Pressured by opponents of unchecked development, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and members of the City Council unveiled this week their road map to reforming Los Angeles’ broken planning and land-use process. By mounting an expensive effort to update key city planning documents, Garcetti and company hope to head off a ballot initiative that would impose a two-year moratorium on major construction projects — a freeze that would only worsen the city’s housing crisis.
With near universal agreement from homeowners, developers and housing advocates that the system doesn’t work, all eyes were on city leaders to see if they would propose a reasonable alternative to the ballot measure. Their plan is a start, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough.
The centerpiece of the mayor and council’s reform package is a promise to draft a new general plan — a master planning document that hasn’t been updated in 20 years — and rewrite all of the city’s 35 community plans over the next decade. The community plans set the rules for development in a neighborhood, but all but six are more than 15 years old. Garcetti wants to hire 28 new employees and spend $4.2 million a year to rewrite the old plans and update them going forward every 12 years.
Modern plans created by community consensus should eliminate the rationale for spot zoning — in theory. But there’s nothing in the city’s proposal that would actually limit spot zoning, which developers will continue to pursue in the hope of increasing the value of their land. What good are new plans if City Council members are still allowed to run their districts as fiefdoms, able to grant zoning changes that are incongruous with the neighborhood? If they’re serious about changing the way business is done, they would find a way to limit rule changes so there is less deviation from community plans and more incentive to keep plans updated.