Calvin Hamilton, the visionary but controversial planning director of the city of Los Angeles for more than two decades, died Tuesday in a San Diego nursing home. He was 72 and had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, his wife, Glenda, said.
Hamilton, who devised and in 1970 presented the city’s legally required General Plan, was hired in 1964 and resigned under pressure in late 1985. Throughout his tenure, he was praised for his conceptual ability to plot the city’s long-range developmental future, but vilified as ineffective and improper in dealing with politicians or commercial developers.
Former City Council President Pat Russell, although she denied it, was believed to be among those seeking to oust Hamilton in the early 1980s, saying, “Cal’s style is visionary, and that has served a purpose. But we’re entering an era of implementation, and we need those kinds of skills.”
Hamilton was criticized as unevenly administering the Planning Department and was widely blamed for the city’s failure to implement his General Plan.
Inaction in passing the plan prompted a homeowners lawsuit that won a 1986 ruling forcing rezoning of about a fourth of the city. Homeowners faulted Hamilton for the city’s failure to enact the plan and developers criticized him for failing to head off a legal battle that culminated in heavy mandatory rezoning.
The usually opposing sides ultimately agreed that both wanted Hamilton ousted.
Hamilton’s “Concept Los Angeles,” core of the city’s General Plan, recommended radical changes to the city’s zoning system. Traditionally, zoning laws had permitted commercial development interspersed among residential streets.
Hamilton’s conceptually praised but hard-to-pass plan envisioned business and commercial centers like Century City in West Los Angeles or Warner Center in the San Fernando Valley. It called for massive rezoning to halt commercial development adjacent to residential areas.
Hamilton also became a chess piece in a behind-the-scenes struggle between the city and the Community Redevelopment Agency over which entity would control development in downtown Los Angeles. The CRA favored high-rise projects, but Hamilton opposed them, believing they would cause too much congestion.
More controversially, Hamilton was accused of using his city job to promote a private international trade and tourism firm called TRAICE, which he organized, financed and headed.
An eight-month criminal investigation by the California attorney general’s office concluded Jan. 23, 1985, that Hamilton exercised questionable judgment but had not violated any law. State investigators said he had used his city staff and equipment to prepare pamphlets and materials about the private, nonprofit TRAICE, solicited donations from a developer with pending city business and obtained free office space for the group in a historic downtown building.
After a similar city inquiry, Hamilton took a six-week unpaid leave of absence as punishment.
A former planner for the city of Indianapolis as well as Los Angeles, Hamilton later became a private consultant. Among projects he handled for the city of Los Angeles, his former employer, was a 1987 study of the Wilmington waterfront.
In addition to his wife, Hamilton is survived by three sons, four stepchildren and 12 grandchildren.
Services are scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at Mira Mesa Presbyterian Church, San Diego. Memorial donations may be made to the Alzheimer’s Assn., 8514 Commerce Ave., San Diego, CA 92121.