A Minefield of City Planning

You'd think Lydia Kennard would be a perfect choice for the Los Angeles Planning Commission.

As the daughter of a Los Angeles architect, Kennard grew up thinking in terms of planning and design. She's a 37-year-old African-American attorney and urban planner with a terrific education. After graduating from Hollywood High, Kennard received degrees from Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Law School.

She's the founder of KDG Development Consulting, which has done studies for Los Angeles transit projects and worked on development proposals for South and East L.A. and downtown.

When I talked to her Thursday, she seemed to be able to strike the correct conciliatory tone for a member of the Planning Commission. This panel must approve or turn down residential subdivisions, industrial plants, warehouses, office buildings and retail malls.

People get mad at these decisions. There's no calming a homeowner who's just heard that another mall will be built down the street. Kennard has demonstrated that she understands the sensitive politics of development, as she showed when we talked. "When I talk about encouraging commercial development, I do not mean infringing on well-established residential neighborhoods," she said.

Perfect.

Yet instead of accepting compliments for appointing Kennard, Mayor Tom Bradley is fielding complaints.

Opposition comes from homeowner groups on the Westside, in the Santa Monica Mountains, the San Fernando Valley, the harbor and Mid-Wilshire. They are made because Bradley forced Planning Commissioner Bill Christopher, a slow-growther and a homeowner favorite, to resign to make way for Kennard.

Christopher, an architect, got a call from Deputy Mayor Mark Fabiani. "He said the mayor was interested in making a change," Christopher said. Fabiani, according to Christopher, said the mayor wanted someone on the commission who would come up with plans for economic development and affordable housing in poor, predominantly black and Latino South L.A.

The homeowner groups moved to Christopher's defense. They feared his replacement would be pro-development. And they felt the mayor was saying that Christopher, who is white, didn't care about South L.A.

Before Christopher got the Bradley boot, the Administration issued a hard-to-believe denial that he was leaving, written by Fabiani for his boss. "I want to dispel any rumors you have heard regarding his (Christopher's) resignation from the Planning Commission. He is not resigning from his term on the commission," the letter said.

The homeowner leaders, hardened vets of many a City Hall fight, were smart enough not to believe the letter. On June 8, they wrote Bradley: "Despite your written assurances . . . we understand that Mr. Christopher is still being asked to move to another commission. . . ."

Trying to save his job, Christopher met with Bradley last Saturday night and handed him the homeowners' letter. Bradley put it in his pocket.

On Wednesday, he announced Kennard's appointment and Christopher's shift to a board that hears appeals in zoning disputes.

Confirmation by the City Council is expected, especially since the recent election brought the mayor two strong council allies from South L.A.--Rita Walters and Mark Ridley-Thomas.

But confirmation won't bring peace.

The homeowners, feeling they are victims of a Bradley brushoff, may be ready to join the ranks of permanent, unforgiving mayoral enemies.

In South L.A., old-line black home-owning families also fear their houses will be torn down for new, low-rent apartments filled with Latino immigrants.

"They have a lot of undocumented people here," said Lois Medlock, who has lived for 40 years in an 83-year-old bungalow around 49th Street and Avalon Boulevard. "I get all these calls saying, 'Do you want to sell your home.' I am trying to protect the rights of single-family homeowners. . . . I am not going to give up my single-family living."

Medlock can do something about it. She is president of the South East Central Homeowners Assn., one of several such groups that are becoming increasingly active in South L.A. Medlock walked door to door for Rita Walters in the last election. Considering the closeness of Walters' victory, Medlock has a few favors to call in.

But Latino community leaders have a vision, too--a vision of enough apartments to allow immigrant families to escape crowded slums.

For Tom Bradley, as this episode shows, being mayor of L.A. is navigating each day through a minefield of contesting economic and ethnic forces.

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