Council to Vote on Local Planning Boards

The City Council is tentatively set to vote Tuesday on a resolution to establish local community planning advisory committees in each of the city's 35 community plan areas.

The 15-member CPACs are expected to play a vital role in revising the often outdated current community plans and in refining the impact of growth in each neighborhood district.

At the same time, the establishment of these local boards will provide a measure of predictability for developers by formalizing community input at an early and officially sanctioned stage, according to the resolution prepared by the city Planning Department.

If the council votes for the resolution, already unanimously approved by its Planning and Environment Committee, the boards will be appointed by City Council members in each district as each community plan comes up for revision.

CPACs members will be appointed by council members in consultation with Mayor Tom Bradley's staff. The term of appointment is yet to be set.

The boundaries of the council districts and the community plan areas often do not coincide. This means that some CPACs will have members appointed by two council members.

The impetus for the establishment of the CPACs was generated by a recommendation included in the November, 1986, report by a Citizen Advisory Committee appointed by the Planning Commission.

The committee, charged with reviewing the Concept LA long-range planning policy document developed in the early 1970s, emphasized the need "to increase certainty and lessen litigation in the planning process by insuring that all parties have continuity and knowledge of their respective rights, and that the process is completed in a timely and expeditious manner."

The proposed CPAC resolution states that, in pursuance of "a fair and open planning process for our city," the council recognizes the purposes of community participation as follows:

--For the city to gain information and insight concerning the needs, desires and resources and unique nature of the community.

--To inform the community as to the planning process so that the citizens may become involved and offer suggestions for plan improvement and implementation.

--To create public interest in, and gain support for, approval and implementation of the plan.

--To provide the community with a formal mechanism to participate in the formulation and implementation of the planning process.

Certainty and expedition for developers and a "better defined voice in the land-use planning process" for local residents might well have eased the acrimony of many recent neighborhood planning battles.

The kind of four-cornered warfare between spontaneously generated neighborhood groups, the development community, the district City Council member and planning officials and commissioners seen in Westwood, for example, serves only to delay projects interminably while antagonizing communities, said CAC member Kurt Meyer, an architect.

"By formalizing the planning process as a participatory and speedy compromise between all the parties concerned, a local planning board might well have helped Westwood to a happier and less painful resolution of its conflicts," he said.

The CPAC resolution envisages that each board would be established at the time a community plan is slated for revision under the AB 283 General Plan/Zoning Consistency hearings, the court-mandated revision designed to bring current zoning levels into conformity with the city's published General Plan.

The ongoing zoning hearings, due to be completed later this year, will create "a pattern of zoning which is consistent throughout the city," states city Planning Director Kenneth Topping.

The revision schedule for the 35 community plans, under the overall zoning patterns, is projected over a five-year period, ending in 1993. Following that, the CPACs will "play a continuing and ongoing role in implementation of the adopted community plan," Topping said.

When Citizen Advisory Committee members first discussed the notion of community planning boards, many objections were raised.

Architect Kenneth Kai Chang worried that the boards would "raise more obstacles for developers and discourage them further from investing in Los Angeles." This concern was shared by Alan Lowy, president of the Building Industry Assn.

At Citizen Advisory Committee meetings, the argument over whether CPAC members should be appointed or elected swung back and forth.

Supporters of elected boards argued that the public's perception of fairness in the planning process depended on a sense of direct participation in choosing local members. Others contended that City Council members would vehemently resist the whole notion of CPACs if they lost control of the selection of board members.

Planning Commission President Dan Garcia fretted over the possibly racist and exclusionary tendency of locally elected boards "to keep out the blacks and the browns."

A strong argument in favor of appointment over election was that election would delay implementation of the program by requiring an amendment to the city charter needing a two-thirds majority in the council. Appointed CPACs require a simple council majority.

Several influential council members have expressed support for the CPAC concept, including Zev Yaroslavsky, Marvin Braude and Michael Woo. With this support, and the mayor's backing, the resolution is expected to get council approval.

"To achieve a consensus in council, we've had to soften the impact of the CPACs somewhat," admits City Planner Dan O'Donnell, who served as the department's liaison with the Citizen Advisory Committee. "But the fact that we've come this far this fast with a major innovation in the planning process is a minor miracle in itself."

Topping emphasized that "Coordination, balance and a grasp of long-range priorities in the city's planning process depend on a strong central authority vested in the Planning Department in conjunction with the operation of the CPACs. There must be a strong vision at the core to counterweigh purely neighborhood concerns."

The questions of professional staffing dedicated to support and advise the CPACs, and how the committees' activities would be funded, remain unresolved. Also unclear is the overlap of authority between the CPACs and the project area committees that exist in districts, like Hollywood, subject to Community Redevelopment Agency action.

In Hollywood, the 1,100-acre CRA redevelopment project area cuts out the core of the community plan territory. What is left for possible CPAC consideration is a "doughnut" of surrounding communities that can hardly function without its revenue-rich "hole."

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