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Panel Adopts City Blueprint for 21st Century : Development: Planning Commission approves document that channels growth into areas that can accommodate it.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

In what may be its most important action in 20 years, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission on Thursday adopted a long-term blueprint that sets the tone for how the city will develop in the next century.

In a unanimous vote and with little fanfare, the commission affirmed the growth principles laid out in the General Plan Framework--with their strong emphasis on public transportation and apartments above shops--and sent it on to the City Council for review and final action.

Despite objections from homeowners who fear that the plan will encourage intense development, clog streets with traffic and overload city services, the commissioners roundly agreed that to have no plan would be the worst situation of all.

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Faced with the potential of 800,000 more people living in Los Angeles by the year 2010, planners argued that the city must create new ways to shelter and transport them without destroying the neighborhoods of single-family homes that give the city much of its character.

Planners projected that without a new plan and a new way of thinking about Los Angeles, the city would choke on current low-density, car-dependent development patterns. Ignoring those sorts of pressures, commission President George Lefcoe said, “is not an option for the city of Los Angeles.”

The General Plan, last revised in 1974, acts as the city’s land-use constitution and establishes the policies under which all development takes place. Required by state law, the plan influences everything from how tall and close together buildings are to the locations of infrastructure such as sewer lines and roads.

For the most part, the plan envisions 21st Century Los Angeles much as it is. It builds upon the so-called “centers concept” at the heart of the 1974 plan. That idea called for the creation of dense neighborhoods of shops, offices and housing connected like the spokes of a wheel by public transit.

Although some of the centers identified in 1974 were successfully built--such as Century City and Warner Center--others have proven less successful, in part because the plan did not restrict development outside those hubs and because the transportation network never materialized.

This time, however, the rail network is under construction and planners are guarding against inappropriate development by making it more difficult to build outside so-called “targeted growth areas.”

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Planners predict that 75% of new development will take place on just 5% of the city’s land, mostly in existing centers and along major boulevards. The rest will remain largely unchanged. In that 5%, however, planners foresee dense, walkable neighborhoods where shops and apartments are mingled rather than separated as in most suburban communities.

Some proponents of the plan said they fear it will be ignored by the City Council in much the same way past visions of the future have gone unrealized due to the granting of numerous zoning exemptions.

But they also noted that Los Angeles is under state and federal orders to clean up its air and water and that this time, the plan’s focus on mass transportation and concentrated sewer lines is more likely to be heeded. In fact, the General Plan revisions were prompted by a federal lawsuit over sewage discharge into Santa Monica Bay that partly blamed unbridled growth for the pollution.

As a broad policy document, the General Plan does not by itself change the way individual neighborhoods develop. Instead, it acts as the foundation upon which community plans, which govern individual streets and lots, are revised.

That frightens many residents who are suspicious of claims that their neighborhoods will be preserved. About 50 people attended a hearing before the commission at the Airtel Plaza Hotel in Van Nuys Thursday, and many who testified agreed that the city needs a new plan. But they were concerned that they were being left out of the process.

“We know our communities and we have got to have a say,” said Lori Dinkin of the Valley Village Homeowners Assn.

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Added Barbara Fine of the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Assns.: “Why are we all so upset about this? We see this as an attack on the single-family residence.”

Lefcoe assured residents that they would be included in implementing the plan and explained that even if the growth projections never come true, the city must be prepared to accommodate whatever the future holds.

He said the city has two options: to allow growth to continue unregulated or to channel new growth into areas that have the necessary sewer lines, roads and transportation facilities.

“Between these two choices,” he said, “option 2 is better.”

In addition to calling for the creation of “mixed-use” neighborhoods in targeted growth areas and the integration of land-use and transportation plans, the General Plan includes a number of ideas for making the city friendlier to both businesses and families.

Faced with intense competition for jobs from other cities and regions, the plan seeks to make Los Angeles an easier place for companies to set up shop by streamlining permits in certain situations and by creating clear and consistent rules for development.

The plan, expected to be reviewed by the City Council by the end of the year, also addresses the need to preserve open space and treats parks as an element of necessary infrastructure. It envisions a network of parks along utility and rail rights of way.

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“Los Angeles, in my vision, will become a world model city,” said Commissioner Les Hamasaki. “Los Angeles is experimental. We have problems, but we are learning from our experiment.”

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