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Garcetti says he'll stop merger of Los Angeles building agencies

Garcetti says he'll stop merger of Los Angeles building agencies
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti toured the WESTEC manufacturers convention on Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles. (Michael Finnegan / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Tuesday that he plans to halt the merger of two major agencies that the city was looking to consolidate in an effort to streamline approval of real estate projects.

At a meeting with The Times editorial board, Garcetti said the city Planning Department's expected merger with the Building and Safety Department would not go forward in January.

"I think that's just rearranging the bureaucracy and not the systems," Garcetti said.

Garcetti's effort to block the merger would kill a major initiative of his predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa. After years of complaints from developers about a cumbersome approval process that required project reviews by more than a dozen city agencies, Villaraigosa included the merger in his final budget. The City Council approved the plan. Garcetti, then a councilman, voted for it.

"I liked it in the abstract, but in the concrete, I don't think it's ready to go," Garcetti said Tuesday.

If the agencies merge, he said, "it could be chaotic for those on both sides – a community who wants input on stuff, and developers who are caught in the middle."

The Planning Department reviews how projects' affect neighborhoods and whether they comply with zoning laws. The Building and Safety Department issues building permits and polices compliance with building codes, among other things.

"I think Planning has too much discretion on very small projects that should be ministerial," Garcetti said. "So I think a lot of frustration people have is that small neighborhood projects, or the home remodel, where it goes through this extensive thing that only professionals can afford to pay for. You have to hire consultants."

Councilman Mitchell Englander, a supporter of the merger, said the project approval process was "dysfunctional and archaic" and needed to be simplified.

"We all agree that what we have now isn't working, and we have to come up with solutions," he said.

Councilman Tom LaBonge, who has called for postponing the merger, welcomed Garcetti's move.

"Now that we've looked at it," he said, "I think it's good to take more time."

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Twitter: @finneganlatimes

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