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To Blumenfeld, those neighborhoods are underutilized "transit corridors." She also denies Yaroslavsky's charge that Fairfax — as well as other stable villages that make up L.A. — is threatened by SB 1818. Developers still find that "land is expensive, lumber is expensive. The [state] law's been in effect for almost three years, but we've not seen any projects on Fairfax."
"So why write these incentives into the new law?" Yaroslavsky retorts. "The city can't keep talking out of both sides of its mouth."
City leaders first learned of plans to mandate denser California cities in a 1996 memo from the State Department of Housing and Community Development. But Yaroslavsky insists he didn't hear about SB 1818 until last summer, when a mole from the city's Planning Department leaked him a draft of the plan for apartment buildings 35 percent bigger than allowed.
"We were appalled," Yaroslavsky says. So the county supervisor again became the town crier. Prodensity groups begrudgingly credit him for pressuring the council to ban these higher buildings next to or across alleys from R1 (single family) homes. But other neighborhood protections, such as a lengthy appeals process, were stripped away.
"This all comes from the stupidity of doing these things behind closed doors," Yaroslavsky says. "Now everybody's weighing in. They didn't know what was going on. Now the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council is picking this all apart, and rightly so."
On hearing Yaroslavsky's version, Blumenfeld rolls her eyes.
"There's really no secret plans here," she says. "We don't do anything in this department that's not superpublic and transparent, and nobody knows better than Zev the steps we go through to adopt an ordinance. There were many, many public hearings."
She cites a series of committee meetings, describing them as poorly attended: "'Wow! A plan to implement SB 1818! Let me give up my Saturday to go to this!'"
In fact, Angelenos don't have a clue what's been happening, or what's coming. In the 32 months since Villaraigosa was elected, for example, the Los Angeles Times and the Daily News have written only four stories about a plan to allow apartments without parking in order to squeeze in more units. The phrase "SB 1818" has appeared in just 14 articles. The mayor's czar of zoning variances, Michael LoGrande, is virtually unknown — mentioned just six times in Los Angeles print media in the past two years. And the "superpublic" hearings cited by Blumenfeld were attended almost exclusively by lobbyists, a few activists and the occasional curious neighbor.
"There should be a debate!" Yaroslavsky wheezes, a victim of allergies, dabbing his nose with a handkerchief.
"The proponents of the density hawks, including the director of the Planning Department, and the real estate industry, and the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce — they had the audacity to say that they negotiated the plan [with homeowners]. Not true, there wasn't one neighborhood group that knew about it!"
Now meet Gail Goldberg, Blumenfeld's boss and philosophical cousin, and the other object of Yaroslavsky's discontent. On a Friday at 8:20 a.m., I step out of a City Hall elevator on the fifth floor, walking down an imposing corridor. There stand the double doors to the offices of the director of the Planning Department, Goldberg.
More than 30 feet back from the unattended public counter sits Goldberg's assistant, Lily Quan, the only person in the vast reception area at that hour. She looks up. "May I help you?"
"I'm with the L.A. Weekly, and I just got stood up by the planning director for an 8 a.m. meeting at Starbucks."
Quan offers an expression of withering condescension. "I think you're confused," she says slowly, as if to a mentally impaired person. "Your meeting is scheduled for next Friday."
"I have a copy of the e-mail, sent by you, confirming the meeting for this morning."
Quan consults her computer, tapping buttons.
"Looks like we made a mistake," she concedes. "Sorry ... She's got a 9 a.m. appointment, so you'd only have half an hour."
"That," I say, "would be a good start," pondering how the Planning Department could have so much trouble planning a cup of coffee.
At 8:35, Quan ushers me down a small hallway. Goldberg graciously rises from the seat behind her desk to apologize, greeting me in a manner that is both warm and — since we are in City Hall — imperious.
"So what have I read of yours lately?" she asks.
"You would probably have a better idea of that than me."
"What I mean is, what have you written that might have annoyed me?"
In fact, I had recently authored a piece on the city's "Parking Reduction Ordinance," which lets developers of apartments and condos near train stations and bus stops get a waiver from the city's minimum parking-space requirements. In a radical departure, the city could allow big apartments to be constructed without parking spaces. The developer need only prove he is providing a vaguely imagined "alternative means" of transportation — potentially, anything from carpool programs to bicycle racks to walking canes and foot balm — that a local city-zoning administrator feels is a "viable alternative" to driving.