Business & Economy

LA mayor answers backlash to 'mega-developments' with plan of his own

Artist rendering of the proposed $1 billion development around the Capitol Records building in Hollywood.
Artist rendering of the proposed $1 billion development around the Capitol Records building in Hollywood.
Handel Architects

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Mayor Eric Garcetti, facing intense criticism that Los Angeles is allowing developers to destroy neighborhood character, said he wants to modernize city guidelines on zoning and land use.

In his annual State of the City address tomorrow, Garcetti will call for hiring a couple dozen new city planners who will update L.A.'s "community plans." There are 35 of these blueprints, each one containing housing and transportation policy for one or several neighborhoods. But many plans have been unchanged for decades, and Garcetti said they do not reflect the city's changing landscape and growing mass transit infrastructure.

Outdated community plans have led to haphazard development and overcrowding, he said.

"When we don't have updated places where people can build, they just cram into existing infrastructure," Garcetti said. "You can't find a parking space on your block because there are two families living where one should, and nobody built a new parking place."

The mayor said he has been committed to updating community plans since he was a councilmember. But he announces his new initiative as criticism mounts from neighborhood groups over large-scale residential developments. Activists — led by the AIDS HealthCare Foundation in Hollywood — feel the city is allowing so-called "mega-developments" to sprout up all over the city and are planning a March 2017 ballot initiative that will ask voters to approve a two-year moratorium on the structures.

John Schwada, a spokesman for the pro-moratorium Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, called the mayor's plan "phony reform" and "a desperate effort on the part of City Hall to cut us off on the pass."

"We don’t  think the voters will be fooled by this," Schwada said. He said internal polling of more than 300 likely city voters found that about 70 percent supported his group's initiative.

Schwada said that the city's primary problem is not outdated community plans, but developers who try to build larger projects regardless of what the plans say by getting special exemptions from the city.

"We want to stop all this special interest zoning. Their proposal does not speak to the spot zoning abuse," Schwada said.

Garcetti said his hope is that the activists can work with the city on updating the community plans, rather than sending a question to the ballot.

"If there are any mistakes or unintended consequences (associated with the ballot measure) you can’t undo them," Garcetti said. "If we can get (to a solution) without going to the ballot, I think everybody would love that."

Hiring 28 new planners in the first year will cost the city an estimated $1.9 million and $4.2 million in subsequent years.

Garcetti said that he will direct planning staff to work on a dozen community plans at any given time. 
 

"They'll all be finished in a period of 10 years and have a mandatory updating every 12 years so we never find ourselves falling behind," Garcetti said.

A motion introduced by several councilmembers Wednesday instructs the Planning Department to report back on "overhauling" its community plan program, according to a joint release from the Mayor's office and the councilmembers. Proposed changes include upgrading department technology and drawing up a list of consultants the city recommends that developers hire to conduct reviews of the environmental impact their project could have on the area.

Garcetti is also calling for an update of the overall city's general plan which will cover "everything from air quality, liveability and open space elements," he said. 

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the date of Garcetti's State of the City address. 

This story has been updated.