City leaders have approved a plan to merge the redevelopment and planning departments to create a one-stop shop for efforts to develop housing and generate economic growth.
The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to place the community redevelopment and planning departments under one umbrella, forming the Community Development Department. Current Planning Director Hassan Haghani will run the consolidated operation of nearly 50 staffers. Philip Lanzafame, now the director of community redevelopment and housing, will be assistant director of the new department.
City Manager Jim Starbird told the City Council on Tuesday that the move would help the city respond to "challenges we face on the horizon and, frankly, the opportunities we face as we recover from the economic downturn."
The shift is designed to help the city prepare large-scale plans for the proposed arts and entertainment district on Maryland Avenue and the creative corridor on San Fernando Road. Starbird also said it will allow the city to focus more on developing the right housing mix and work smoothly with businesses and developers seeking permits.
Councilman Dave Weaver said the city has considered such a move for eight to 10 years, and it should help erase public confusion about working with the city.
"I think this is a good logical next step to make flow of communication work better between planners and redevelopment in the permitting process," he said.
According to a city report, the budget for the consolidated department after the merger will be $23,000 more than it is currently for two separate divisions because of an increase in Haghani's pay.
The top of the range for Haghani's new position is the same as for the director of public works, roughly $186,000.
"This move is not about budget savings," Starbird said in an interview. "This move is about really putting into play at the highest level a management philosophy that redevelopment and housing development needs to start with good planning."
He said the change would not affect the ability of the Redevelopment Agency to set up special economic redevelopment zones or generate revenues.
Last year, the city merged four interrelated departments — parks, planning, housing and redevelopment — into three.
"I think we have an opportunity here to take the next evolutionary step," Starbird said.
The final draft for the merger is scheduled to go before the City Council next month, with the changes slated to take effect in January.