by Sue Pascoe
Why are there so many homeless in Los Angeles? Campaign Director for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, Jill Stewart, and former City Planner Dick Platkin, speculate that the way the city does business with some developers could be a reason. The two spoke at the Pacific Palisades Residents Association 58th Annual Meeting on Oct. 24 at the Pacific Palisades Woman’s Club.
“Since 2000, the city has allowed 22,000 affordable units to be destroyed,” Stewart said, and added, “Los Angeles now has a glut of luxury condominiums.”
Stewart said that 95 percent of the development is done correctly, but “about five percent of developers are not following the rules. There is spot zoning.” That kind of zoning is a provision in a general plan which benefits a single parcel of land by creating a zone just for that parcel and is different from surrounding parcels in the area.
Platkin, who worked more than 20 years in the Planning Department said he learned early on that one doesn’t deny a project. Everything is approved, but with conditions. When he asked the audience of about 30 who polices planning conditions, “No one!” was the loud response.
“That’s right,” he said and joked, “I’m working with an advanced class, here.”
He went on to say, “The Grove had pages and pages of conditions that were not followed. It’s only when private citizens go to court are they enforced.”
Former Mayor Dick Riordan supports the Neighborhood Initiative and told Stewart, “I’m for development, but I’m opposed to stupid development.” She said that Riordan is worried about the loss of land used for light industrial uses and the loss of affordable housing.
“There is no place for the working class in the city,” Stewart said, noting that by bowing to developers, the City Council, by default, is promoting a high density, high luxury city plan. That means working people must live outside of the city.
“There has been a demolition of affordable housing and no systematic construction of affordable housing,” Platkin said. “If you look at the city, it’s a wild wild west—anything goes.”
Stewart said, “We know exactly what has been built, now we’re working on what has been torn down.” That vacancy rate for luxury apartments is 12 percent. The citywide vacancy rate is three percent.
The audience was asked if they knew who provided the environmental impact reports for projects.
“Developers,” was the response.
Once again the audience was congratulated for understanding the current system. If the Initiative passes in the general election in March 2017, developers will be banned from writing their own environmental impact reports—an obvious conflict of interest. Stewart and Platkin said that those documents often contain lies, most often in the traffic portion—which underestimates the effect of development in a neighborhood.
The two point out that L.A.’s general plan is 20 years old, broken and doesn’t address who and how the 100-year-old sewers or the exploding water mains will be fixed. The city has not overseen a plan for City parks and has also decimated the city planning department.
The proposed initiative would ask that city officials prove that each community has enough water, good roads and safety services to handle changes along transit lines and other streets being planned by City Hall.
The initiative asks that the City Council do its job by creating a General Plan that includes updated Community plans with infrastructure limitations and community wants. (In 2005, the City Council, under Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Council President Alex Padilla, voted quietly not to have to write a General Plan.)
It would promote a two-year moratorium on spot zoning, which bends the rules to approve mega-projects that destroy neighborhood character and displaces residents. It does not stop development that adheres to zoning.
The Initiative has developer support. One told Stewart, “I don’t ask for changes, I don’t ask for variances, but I get grief, I get slowed down in the system.”
Developer Reza Akef also complained to the two that he was frustrated with planning, that he would go and wait and wait, and then come face to face with city planners who had no idea about this area.
The two were asked by the audience how the campaign was going and learned the Initiative is being opposed by four billionaire developers, The Lowy family of Australia (Westfield—Century City and the Village at Westfield Topanga), Kahn (real estate development company based in Miami), Eli Broad and the Lowes Hotel corporation.
“We have 400 small donors from around the city,” Stewart said, noting that they have wide support from residents. “Everywhere I go around the city, people have the same problems.”
Visit for 2preservela.org for more information.