Open Letter to Hahn about New Director of City Planning


I received this “Open Letter to Major Hahn” regarding the appointment of a new Director of City Planning. Please read and, if you know anyone interested in this position that is mentioned in the letter they can contact James Rojas or

March 1, 2005

Dear Mayor Hahn,

We’re sending this letter to you about our ideas concerning the appointment of a new Director of City Planning. We want to thank your staff for keeping some of us informed about the process by which the new Director will be chosen.

We understand that your plan is to extend the hiring deadline, currently posted on the City’s web site as March 4th, and commence a process of community engagement in order to determine which criteria
need to be considered in choosing a new Director. It would certainly be useful in attracting potential candidates that the deadline become immediately and formally extended, since March 4th is only a few days away. We are requesting that the new deadline be set after the upcoming mayoral election, including after a runoff election in May if that were to occur.

This transition to a new Director also provides us a great opportunity as a City to clarify the Department’s mission and goals. To that end, we are attaching a proposed set of criteria to guide the Department’s priorities and the appointment process. We look forward to an ongoing dialogue with you on this important issue.

Planning for a Livable City:
An Open Letter to the next Director of the Los Angeles Department of City Planning

Preamble: a Vision for the City
In the face of the myriad of challenges confronting Los Angeles are a great many opportunities to create healthy communities. Our vision of a healthy community is one that has enough affordable homes for our growing workforce as well as homeless people; viable alternatives to driving alone, jobs that pay a living wage, streets that are pedestrian and bicycle friendly; and parks and plazas in every neighborhood. Over the next several years, millions of public and private dollars will be invested in the city in building new schools, parks, affordable and market-priced homes, expanded public transit and improved infrastructure. Los Angeles needs a vision for creating healthy communities to guide this new investment.

Promote Healthy Cmmunities
The General Plan of the City of Los Angles includes positive guidelines for creating healthy communities, including encouraging transit oriented development, mixed-use projects, and walkable and bikeable neighborhoods. The Planning Department needs to work with other city departments to ensure their policies and activities do not undermine efforts to create walkable neighborhoods and other planning efforts aimed at creating a healthy and more sustainable city. The Planning Department needs to ensure that the General Plan goals are pursued at the Community Plan, Specific Plan and project levels. In addition, the Planning Department needs to establish a more pro-active community planning process that is inclusive, participatory and gives voice to the concerns of diverse neighborhoods while meeting citywide goals. Finally, given the wealth of ethnic diversity in Los Angeles, the Planning Department needs to address the specific cultural needs of ethnic communities in planning efforts.

Explore Innovative Planning Approaches
The next Planning Director needs to have experience with innovative planning successes from other urban areas. For example, the City of San Diego has embarked upon a visionary planning process for its future growth, strongly grounded in a commitment to public involvement in all levels of decision-making. Started in 1999, the ambitious effort by the City to update its General Plan has yielded the “City of Villages” plan with support from diverse communities throughout San Diego. Such wide support could not have been gained without meaningful public involvement in every step along the way. Much can be learned from this success and other innovative community planning initiatives, and we urge the future Planning Director to look to these examples for guidance in moving forward with similar efforts here in Los Angeles.

Expand Affordable Housing
Los Angeles lacks enough affordable housing. The creation of a Housing Trust Fund was an important step forward, but the City needs additional policy tools to ensure that more affordable units are built and that the issues of homelessness and substandard housing are directly addressed. The Planning Department should support an Inclusionary Zoning ordinance so that new housing developments incorporate units affordable to low and middle-income residents.

Planning for a More Just Los Angeles
There is an enormous divide between low income and higher income people and communities in Los Angeles, which needs to be addressed directly in planning for the City’s future. On the one hand, it is essential that in creating and preserving mixed-income communities we improve rather than lose precious affordable housing,local jobs, and tight-knit working class communities. On the other hand, it is equally essential that new development provide the broadest benefit to the larger community as possible: living wage jobs, local hiring, affordable housing, and neighborhood services. Planning policies must facilitate this kind of high-road development to support a healthy economy for Los Angeles.

Examine Land Use Implications of Big Box Retail
Los Angeles and several neighboring jurisdictions have recently engaged in spirited debates about the appropriateness of “big box” retail stores. The City recently adopted an ordinance to require independent economic assessments of certain categories of new, large retail establishments. The Planning Department needs to implement the new ordinance and require design strategies to minimize the impacts of these giant stores.

Transit-Friendly City
Los Angeles needs a Planning Director who is able to think creatively about how we can break our transportation logjam by focusing on moving people instead of moving cars. A key element is to encourage development along key rail, Metro Rapid and other major transportation routes and to facilitate the development of non-motorized forms of transportation such as bicycles and walking. It is essential for the Planning Director to recognize that most transit dependent residents of Los Angeles are low-income people who travel far to get to their jobs and schools, and need to rely on affordable, efficient and clean transit service for their livelihoods. We need to implement the policy shift outlined in Los Angeles’General Plan away from trying to build our way out of congestion problems and toward putting new homes and jobs in areas that are well-served by public transit.

Green Building and Renewable Energy
The City of Los Angeles has made advances in the development of green buildings and renewable energy. The new Planning Director should take the next step by exploring additional next level strategies such as offering density bonuses, expedited permitting, fee waivers, and other incentives for developments that use green building practices or include clean energy technologies.

Watershed Planning and Protection
Los Angeles faces a number of challenges in the areas of water supply, storm water management and wastewater treatment. The Planning Department needs to ensure that catalyst projects for the basin’s watershed, particularly those along the Los Angeles River and Ballona Creek and any of the projects to be funded through the recent adoption of Prop O, are integrated into the City’s overall land use plan and streamlined through the permitting process. Moreover, the City has an historic opportunity to increase recreational opportunities, achieve environmental goals, and build community by revitalizing the Los Angeles River.

Community Planning for Safe and Livable Neighborhoods
The City needs to explore community planning tools such as zoning to reduce the number of liquor stores that can help reduce crime, converting trash-strewn alleys and vacant lots into community gardens, and planting trees in and around school yards for shade and energy savings. These in turn are important strategies in helping make neighborhoods safe and more livable.

A New Mission Statement
The Planning Department’s current mission statement is: “To provide sound professional Land Use guidance and the highest level of technical service to achieve safe and healthy residential neighborhoods and a secure business climate which fosters sustained economic growth.” We need a new mission statement embracing the goals of a healthy and sustainable city for the Department and for the City itself.

Matt Benjamin, Los Angeles County Bike Coalition
Kenneth A. Breisch, USC School of Architecture
Malcolm Carson, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
Darrell Clarke, Friends 4 Transit Expo
John R. Dale, Fields Devereaux Architects and
Peter Dreier, Urban and Environmental Policy Program,
Bob Erlenbusch, Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger &
Robert Garcia, Center for Law in the Public Interest
Carol Goldstein, UCLA Department of Urban Planning
Robert Gottlieb, Urban and Environmental Policy
Institute, Occidental
Larry Gross, Coalition for Economic Survival (CES)
Gilda Haas, Strategic Alliance for a Just Economy
Clare Marter Kenyon, Mt. Washington Homeowners
Alan Loomis, Moule & Polyzoides Architects and
Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, UCLA Department of Urban
Deborah Murphy, LA Walks
Jerilyn LÛpez Mendoza, Environmental Justice Project
Environmental Defense
Mary Nichols, Institute for the Environment, UCLA
Gloria Ohland, Reconnecting America and the Center for
Oriented Development
Katherine Perez, Transportation and Land Use
Joel Reynolds, Natural Resources Defense Council
James Rojas, Latino Urban Forum
Roxana Tynan, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy
Elva YaÒez, Northeast Los Angeles Open Space Coalition