Planning for L.A.'s future

In “Shaping the city of L.A.” on July 2, The Times’ editorial board declares, “Now is the time ... to streamline the land use process and make it smarter and more efficient.” At the same time, it urges policymakers to “take charge” and commit to a vision for community planning. The Times cannot have its cake and eat it too.

Which will it be: a streamlined process and quick approvals, or a deliberative approach to deciding the future of our city?

Five years ago, when Gail Goldberg came to the Planning Department, confidence in the planning process was at an all-time low. Department underperformance had soured neighborhoods, and faith in the mayor himself had ebbed. Gail’s appointment, with input from the neighborhood leaders, eased the antagonism between City Hall and local interests that played out too often in the land use arena.

Her walking tours and communication with neighborhood councils suggested a reset in the relationship. A pilot program was even established at the neighborhoods’ insistence. Information flowed. But optimism was short-lived.

Soon the department clamped down on information. Code streamlining, department reorganization and new policy priorities were ushered in without communicating the significance of these changes to the public. There has been no report to the public on the efficiency initiative casually called “12-to-2,” even though it will reshape how we plan. The Chamber of Commerce and the Central City Assn. love it, but who among neighborhood representatives knows much about it?

Ensuring a sustainable future for the city requires a long-term commitment, but permitting, case processing and discretionary decision-making are necessarily near-term actions. Not surprisingly, the latter preoccupy the mayor and his advisors. But what about “real planning”? Recent mayoral appointments to the departments of Water and Power and Building and Safety suggest a different agenda that pushes economic development to the foreground; they do not inspire confidence across the neighborhoods that planning for people will return to Los Angeles anytime soon.

Have we in Los Angeles turned the corner on real planning? A solid appointment for the director of the Planning Department will be a signal to our communities that the mayor recognizes that efficiency and vision can proceed apace. A reprise of Gail’s appointment (this time with feeling) will allow the mayor to show the public that he values, beyond the ballot box, the relationship between those who govern and those governed.

The mayor needs guidance from neighborhood representatives — that’s why we have an advisory neighborhood council system — as well as prominent media like the Los Angeles Times. From The Times we need a stronger editorial statement. How should our city, the nation’s second largest, balance efficiency and vision? They are not mutually exclusive.

The mayor must show he recognizes the need to rehabilitate relations between City Hall and the neighborhoods. A cynical planning director appointment will only deepen the mistrust and set us farther off course from the innovative, sustainable city that Los Angeles cries out to become.

Mark Elliot is editor of, a blog devoted to local planning issues.