Keep L.A.'s Development Under Community Control

William R. Robertson is the executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

The strength and dynamism that have played such a fundamental role in making Los Angeles a world-class city have always been marked by a competition among interest groups.

This competition, refereed by the mayor and the City Council, has insured against the possibility of any one group--no matter how wealthy or well connected--having the power to ride roughshod over the legitimate concerns of other citizens.

Nowhere has this approach been more important than in the area of land use and planning. Groups of neighbors--homeowners and business people, environmentalists and developers--meeting as community advisory committees have given up countless hours of their own time to develop community plans to guide and control the future of their neighborhoods.

Because of the competing interests represented on these committees, and because it is the committee members who must live with the results, these community plans are well thought out and become a balanced juxtaposition of the economic and environmental concerns that affect the quality of life in a neighborhood.

It is just as crucial to the success and "livability" of a community to plan and provide for the jobs, stores, parking and services that we all need as it is to plan for parks and housing. Recognizing this fact of life, community plans throughout the city set aside certain areas for higher levels of commercial development. This was not done rashly or without consideration of all the impact such development would have. Nor was it done out of political expediency. It was done so that the commercial activity that provides the community's economic base would be located where the community wanted it.

Now, just when a successful lawsuit has put teeth into the decisions of these community planning groups, Councilmen Zev Yaroslavski and Marvin Braude, who represent the most affluent areas of the city, are asking us to turn our back on the efforts of these citizen-planners and throw city planning decisions into the megabuck world of political consultants and campaign managers.

In order to ease the political discomfort of two council members, who have been among the most avid proponents of building moratoriums and other ineffective efforts to shortcut the planning process, we are being asked to reject the work of our community advisory committees and put on the ballot an initiative that would restrict commercial development in most of the city to half of what is now allowed.

This so-called Initiative on Reasonable Limits on Commercial Building and Traffic Growth would do neither. Rather, it would have us reject the essence of the dynamic tension that has made Los Angeles work and which, if allowed to proceed without undue meddling from politicians, will continue to ensure that the city will be able to meet the needs of all its citizens.

What's worse, Yaroslavsky and Braude are asking us to overturn the city's land-use policy with no more serious discussion of the merits of their proposal than their campaign consultants choose to offer. You can't intelligently choose a deodorant based on a 30-second television commercial, let alone determine land-use policy for the city of Los Angeles.

But what about the Yaroslavsky and Braude claims that this initiative will protect neighborhoods from commercial intrusion and reduce traffic congestion?

It is highly probable that we'd see just the opposite effect. It will not improve the congested intersections in the Valley, Downtown or on the Westside. They are, after all, areas that are already built up. No benefit there. In fact, the real long-term impact of this initiative would be to threaten neighborhoods elsewhere in the city. Reducing commercial density by half would make land in areas now the most desirable for development, such as the Westside or Encino, too costly. Developers would look for cheaper commercial land--say, farther out in the Valley, in neighborhoods where the streets are less able to handle additional traffic because they were never designed for it.

This initiative may be a lot of things but one thing it is not is good planning. Because of three specific problems in two council districts, the Westwood Gateway Building and the Westside Pavilion in Yaroslavsky's district and the Fujita Building in Braude's, every district in the city is being asked to pay the price.

The plans that have painstakingly been developed by the community advisory committes, fine-tuned not only to the immediate needs of an area but also to look 10 to 20 years into the future, will be drastically altered without a word of input from the people most concerned.

This initiative is a classic case of the affluent few who, having achieved their own economic goals, are now ready to freeze the status quo without regard to the impact on others, telling us all "What's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable."

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