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Garcetti nominates new executive to run Planning Department

Garcetti nominates new executive to run Planning Department
Mayor Eric Garcetti, shown at City Hall last year, met withObama administration officials metlocal nonprofits and business owners to discuss ways to encourage immigrants to become U.S. citizens. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has chosen a Pasadena official to run the city's Planning Department, a move that comes as neighborhood activists are growing more aggressive in their efforts to block large-scale development projects.

Vince Bertoni, head of Pasadena's Planning and Community Development Department, was nominated Monday to replace Michael LoGrande, L.A.'s departing planning director.

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In his announcement, Garcetti said the city needs an expert who "brings both fresh ideas and an intricate understanding of our city's complex planning process."

Bertoni's nomination must be approved by the City Council. If confirmed, he will take over a department that's been hit with a series of legal setbacks.

Opposition groups have succeeded in recent years in overturning the city's approval of a Target shopping center, the 22-story Sunset and Gordon residential tower and the Millennium skyscraper complex -- all in Hollywood. They also have forced the City Council to redo its recent vote on Mobility Plan 2035, a long-range transportation plan, and rescind approval of a sweeping development plan for Hollywood.

Those fights are expected to continue raging this year.

Hollywood-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation and its allies have drafted a ballot measure to place new limits on the city's practice of changing planning and zoning rules for major real estate projects. LoGrande, who is set to leave at the end of the month, said Monday that he disagreed with that approach.

"I just think planning by ballot measure is a dangerous path to go down," he said.

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS nonprofit, voiced optimism about the change in leadership. During LoGrande's tenure, developers could "build anything they wanted with any exemptions they requested," said Weinstein, a leader with the Coalition to Preserve L.A., the group pushing the ballot measure.

"The fact that the new guy comes from Pasadena, where there's a lot of attention to neighborhood integrity and a lot of attention to what the community wants, is a good sign," he added. "The [approach] in Pasadena is community sensitivity."

LoGrande disagreed with Weinstein's assertions, saying he had "said no to more projects" than any of his predecessors. Behind the scenes, he said, the Planning Department reworked development proposals to assure they match the surrounding community.

Weinstein is "coming from an area of no knowledge," LoGrande added.

Bertoni did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He spent the last five years as Pasadena's planning director. Before that, he worked in L.A.'s Planning Department, overseeing the creation of 16 historic preservation zones, approval of a bicycle master plan and new guidelines for downtown's Broadway corridor, according to city officials.

LoGrande said he spoke with the mayor about a departure months ago and is looking to become a private land use consultant. He took over the department in 2010, just as it had been battered by a major budget crisis.

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Since his arrival, the agency has expanded its workforce from 270 planners to 408 this year. In an email to his staff, LoGrande said he had accomplished the goals he had set for himself.

"Together we have transformed the Los Angeles skyline through our world-class development review and urban design," he wrote.

Follow @DavidZahniser for what's happening at Los Angeles City Hall.

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