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Garcetti bans private talks between developers and planning commissioners

Mayor Garcetti signs an executive directive banning private talks between the planning commissioners he appoints and the developers whose projects are before them.
Mayor Garcetti signs an executive directive banning private talks between the planning commissioners he appoints and the developers whose projects are before them.
Josie Huang

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Thursday banned private talks between developers and the planning commissioners reviewing their projects, in a bid to restore public trust in how decisions are made at City Hall.

The commissioners, who are appointed by the mayor, must hold "fully transparent" proceedings, according to the mayor's executive directive.

"If you are in a quasi-judicial role, we should make sure that whatever you hear, the public gets to hear as well," Garcetti said at a City Hall news conference.

The directive comes a couple days after Los Angeles voters soundly defeated a ballot initiative that would have slowed real estate development by temporarily banning certain projects for two years.

Backers of Measure S had complained that city officials were making backroom deals with developers and letting oversized projects snarl traffic and ruin neighborhoods. 

Although Measure S badly lost, nabbing only 31 percent of the vote, the campaign had pressured elected leaders into improving the city planning process. 

The mayor's ban on ex parte communications between commissioners and developers came after he made a pledge to do so to Measure S leaders last fall.

But Measure S campaign director Jill Stewart said the mayor was not doing enough. Final planning decisions rest with the City Council, who unlike the commissioners, can receive campaign donations from developers. Stewart said elected officials should be the ones who stop meeting with developers.

"The planning commission sounds like a mess, but it is not the main problem," Stewart said.

Garcetti said officials have a duty to meet with all constituents, be they developers or community members.

"I think it's important to have direct communication especially as people are thinking through projects," Garcetti said.

One councilmember - Mike Bonin – suggested the best way to repair trust in the city planning process is to take campaign donations out of the equation.

Bonin has proposed the city create a public financing system for city elections in which candidates would rely on taxpayer dollars instead of fund-raising.

"I’m going to be continuing to push for full publicly financed clean money," said Bonin, who with Councilmember José Huizar joined Garcetti at at the news conference.

Other things in the mayor's executive directive: