With the election looming, L.A. moves to speed up review of neighborhood development plans

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to speed up the approval of new community plans, documents that spell out where apartments, shopping centers and other new buildings should be allowed.

On a 12-0 vote, the council decided to draft an ordinance that would require updates of those 35 plans every six years, a move that’s expected to cost $10 million annually and bring each document up to date by 2024.

Councilman Jose Huizar, who proposed the ordinance, said the move will ensure that city planning documents reflect changing real estate and transportation patterns. That, in turn, will help address complaints made by backers of Measure S, which would impose new restrictions on real estate development, he said.

Having updated plans will result in fewer requests from developers for zone changes and other deviations from planning rules — the type being targeted by Measure S, Huizar said. “It will certainly alleviate the concerns about why Measure S came about,” he added.

Supporters of Measure S, which is on the March 7 ballot, contend city leaders too frequently make changes to planning rules for individual development projects — such as granting increased height or allowing fewer parking spaces than the rules require.

All but six of those city’s community plans are more than 15 years old. Since Measure S was proposed, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council have hired dozens of new staffers to help tackle the backlog of work at the Department of City Planning.

Asked about Wednesday’s vote, Yes on S campaign spokeswoman Ileana Wachtel said city leaders have had years to address their outdated planning documents. “It proves Measure S is pushing them to do the right thing. But it’s too little too late,” Wachtel said.

“Now that people are demanding that the City Council do their job,” she added, “we’re getting some reaction.”

Measure S would impose a two-year moratorium on certain planning decisions, such as zoning changes. It also would make it harder for real estate interests to obtain amendments to the general plan, the citywide blueprint for development.

Foes of Measure S say it will restrict the supply of new housing, causing rents to skyrocket. They contend homeless Angelenos will be hit particularly hard because many affordable-housing projects require deviations from planning and zoning rules.

Councilman Mike Bonin said the proposal to update the neighborhood plans will help address L.A.’s “culture of speculation,” where real estate interests buy properties in the hope that they will be able to get city leaders to change the zoning rules for those locations.

Those developers then wind up in competition with homeowners who have put their life savings into their properties, Bonin said. The result, he said, is a series of “battles for the souls of our neighborhoods.”

“It’s unhealthy, and it results in bad planning,” he added. “It breeds mistrust and a lack of faith in the system, and in us.”

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