Planning Profession

In Sunday’s Real Estate section, Sam Hall Kaplan denounced Los Angeles planners and, in fact, the entire planning profession. As president of the American Planning Assn. (APA), now meeting for its annual conference in Los Angeles, I wish to respond.

Kaplan’s column contains a blatant internal contradiction. He criticizes local planners for rubber-stamping development proposals. Yet when a respected Los Angeles planner and APA member, Ed Helfeld, acted decisively as head of the city’s redevelopment agency, he was rewarded with preemptive dismissal.

What this may suggest is not that Los Angeles planners are spineless or sycophantic but that Los Angeles may not be ready for sound planning. It’s axiomatic that cities get the kind of planning they deserve.

The recent proposal for a planning initiative is symptomatic of a flawed decision-making structure. Electoral vigilantism is not the way to do good planning. Rather, it suggests a lack of commitment and responsiveness and an unwillingness to make hard policy choices.


To brand an entire profession as obsolete is patently absurd. APA represents 21,000 planners in 50 states, about 1,000 of those are in Southern California. The vast majority of our members are doing useful and effective work. They are also, I may add, their own most severe critics and are the first to point out the flaws that do, in fact, exist.

If Kaplan, a planner turned journalist, is so concerned about development quality in Los Angeles, he would do well to explore an archaic government structure, which has produced a planning function answerable to everyone yet no one; a burdensome Civil Service system; and an attitude toward campaign financing that is an open invitation to favoritism.

We are enjoying our stay here and believe Los Angeles may be ready to enter an era of effective rational planning. The citizen unrest evident in the recent lawsuits and the proposed zoning initiative may well be the catalysts needed to bring a heightened awareness of the value of a well-funded, competently led, planning program.

Hiring a new planning director, no matter how bold he or she may be, is not the sole factor in bringing sound, good planning to Los Angeles. The entire city, its officials and staff, must work together diligently to achieve this goal.




American Planning Assn.