March 23, 2017 - From the March, 2017 issue

Councilmember Ryu Opines On Needed LA City's Planning Reforms To Regain Public Trust

In the aftermath of the Measure S vote, members of the LA City Council used the momentum and interest in land use planning reforms to push for expediting community plan updates and a sustainable source of funding for updating the City's General and Community plans on a six year cycle. TPR sat down with David Ryu, councilmember representing the 4th District, to scope out how the council will restore confidence to voters, build a constituency for planning, and move forward on an equitable, smart-growth vision for the city.  In conjunction with our interview of LA City Planning Director Vince Bertoni, Councilmember Ryu elucidates on the need for holistic, integrated plans that incorporate increased investments in transportation, parks and open space. Working diligently to find a balance between preservation and development, Councilmember Ryu also shares his support for the recently approved Miracle Mile Historic Preservation Overlay Zone. 

David Ryu

"Measure S was the impetus for action and reform, from the public to the city council, from the business community to the Mayor's Office. City leaders want these reforms to happen." - David Ryu, LA City Councilmember, District 4

In the public debate surrounding Measure S, there seemed to be very little civic discussion of the role of city planning and smart growth. Speak to the value of holistic city planning, as the Council perceives it. 

This is where we are now moving forward. Now that we have a clear direction and March 7is behind us (as well as having a directive from both the Council and Mayor’s Office), we can now start debating all of these issues. The ideas have all been generated, and now we need to adequately discuss these ideas for smart growth.

As you know, the population of the city of LA is growing. Like all other major urban cities, LA is going to be home to more people, more jobs, and more centers of life.

Even without this population growth, we started with a shortage of housing. There is no doubt that we need more housing.

That being said, everyone acknowledges that the planning process is broken, and that we must do better planning to move forward as a city.

Who ought to be the steward of Los Angeles’s built environment? Who is envisioning how greater density can be incorporated into the fabric of Los Angeles? In 2010, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa advocated for “elegant density;” today, what is the city’s strategy for signaling to developers and decision-makers how Los Angeles will build out?

There is no one-size-fits-all development strategy for Los Angeles. These are the conversations that we are having with other councilmembers, the Mayor’s Office, and the various department leaders that make Los Angeles’s infrastructure operate.

We have to be cognizant that what is good for one area of our city might not be good for many others. Some areas welcome more development and housing, where many areas are feeling oversaturated.

We have to figure out how to incorporate our existing structures into our full infrastructure planning, especially on the heels of the passage of Measures M, HHH, and, recently, H.

Although Measure S failed, the campaign showed that the voters are highly educated and that they want reform. The L.A. Times Editorial Board’s recent piece titled “It’s time for a new conversation about L.A.’s future” hit the nail on the head.

Measure S was the impetus for action and reform—from the public to the city council, and from the business community to the Mayor’s Office. City leaders want these reforms to happen. This is our opportunity to make these positive changes, and we cannot lose the momentum we currently have. We cannot use the defeat of Measure S as a reason to rest on our laurels.

The intersections of transportation, housing, open space, and planning have been discussed extensively in The Planning Report—including in our interview with you this past fall. Unfortunately, City Hall departments have all too often operated in silos. How do you envision the city council getting a better grip on integrating these elements into a holistic plan documents?

We are moving toward integrating the various initiatives that the city is diligently working on, such as homeless rehousing and street resurfacing. We understand that these efforts require increased coordination, and that we can never achieve our overall city goals if we do not work together.

The multiple departments involved—such as Transportation, Building & Safety, Planning, Public Works, and Street Services—all need to be coordinated together to fully integrate our data and timelines. Capacity-building efforts, both between and among departments, will continue to improve our outcomes. 

Over the last six months, voters have approved a number of local measures to fund transit and homelessness investments. What is the role of the State of California in addressing these issues in a complementary way? 

We are taking the lead; Council is not waiting for anyone else to move forward on shaping these policies.

In addition to the local initiatives that created the new funding you described, we are advocating that legislative leaders in Sacramento pass much-needed transportation funds through the legislation package of Senate Bill 1 and Assembly Bill 1. I was just at a rally of regional leaders where we advocated for the expedient passage of these bills, because we cannot kick the can further down the road.

We need our state leaders to step up with the proposed legislative package to fund infrastructure and road repair. This is a critical component of improving our traffic and moving our economy. All of the new resources in our city have created the impetus for us to mix them together to maximize forward progress.

Turning to transportation planning and management, address how the city is planning to curb congestion and increase access to the Griffith Park Observatory, which is in your council district. Are you pleased with the first phase of the circulation management plan that was recently launched?

The Griffith Park circular is something I am very proud of and excited to announce, and very pleased to kick off. It was very important to have coordination between the city departments of Transportation, Recreation and Parks, and Public Works, as well as outside agencies like LA Metro, who were instrumental.

Phase 1 includes one Metro stop with a DASH route through the Greek Theatre up to the Observatory. The shuttle service will run seven days a week and will arrive every 20 minutes. In the past, that DASH service has been limited to weekends.


We don’t want to stop there, though. We want to connect all of Griffith Park together: Travel Town, the LA Zoo, the Wilson/Harding golf courses, and all three of the nearby Metro stations. We see Wilshire/Western, the Sunset area, and Riverside Drive in Los Feliz as areas that are primed to bring people to Griffith Park.

We hope to incorporate the transportation infrastructure that already exists within the Metro and DASH systems to achieve proper flow, address congestion, and solve first- and last-mile problems.

Another priority in the 4th District is the Historic Preservation Overlay Zone in the Miracle Mile, which the PLUM Committee recently approved. Address the current mobility challenges in that area, given the heavy construction work necessary for LACMA, the Peterson Museum, and the Purple Line extension.

I first want to thank residents of the Miracle Mile for putting up with the construction and congestion caused by these projects. Almost everyone I speak to in the community understands why the construction is occurring and agrees that it is for the greater good of the city. Most residents can’t wait to ride the Purple Line extension (and for the construction to be out of their hair). The community has really opened up and worked collaboratively with the city and county.

The juxtaposition of preserving neighborhoods, enhancing our landmark destinations, while also making our communities more livability and walkable, is something I am committed to continuing the conversation on. We hope to preserve the unique, diverse, and historic identity of Miracle Mile, while still providing for new housing opportunities along a major transit corridor.

This week, the PLUM Committee approved the HPOZ for the Miracle Mile area, and I will vote to support the HPOZ when it comes back to the full City Council for a final vote. The establishment of a flexible HPOZ for the area will help to further protect over 1,300 historic properties and guide balanced growth in the neighborhood.

My office has received massive resident feedback, and the numbers speak for themselves. 533 households have written to me to support the HPOZ, while 153 households opposed it. That’s the level of detailed feedback we are committed to gathering, and it shows that there is overwhelming support for the HPOZ in the Miracle Mile. We will continue to work with the community stakeholders going forward. 

You have also taken leadership in City Council on investing in parks, particularly in light of new voter-approved dollars from the county’s Measure A. Update our readers on the measure’s funding priorities, and the benefits that will be enjoyed in Council District 4 and throughout the city. 

Measure A brings additional revenue dollars to our parks system. It passed overwhelmingly, and will be a tremendous boon for all of the residents of our county.

We are on a forward progression when it comes to understanding and investing in our parks. The potential for where we could possibly be is exciting.

In fact, the benefits are already being seen with the recently announced expansion of Runyon Canyon. The City of LA was able to purchase 15 acres of open space to expand Runyon Canyon for the pleasure and joy of the residents of Los Angeles. Measure A will also refurbish existing parks, and build new parks in areas that lack open space.

I expect Measure A to also play a role in working with our transportation system as we update our Griffith Park circulation plan, and continue to service the residents that look to take part in Los Angeles’s best features.

You’ve also been involved in the debate over accessory dwelling units (ADUs). The Planning Department recently overrode regulations approved by City Council, deferring to more lenient state laws. What do you see as the proper balance on ADUs?

ADUs are an issue my office has been receiving a lot of calls about, so I am working hard with the other council offices to get clarification.

As the population of our city continues to grow, we need to find smart strategies to properly build out our city. At the same time, we need to respect our neighborhoods and communities. My grandmother helped raised me, so I fully understand the need for extended and growing families. We don’t want to limit people’s abilities to integrate multi-generational living situations.

We have to be respectful of particular neighborhoods. It is the existence of the unique neighborhoods that creates the fabric of LA.

In closing, you’ve said that one reason you decided not to run for Congress this spring was that Donald Trump’s election inspired you “to stay local.” Many analysts suggest that the Trump administration is now considering defunding city programs that depend on federal funding.  How is Los Angeles responding to this threat?

As a city, we face many challenges. The funding measures that we passed in November and March for homelessness housing, parks, and transportation were meant to provide much-needed help on important issues, and to move our city forward. It is disheartening that as we are growing and moving forward, we face a potential unknown in the federal government.

When we see President Trump announcing that he is cutting $54 billion from other areas to support a proposed increase in military spending, we are left wondering where it is going to come from.

The money we just earned from our residents might turn out to be the money to backfill what might be cut from the federal administration. But we are going to be very vigilant, and fight every cut at every step of the way. 


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