Thursday, October 29, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
CITIZENS WANTED - Proposition 11, which voters passed last year, took the job of setting district boundaries for state Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization seats out of the hands of California legislators.
Instead, a 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission will be drawing those maps next year after the 2010 Census tallies its numbers.
Who got the job of figuring out how citizens would apply? And who will oversee the process of winnowing the applicants down to a 60-person pool of those most qualified?
Meet Elaine Howle, state auditor. (For the full SacBee.com article from Elaine Howle see below.)
"Some have asked why a fairly obscure, non-elected state official would be charged with such an important new job," Howle writes in a guest op-ed in today's Bee.
"First of all, because I am a non-elected state official, I have not engaged in, and in fact am prohibited from engaging in, the kinds of political activities that elected officials do every day: e.g., fundraising; meeting with lobbyists; becoming active in parties or partisan politics; engaging in statewide or local political campaigns.
"Voters wanted someone without any ties to politics per se, beholden to no one, and who is not looking past the commission's role to their own next election," she adds.
The state auditor's office will be accepting applications from Dec. 15 through Feb. 12 for the commission, which must be established by the end of next year.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS. More than 400 business, labor and community leaders convened today at L.A. City Hall to hear from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and city elected officials on key issues facing the city. "We've got to stop being job killers in this town and start being job generators," said Mayor Villaraigosa (above). Throughout the day, the Chamber highlighted 16 policy recommendations to city officials at Access L.A. City Hall to create jobs, streamline city government and accelerate economic recovery. Six breakout sessions featured business, community and elected leaders. View photo gallery. Contact Samuel Garrison, 213.580.7568 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Ilaria Mazzoleni, Architect and Debora Gloria, AIA
- Civic leader: Lynne Goldsmith, Bicycle Program Manager, LA Metropolitan Transportation Authority
- Bicycle advocate: Dorothy Le, LA Bicycle Coalition
Monday, October 5, 2009
From THE PLANNING REPORT.
L.A. City Planning President Roschen On 'Real Planning'
One of the more difficult challenges that the L.A. City Planning Commission faces is the uncertainty over the city's budget—the staffing and leadership of the Planning Department. As Planning Commission president, could you address the staffing challenges facing the department?
The budget is having a major impact on the Planning Department. Gail Goldberg, the general manager, has really focused on it. She has done an analysis looking at the current staff and where we are facing staff reductions. It is a substantial amount—going down one third from a staff of 400 and probably dropping even below that. We are looking at a number of different types of budget impacts. We are looking at the specific jobs that our planners do so that we can see where the impacts are going to be felt the most. What this means is that there is very little opportunity for additional work programs at this point. We are just trying to set priorities on the programs we can keep going. There have been impacts on everything from policy issues to the community plans we are working on.
You have been on the commission since 2005. How did Mayor Villaraigosa entice you into serving on the Planning Commission?
It was easy. I'm an architect and I've been interested in civic engagement for a long time—more than 20 years of my career. Architects, as a profession, are in a good position to help with public leadership. It seems like architects could do much more. When the mayor talked to me about this, I thought it was a great opportunity and something I would enjoy personally. I also thought of it as an important step for the profession to keep architects involved in the public sphere. I have been interested, working with the AIA, in looking at ways to create civic engagement and leadership training on a local and a national level.
I support the mayor's vision. When he talked to me years ago about this, he talked about his vision, but he also talked about how he would give us a real opportunity to look at policy on our own. He has followed through on that and he has been, at least from my perspective, a very strong influence in many of the success stories that we have seen at the Planning Department.
You assumed the presidency of the commission last year with the resignation of former commission president Jane Usher. She showed leadership in creating the "Do Real Planning" agenda, but she took some shots as she was leaving the commission. What continuity is there going forward under your leadership?
Jane helped ground the commission as a very policy-focused group. We remain a group that is very interested in policy. The focal points that she established have set a precedent within this Planning Commission, which is something that we are very proud of and we continue to work and follow through on those issues. We have learned over the years. When we started out, we were a commission that, at times, focused very much on policy implementation through individual cases. We saw both the good and the bad through our efforts on those cases.
In the early years we would try to improve each individual case by making changes during the hearings. What we have been able to do, in more recent months, is focus not so much on change through cases, but focus more on how to institutionalize those policy issues that we have identified—how to make sure that these issues are brought up early in the design process and that it's something that staff introduces. Quite often, the commission will come up with priorities that are policy. We are trying to find ways to institutionalize these policies so that it's not left to the commission on a case by case basis. One really important reason is that developers appreciate the certainty when they don't see the last minute changes on their projects. We are working hard to find ways to make that communication with planning staff and how to make sure that there is follow-through on those issues.
The Planning Department and the CRA/LA leadership acted together in 2008 to preserve what is left of industrial zoning and the notion that economic development was central to bringing back the economy of L.A. and creating jobs. Can you talk about that challenge of protecting industrial land here in L.A. and what the Planning Commission continues to do to plan for economic growth?
The Industrial Land Use Policy is a citywide policy. One of the responsibilities of the Planning Commission is to implement citywide policies that have been established by the City Council. Opinion on the commission is often divided over the issue of residential projects in industrial zones. We are still debating this issue. I'm hoping that the commission will step forward to show consistency in the way that we review these cases. It will be significant to see the impacts of how our city moves forward on this issue. L.A.'s work base is very important. One of the things I look to is how we treat the edges of industrial areas. Can we use those edges in a way to look at transitions through housing? That type of policy is something we—or a developer—can look at specifically as we move forward, but only if the approach of incorporating transitional edges is consistent with the citywide policy for industrial land use.
There hasn't been a lot of leadership on economic development in the city for some time. Does the Planning Commission intend to weigh more in this, or is that still the focus of the CRA/LA alone?
The Planning Commission and the Planning Department have a different focus than the CRA/LA, but we share opportunities when they arise. The Planning Commission is interested in looking at development agreements. Do they offer the kind of flexibility for a developer to move forward with projects in these very difficult times? Do they offer the kind of community benefits that you negotiate with a developer to provide priorities for affordable housing and the job-base support? That it is a very high priority for the commission.
Commercial real estate is clearly in distress. We may have more foreclosures, empty buildings, and empty space because of this downturn. Won't a collapse of commercial real estate affect all neighborhoods and place-making throughout L.A.? Will storefronts and street corridors along the city be impacted? How is the Planning Commission and the Planning Department grappling with the unintended and unexpected effects of this downturn on our commercial strips and main streets?
At this point, we haven't seen cases that have started to move us in that direction, but it is a consideration that we have made. We are trying to see if there is any way that policy can anticipate the changing uses on "Main Street" and the changing commercial opportunities to ensure that those changes in uses are going to be "community-positive" rather than compromising the qualities of Main Street. How we will do that is still a subject of conversation. We would reach out to the development community; we would like to hear from them about ways that we could help support those efforts. No one knows better than the developers how the economy is going to impact the city. The Planning Commission and the Planning Department will be reaching out to understand these issues wherever we can.
Is California's SB 375 now falling through the cracks in Los Angeles because of budget and billboard issues? Does anyone have time within the departments or the commission to inform and make that planning nexus stronger?
That is a hard one to answer. We are still trying to see where the budget fallout is going to impact us in terms of staff. Then we will see how to set those priorities. The opportunities around transit are still a very big part of the visions of both the Planning Department and the Planning Commission. It is an opportunity that we don't want to lose. The struggle is really how to get the staff that we need in order to look at the policy issues and then move them forward. It is a little early to really answer that question.
As an architect, you designed the Hollywood Marketplace at Sunset and Vine, which is held as an example of sign districts that can be an important urban tool. What were you able to do at that site?
That project is one of the very first to build on the sign district that was introduced to Hollywood. Our hope was to use the signage there to do a number of things. One thing was to reinforce Vine Street, which has been, historically, downtown Hollywood. Vine Street going north really becomes the nexus for Hollywood and Sunset boulevards. We were hoping that the signage there would take the walkability and the strong urban presence intended in that project and give it a two-story scale to reinforce the commercial district. We were also hoping that the signage there would allow a kind of protection for the apartments. The signage was designed to, in a way, be innovative in terms of an urban design product that would both use signage as a part of the architecture, the urban language, and also as a valuable tool that would reinforce the excitement and use of those streets.
At the time that the project was being considered, Hollywood was really struggling to attract development. The income from the signage became an important consideration for the developer to move forward with the project. The hopeful thing is that signage districts can —through good urban design and careful consideration—find the right balance between signage, the urban language, and the urban fabric that creates and reinforces a place.
My office does a lot of historic preservation and one of the things we considered for Vine Street when we were designing that project was the kind of history that Vine Street had with signage. The rooftop advertising is very much a part of the history of that area. It became a paradigm for Hollywood. Our hope is to also make an historic connection to the past that would actually help us to create a project that was more substantially integrated. We also integrated the ABC headquarters building. We were able to save that building as the centerpiece of the project. Of course that building had a neon sign that was kind of iconic for Hollywood. We were able to reconstruct that historic sign which then informed how to do the signage for the project. There was a lot of thought given to how the signage was integrated. This thoughtfulness is a good example of how sign districts need to proceed so they give us the best, exciting environments balanced with commercial efforts that reinforce the place-making of Hollywood.
After a very tumultuous public debate, the city has passed an emergency moratorium on billboards. That was a bit different than what the Planning Department had come up with, even after a number of shots from the former Planning Commission president. Talk a little bit about what the city has now done and how it relates to projects like yours in Hollywood and the relationship between billboards, good planning, and good neighborhoods.
I would go back to when we were looking at the ordinance earlier this year. The City Council asked us to hold a series of public hearings to move forward a recommendation for approval on a new sign ordinance. The Planning Commission had five different public hearings, which was very unusual in my tenure, with extensive public participation to try to understand the sign situation as much as we could. The Commission worked very hard at it and the Planning Department committed staff, at a very high level, to focus on these issues. I am very proud of what the staff did and very proud of what the Planning Commission—in the very short time that we were given—was able to craft what I consider a very good recommendation to the City Council. It was a recommendation that looked at reducing signage substantially throughout the city and to balance that with the opportunity of creating sign districts where the signage would not only be allowed but would actually reinforce the urban language and place-making of those areas. The signage really became integral to the definition of a neighborhood. It seems to me and to most of the commissioners that this was a really healthy balance. It was a major step forward toward removing the visual blight we see in so many areas.
The legal implications are something else. That is primarily what the recent action of the city council was involved with, at the recommendation of the city attorney. At this point we have done our job in passing it on and we hope that we have laid a solid platform for the City Council to act. We got quite a bit of advice from the city attorney at the time and the new city attorney is looking at a different way to engage on many of these signage issues. I am really hoping that those will be even more effective than where we were before.
When you say, "legal issues of enforcement of sign ordinances are another matter," clearly there is some ambiguity as to what role the City Attorney's Office ought to play in implementing the policies enunciated by the city of L.A. Can you draw a line for us as to what those expectations are so that we don't hold the Planning Commission legally liable for what happens?
We—the Planning Commission, for example—are the clients of the city attorney. The city attorney plays a big and very necessary part in advising us so that we can act responsibly while also acting in the city's interest to be as consistent as possible in terms of how we move forward with the very complicated issues that signage represents. The city attorney very clearly doesn't do policy. Where we need the advice of the city attorney is on all these different legal matters. We are hoping at the Planning Commission—and I am very serious about this—to have a terrific relationship with the new city attorney. We had a rocky start. Regina Freer, the CPC vice president, and I have worked really hard to reach out to the new city attorney saying that we are looking for a substantive, supportive relationship that will help us keep our priorities. We constantly depend on the advice of the city attorney. The deputy city attorney is present at all of our meetings and really involved in the dialogue on a regular basis throughout the hearings. With the current situation of the sign ordinance and related litigation, we are very interested in what the new city attorney has to say on these legal issues. Whatever advice we get from the city attorney will be well considered, of course, with all the other issues set before us.