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Here's Mayoral Candidate Kevin James on Planning in LA

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AIA 2012 Mayoral Candidate Forum with Kevin James from Michael N. Cohen on Vimeo.

The AIA|LA continued its ongoing mayoral candidate forum series last week with radio talk show host Kevin James. The conversation was once again moderated by LA City Planning Commission President Bill Roschen and LA Times Architecture Critic Christopher Hawthorne (and the events are proving just as useful in revealing the opinions and characteristics of two of LA's most powerful voices on the built environment). James's outsider role among the candidates meant that he took a few more shots at the City Council than we are likely to hear in this forum again, but the night's conversation repeatedly turned to a debate of the often conflicting dynamics of NIMBY opposition and the democratization of land use decisions. James, who described himself as the "voice of the neighborhood councils," said he'd give the groups the power to appoint commissioners to area planning commissions. Hawthorne, describing a perception of NCs as a source of opposition and anger toward development, asked, "How do you move forward from being in touch with these concerns about what ought not to happen, to putting forward an affirmative vision of how the city can change in a positive way?" James countered that, instead of opposing for opposition's sake, NCs oppose many land use decisions because they feel closed out from the process, arguing that the City Council should depend on the input and expertise of citizens when making land use decisions.

The Hollywood Community Plan, perhaps unsurprisingly, produced the evening's most heated exchange. James cited concerns that the plan would add density to "every block" of the neighborhood. Roschen quickly countered that "[The plan] is very clear where the density can go, and it's very clear how it protects the historic district."

Hawthorne, for his part, seemed most bothered by James's past appeals for more parking in the city, explaining that architects consider the city's "outdated parking requirements" to be one of the primary impediments to delivering the economic benefits of quality architecture. (According to Hawthorne, "one of the main differences between Los Angeles and other cities of its size" is the city's use of parking minimums rather than parking maximums.) James said he made those calls while discussing apron parking in neighborhoods in Westwood and along Third Street, suggesting that LA follow the model of Beverly Hills by building subterranean parking lots that could then be covered with park space. In a moment that surely made every complete streets advocate in the room cringe, James then claimed that removing parked from the street would "better move cars through Los Angeles," adding that the city's stock of foreclosed housing would be a good source of land for more parking spaces.

Here are some of the evening's best moments:

-- Curbed's unofficial count of the amount of times James used the word "monorail": four.

-- James was delighted to point out to Hawthorne that a letter calling for a part-time City Council was rejected by the LA Times (although it was published by the Daily News and the LA Business Journal).

-- James called the City Council "the taxpayer-funded after party for state assemblymembers." The benefits of moving to a part-time Council, as described by James, would be more than reduced pay for the councilmembers--city commissioners and neighborhood councilmembers would also have a more realistic chance to win elections. James added another dig at the council: "I believe they are part time anyway."

-- To describe his concerns with the Hollywood Community Plan, James said, "I don't want LA to become Las Vegas west."

-- James described the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles as "A welfare program for billionaire developers," adding, "When you look at $52 million going to Eli Broad for a parking garage, and you look at...the amount of CRA money spent in area such as Watts, with 150,000 residents, which was $31 million...that's a problem for the redevelopment agency."

-- James got practically Jacobsian describing how much more "in tune" bicyclists are to their neighborhoods than people in cars, even go so far as describing bikers as the "neighborhood watch."

-- Hawthorne's argument that "congestion is not the number one enemy in terms of planning and shaping our city," because it's a "fallacy that we can do anything to get people out of their cars."

As with last week's forum, a video documenting the whole conversation is already available online (see it above). Next up is City Controller Wendy Greuel. Prior mayoral forums featured Councilmember Jan Perry and former Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner.
· Here's Mayoral Candidate Austin Beutner on Planning in LA [Curbed LA]
· Here're Mayoral Candidate Jan Perry's Thoughts on LA Planning [Curbed LA]