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Last Night's Future of Planning Panel, Future of the City Wrap

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The old Bullocks Wilshire drew a planning-centric crowd to last night's “Future of the L.A. City Planning Department (And The Future of the City)” panel, an event hosted by Michael Woo, planning commissioner and dean of Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Environmental Design. Woo moderated a discussion among 10 panelists, a group that included everyone from Emily Gabel-Luddy, former head of LA's Urban Design Studio, to AECOM Urban Design Director Vaughan Davies, to California Planning & Development Report editor and Ventura mayor William Fulton. Over the course of two hours, a handful of themes emerged: The need for strong community plans, the power base when it comes development decisions, and the role of the Metro in planning.

Josh Stephens, editor of the California Planning & Development Report, who was there last night, sums up the event this way: "If there was a single point of consensus about how to move forward with high-quality development, it was articulated most clearly by Forest City Sr. Vice President Renata Simril: 'For me as a developer, the notion of by-right speaks volumes to my ears. Time is money. I’m more apt to be able to built a project that yields that (desired) result because there’s clarity, there’s certainty in that plan. And, by the way, I know I’m not going to get challenge by the community because the community has bought into that specific plan.'

Bill Fulton backed up that assertion, saying: 'You prove to (councilmembers) that by doing a planning process that results in a consensus that people can buy into that developers will have more clarity?and a roadmap. If you can prove to the politicians that there’s some kind of a plan in place that makes it easier for developers to get to the end and build stuff that the neighborhood wants, that’s how you prove to councilmembers that good planning is good policy.'"

Stephens has summaries of many of the speakers' comments, while LA Observed's Bill Boyarsky (he was one of the panelists) sums up the themes of power discussed last night in his blog post today. As Woo noted: "The City Planning Department and the planning director operate in a political culture in which it is more customary than in other cities for elected officials to intervene in the planning process."

But while the Mayor and City Council hold an inordinate amount of power when it comes to development, there's another power base. “Is there a more powerful influence in planning than the M.T.A?” asked Fulton, who is mayor of Ventura, a planning scholar at USC and publisher of the respected California Planning & Development Report."

Meanwhile, in their write-up of last night's event, the LA Weekly tackles more of those "political swamp" issues related to power, development and City Hall. And they covered comments by Michael LoGrande, who spoke at the event. "[LoGrande] warned of the fiscal realities: "We're competing with police and fire, and we're losing." He also dryly noted, "We have people excited about planning, but now we need to get people excited about funding planning."

Times critic Christopher Hawthorne, also one of the panelists, recapped some of the event in a piece today, agreeing that LoGrande's had some "understandably cautious if rather dour opening remarks," given what the new planning director faces.

But not all is so dour. At last night's event, Vaughn Davies from AECOM had some more radical if perhaps unrealistic thoughts, like using eminent domain to seize property for MTA projects. He also urged LoGrande to act quickly. "We need to move swiftly and we need to be as nimble as possible. We can’t wait for Planning to unveil some big vision for the city." Additionally, Elva Yanez, L.A. Collaborative for Environmental Health Policy and Justice, also spoke of the need to get more of the community involved before developments are approved. “There is no mechanism for community input before it turns into a street fight?There is no intermediary to do public advocacy for community outreach. We don’t need development funded outreach groups muddying the waters. “

If there was some inspiring talk last night, as well as some depressing themes (back to the political swamp talk), as Hawthorne pointed out, the problems facing Los Angeles also make the city one of the more interesting places to live at the moment. "There’s no city even close to its size that faces so many fundamental questions about what it’s going to be in the coming decades," he told the audience.
· A Strategy Session for Los Angeles [CP]
· How MTA will shape Los Angeles [LA Observed]