Friday, August 6, 2010



by Michael Woo, Hon. AIA|LA 

Jane Blumenfeld

The Mayor and the Council have supported the concept of revising the community plans and the concept of re-organizing the City Planning Department along geographic lines.  But what has been the impact of budget cuts on these two goals?  What difference will it make if the community plan revision program and the geographic re-organization of the department do not proceed?

In some circles there is a tendency to think that the main purpose of a City Planning Department is to process permit applications as quickly as possible.  But you spent many years specializing in developing policy.  At a time when budgets are tight and there’s a lot of pressure to speed up the approval of projects, how can you justify having a significant number of staff working on planning policy instead of processing permits for specific projects?

The city’s inability to provide housing at a variety of income levels, close to major employment centers, is one of the factors which have led to the growth of areas such as the Inland Empire, Palmdale, and Lancaster as bedroom suburbs for long-distance commuters.  What more could the City be doing to foster housing at a variety of income levels?

If you had a key to the top drawer in the Planning Director’s desk and could write him a short private message, what would you write in the message?

Bill Boyarsky

About 18 years ago, after Ken Topping vacated the Planning Director job but before Con Howe was appointed, you wrote a column in the L.A. Times in which you argued that L.A. needed “a Daryl Gates of planning.”  In other words, you were saying that a planning director without a constituency is defenseless against politicians who either don’t support planning or don’t even understand what planning is.  Even though Gates is no longer considered a model police chief, does your earlier prescription still apply as a strategy for a planning director struggling to get support for his or her policies – if not a Daryl Gates of planning, then a Bill Bratton of planning?

Is the planning process in L.A. “too political” – or not political enough?

Vaughan Davies

AECOM’s designers and student interns succeeded in getting public attention for the Park 101 project.  What are the lessons to be learned from the Park 101 project about how to generate projects in L.A. which can make a difference?

If you had a key to the top drawer in the Planning Director’s desk and could write him a short private message, what would you write in the message?

Bill Fulton

As a Mayor and Councilmember and as a planning consultant, you know the world of local government and the world of urban planning.  Is the Planning Director’s position, especially in a big city, still a viable job?  Is it inevitable that a “strong” planning director gets into political hot water with a Mayor or a City Council? 

Is it unrealistic for a Planning Director to expect to survive in the job for more than five years?

Emily Gabel-Luddy

Some observers have said that the entitlement process in L.A. represents the worst of all possible world – it takes a really long time for a project to be entitled, and then after getting through the process, the project isn’t any better than if the process had been shorter.  What is your response to this observation?

There is relentless pressure in the local planning process to address short-term considerations, often at the expense of long-term goals.  And yet the long-term goals may comprise the core, the guts, of the rationale for the planning process itself.  Can you give us an example from within the L.A. City Planning Department of long-term goals taking precedence over short-term considerations?

The creation of the Urban Design Studio within the Planning Department marked a real commitment by Gail Goldberg to put resources into urban design.  Tell us what, in your opinion, was the Urban Design Studio’s biggest success – and what was the studio’s greatest failure? 

Christopher Hawthorne

Based upon what you have observed in other big cities in the U.S., does city planning in Los Angeles work better or worse than in other cities?  What makes L.A.’s planning better?  What makes L.A.’s planning worse?

In May of this year, you wrote an article in the Times about the role of civic architecture transforming the city of Medellin in Colombia, especially Medellin’s poor neighborhoods.  At an early point in the article you point out that Medellin’s population is 3.5 million – slightly smaller than, but comparable to the City of Los Angeles – which naturally makes an L.A. reader question why such things can’t happen in L.A.?  Is it essential to have a mayor who is a former math professor or a director of urban projects who is an architect?  Do the lessons of Barcelona and Curitiba also apply to L.A.?

John Kaliski

Architects seem to be divided between those who wish that the L.A. City Planning Department played a stronger role in encouraging better-quality design or more imaginative design and those who think that the routine City Planning processes are at best, meddlesome, and at worst, ineffective, in promoting good design.  Do you think that the City Planning Department should play more – or less – of a role in regulating design?

You work with local planning departments all over Southern California.  What do you see as the differences between the L.A. City Planning Department and the departments in other cities?

Renata Simril

You participated in the Urban Land Institute study panel on the economic impacts of Senate Bill 375 (generally concluding that better coordination of land use and transportation plans could be beneficial to the real estate industry). Because the City of L.A. and Metro have invested so much in transit infrastructure over the past 20 years, the City of L.A. potentially could do more than any other local government in Southern California to achieve the emission reduction goals of SB 375.  What could the City of L.A. do to achieve the goal of better coordinating its land use and transportation plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

How would you evaluate the City’s support of transit-oriented development?  And what could the City of L.A. do to promote better transit-oriented development?

You serve on the board of the L.A. River Revitalization Corporation.  Now that the L.A. River Master Plan has been adopted, what more can the City Planning Department do to promote the goal of river revitalization?

You’re very knowledgeable about real estate opportunities in the Cornfield/Arroyo Seco Specific Plan area.  How can the Planning Department help the area come to life?

Martha Welborne

Does efficient utilization of an urban transit system require increases in density?  If the answer is yes, how is this feasible in a city whose planning process emphasizes the protection of single-family home neighborhoods?

As the biggest city within Metro’s jurisdiction, with the densest concentration of bus and rail transit in the county, the City of L.A. is a very important partner to Metro.  But with its budget and staffing in decline, the City Planning Department’s ability to be a partner to Metro is sharply limited.  What are the most important ways in which the City Planning Department can support the goals of Metro?

What lessons did you learn from your involvement in the Grand Avenue project about what works in the L.A. planning process and what doesn’t work? 

Elva Yanez

You were involved in some local planning controversies involving the Elephant Hill  and the Northeast Hillside Zoning ordinance.  What did those controversies teach you about the role of community participation in the planning process?

In neighborhoods where the unemployment rate is high, the argument that environmental regulation harms economic and business growth may find more support than in more affluent areas.  (Or at least, that’s the theory.)  Based upon your past history as director of the Audubon Center at Debs Park and your experience at Trust for Public Land, how would you characterize the support for environmental regulation among residents of high-unemployment areas?

The last time there was a vacancy in the Planning Director position, Councilman Reyes held hearings to enable members of the public to put their expectations of the new Planning Director on the record.  I distinctly recall hearing someone from a low-income neighborhood say that his top priority was getting more supermarkets in his neighborhood.  What can a Planning Director or a Planning Department do to increase the number of supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods?

 (posted with the permission of Michael Woo, Hon. AIA|LA)

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