique communities. A strong planning philosophy is important for a planning director, but it is even more important that they understand the political terrain. No single person runs this city, and "one size" does not "fit all".


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