By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Wes Joe, of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council, says that his Community Plan was rewritten in 2004, just before Goldberg got here from San Diego, so Silver Lake won't be up for review for some time. Joe says city officials contacted one in five Silver Lake households that year to help redo the Community Plan, and those meetings drew the "usual array of Anglo homeowners" in a neighborhood that's also heavily Latino. Steve Leffert, the president of Lake Balboa Neighborhood Council in the Valley, says that Lake Balboa's two adjacent Community Plans were rewritten in 1993 and 1994, and he's heard nothing from the Planning Department — yet.
The ostensible purpose of Community Plans is to manage the growth that is now officially capped at 4.2 million before city services — like sewerage and local roads — are strained beyond capacity. Perica points out that the current population of 3.9 million doesn't include the 300,000 to 400,000 undocumented residents who make up 10 percent of the city, some living in 50,000 to 70,000 illegally adapted garages and storage spaces, according to the Department of Building and Safety. "Keep that in mind the next time you're stuck in traffic," Perica says. And the planning that exists for that shadow population doesn't begin to address the scale of the problem.
Some residents are stunned by the way the city is trying to circumvent the intent of the Yaroslavksy-sponsored slow-growth measure known as Proposition U, embraced in a landslide vote in 1986, which cut in half the size of buildings allowed on commercial strips adjacent to residential areas.
Voters ushered in Prop. U after then Mayor Bradley, Council President Ferraro and prodeveloper council members like Pat Russell embraced wildly inappropriate projects. Westwood Village was targeted for massive growth, and a huge trash-burning facility, Lancer, was pushed in South L.A. One flash point came with the $43 million, six-story Encino Terrace Center office tower, which now looms over an attractive Encino neighborhood, wiping out privacy below and casting a permanent shadow.
Prop. U aside, North Hollywood and Hollywood are now targeted for 20-to-35-story skyscrapers that include a mix of residential on the upper floors and commercial on the bottom. The 35-story Columbia Square building will tower over Sunset Boulevard at Gower Street. Such skyscrapers represent dramatic — and virtually undebated — departures for Hollywood and the Valley. Neither skyscraper site is protected by Prop. U, which doesn't apply to Hollywood, downtown or the Metro Rail site in North Hollywood.
Beyond what's in store for Hollywood and the Valley, Yaroslavsky also believes that the SB 1818 Implementation Ordinance places treasured, low-slung neighborhoods such as the Fairfax District's historic rental corridor at risk. But since the mayor is ducking public discussion, Yaroslavsky, a powerful elected official, finds himself instead debating two little-known, if influential, city employees who serve at Villaraigosa's pleasure — Goldberg and Senior City Planner Jane Blumenfeld.
"This is where Gail Goldberg is missing the boat," Yaroslavsky explains of the threats to established, steady neighborhoods. For example, in the Fairfax District, where SB 1818's incentives allow developers to blow past existing zoning, "You've just increased the chance of demolition and redevelopment from impossible to probable."
Though Goldberg counters that the new law doesn't threaten the Fairfax District, in a moment of candor she agrees that SB 1818 is an unavoidable state law that's "a terrible fit for Los Angeles." Blumenfeld, too, concedes that it's "draconian ... but we're trying to make it work."
But Yaroslavsky says it was Blumenfeld, not the state, who pushed the new densities well beyond the state requirements to "35 percent more density," and Blumenfeld then "laid out all the 'findings' to approve it."
Villaraigosa isn't part of this growing rancor. His own views are unknown, aside from his repetitive claim that the "construction crane is the official bird" for Los Angeles.
Meet Jane Blumenfeld, the objectof Yaroslavsky's scorn and senior planner for the city of Los Angeles. After receiving her bachelor's in history from the University of Wisconsin, and then a master's in city planning from the University of Pennsylvania, she came here in 1978, working as a planning adviser for Mayor Bradley, just as young Councilman Yaroslavsky was ushering through Prop. U to halt commercial high-rises near homes.
After spending some years in the real estate business, Blumenfeld worked as chief of staff to former Councilman Mike Feuer, then rejoined the Planning Department in 2001. A small woman with a quick wit propelled by spurts of sarcasm, Blumenfeld appears a bit stunned by the charges Yaroslavsky lodges against her, like an elf reacting to the roar of a bear.
"All right ... all right," she says calmly. "Let's just take a look at his work."
Blumenfeld leads me through a maze of hallways in City Hall, to an inner office where she points to a color-coded map. "See that?" she says, pointing out that 83 percent of the commercial parcels in the city are marked — indicating Prop. U is in force. "It's not physically possible to build growth there, because Zev has blocked it with Proposition U."
But that's not true. In 2002, under Mayor James Hahn and with virtually no public scrutiny, the City Council watered down Prop. U, creating a new land zone confusingly dubbed "Residential Accessory Services." In such zones, projects can be doubled in size if the developer merely agrees to mix housing units with businesses. In another nod to developers, and calling it "smart growth," the council decided that projects with "affordable" housing can be one-third bigger than permitted if they are within 1,500 feet of a bus stop. Together with SB 1818, much of L.A. is now open to multistory construction. (Click here to download PDF of the map.)
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