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Budget Cuts Mean Delays for Downtown Community Plans

By Eric Richardson
Published: Friday, May 08, 2009, at 04:26PM
Arts District Eric Richardson [Flickr]

The Arts and Industrial districts, seen here in an April photo from City Hall, could be particularly affected by Community Plan delays.

Buried in the middle of a five hour budget hearing last Friday was news that updates to Downtown's two major community plans will be delayed unless the Planning department receives more funding and can hire additional planners.

The impact of those delays would be felt quite differently in the two plan areas. While development in the bulk of Downtown would be largely unaffected, the Arts and Industrial districts would remain in a development no-mans-land.

In response to proposed budget cuts and an already-stretched workforce, Planning head Gail Goldberg told the Budget and Finance committee that she planned to scale down her department's New Community Plan program (confused on what community plans are? See our Primer on Plans at the bottom of this story), leaving Downtown's Central City and Central City North plans on the back-burner until other work was completed.

Goldberg said that reducing the number of plans was her only option. "I don't want the Planning department to limp along for the next year or two and accomplish nothing," she said. "I would rather us prioritize and make some progress in the areas where we can I think make a significant difference."

That's bad news for the Arts and Industrial districts, where development was frozen in early 2008 by the Industrial Land Use Policy, which dictated that industrial land be preserved for industrial uses. At the time, Goldberg had told concerned stakeholders that the proper place to set direction for the area was in an update to the Central City North community plan.

In the meantime, the Mayor's office and Community Redevelopment Agency have been touting the CleanTech Corridor, which would stretch along the river through the Central City North plan areas.

While she would welcome the new jobs, Central City East Executive Director Estela Lopez said today that she is concerned by the push for new development without a larger plan for the neighborhood's future. "You have to have a context," she said, saying that the Industrial district lacks amenities and has the area's "most antiquated and outmoded infrastructure."

Without a plan update, Lopez feels her area could "still be at the starting gate" when the economy turns and developer interest picks back up.

Just to the west, development in Downtown's core would likely be less affected by the lack of a new plan.

"Remember that all the development that has taken place has done so with a community plan that was completely obsolete," said Carol Schatz, President and CEO of the Central City Association and the Downtown Center BID. "I don't think it's going to have a grave impact. We just keep doing what we're doing."

Schatz said that while it was regrettable the plan could be delayed, she supported Goldberg's reasoning. "I think that's the right choice of finishing up what you're almost finished with," she said.

Do Real Planning

Goldberg arrived in Los Angeles in 2006 with the mission of guiding the department to "Do Real Planning." A key piece of that vision was a major rework of Los Angeles' thirty-five community plans, which govern how development takes place.

In contrast to other cities' detailed documents, Los Angeles' plans were only rough outlines. That was a surprise to Goldberg. "They are like no community plans I have ever seen anywhere," she told the Budget and Finance committee. "Community Plans in this city are typically about ten to fifteen pages long, maybe ten pages of text and five or six maps. That is not adequate to really create development or instruct the community on what one wants."

She initiated updates to a dozen plans, budgeting two planners to each. Vacant positions, other project priorities and budget cuts have left her with only eleven planners able to be assigned to the program.

Unless more staffing can be found, Goldberg said she intends to finish Hollywood in the next few months, and plans for Granada Hills, Sylmar, San Pedro, West Adams and Boyle Heights in the 2009 fiscal year. Some work would continue on the Westlake, South LA, Southeast LA and West LA plans, while Central City, Central City North and Sunland-Tujunga would be left waiting until staff were freed. "The minute they get [the first plans] finished we will re-allocate those folks to the [later] plans," she said.

The Budget and Finance committee concludes its hearings next week, at which point the process shifts to the full City Council.

A Primer on Plans

For those who are new to all of this, it's helpful to understand a few things about the organization of city planning. The development of land is governed first by the city's General Plan. This document outlines a strategy for long-term growth. The City's current General Plan was adopted in 1996, and re-adopted in 2001.

On a more specific level, Community Plans set up guiding principles for each area of the city. There are thirty-five of these plans city-wide. Neighborhoods are broken out, and different preferred uses are laid out.

The bulk of Downtown falls into two Community Plan areas: Central City and Central City North (which is really misnamed -- it runs directly east of the Central City plan). In broad terms, the Central City plan governs the area west of Alameda, while the Central City North plan does the area to the east (Arts District, Industrial District, etc).


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