By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In the case of the Density Bonus Ordinance that displeased Judge McKnew, when the Planning Commission asked Goldberg’s staff to tell it how the final wording of the ordinance was coming along, “Gail’s team delivered the update with the footnote that it’s been signed and passed into law” — without the Planning Commission.
In another instance, when the wildly popular Baseline Mansionization Ordinance, which restricted huge mansions, finally came up for a City Council vote last year — months after being approved by the Planning Commission — Usher was stunned to learn that Goldberg had reversed the Planning Commission’s “yes” recommendation — again using her claimed “delegation authority.”
“It’s an oligarchy, a despotism that’s relatively new,” Usher says of Goldberg’s behavior. “I do think that the trajectory of this didn’t happen overnight, and with the mayor’s re-election I’ve watched it intensify.”
In fact, since 1964, the City Planning Commission has delegated its authority to the director of planning only under limited conditions, such as fixing typos on rules approved by the commission.
But in an e-mail to the Weekly, Goldberg defends her actions opposing the mansionization law — on the grounds that the ordinance was changed so much by City Council committees after the Planning Commission approved it that it became a new ordinance. In her mind, Goldberg could therefore act unilaterally — on behalf of the Planning Commission, she claims — by opposing it.
But city law gives Goldberg authority only over “minor editorial changes . . . where no substantive changes are made from the last action” of the commission — the opposite of Goldberg’s claim to the Weekly. The City Charter actually requires that something like the the Mansionization Ordinance, once revised by various committees, goes back to the Planning Commission. Instead, Goldberg simply rolled over the commission.
Usher says she explained to Goldberg that the Planning Commission supported the final version of the mansion law, but Goldberg refused to change her “delegated” opposition. The bizarre contretemps came to a head in May 2008, when the Planning Commission voted unanimously in favor of the much-revised mansion law — in contrast to Goldberg’s increasingly exotic opposition to it.
By continuing to oppose the mansion restrictions, Goldberg also triggered an obscure City Charter law that requires an “unrecommended” ordinance to get a two-thirds “supermajority” vote by the City Council. Except this was not an “unrecommended” ordinance — it was, by this point, a power play by Goldberg. Ultimately, the revised ordinance approved by the Planning Commission got a unanimous City Council vote.
A real estate attorney, Usher was counsel to Mayor Tom Bradley, which is why she found the rhetoric of Villaraigosa’s first election campaign in 2005 so appealing, “as was the idea, in those pre-Obama days, of having a broad ethnic coalition leading our city.”
The glow lasted until last summer. “By the summer of 2008, the mayor wasn’t willing to engage in a single land-use issue,” Usher says. “I wasn’t able to kid myself anymore about my own ability to effect change. At what point do you transform from enlightened to complicit?”