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LA Moving Ahead With Huge Overhaul of 1946 Zoning Code

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The LA City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee will consider a funding scheme today for a massive new development reform effort that would further streamline development in the city. At stake are Planning Department hopes to launch a five-year Comprehensive Zoning Code Reform effort sometime in the upcoming fiscal year--it would be the first comprehensive update of the city's Zoning Code since the current code's adoption in 1946 (that makes it the second oldest zoning code in the country, second only to Cleveland, Ohio). Since the adoption of the 1946 Zoning Code, amendments and supplements have swelled the original 84 page document to a 600-plus page book. The Comprehensive Zoning Code Reform is a key piece of the city's larger effort to streamline an unwieldy development approvals process under the Development Reform Strategic Plan--the same effort that produced the recently approved Multiple Approvals Ordinance, Core Findings Ordinance, the Community Plan Implementation Ordinance, and the Development Services Case Management Office. As Deputy Planning Director Alan Bell recently explained to Curbed, those initial efforts were incremental, targeted steps taken to improve the most problematic parts of the Zoning Code: "a down payment on a comprehensive effort to reform the code."

According to the Planning Department's funding proposal before PLUM today, "The revamped Zoning Code will include clear and predictable language that will offer a wider variety of zoning options to more effectively implement the goals and objectives of the General Plan and accommodate the City's future needs and development opportunities." The idea is that making the Zoning Code more accessible and functional will have the economic benefit of making project completion cheaper and faster.

New technology will enable many of the coming improvements: Bell points out that the "big ticket" item in the plan is support of Build LA, a web-based, interactive system that will act as "digital concierge" for applicants working through the project approval process--imagine TurboTax for the Zoning Code. Project components also include a "lay-person's guide to zoning" and a Unified Downtown Development Code. The latter moves Downtown up front in the reform process to take advantage of its role as economic engine of the region and its existing public transportation.

Preparation for the Comprehensive Zoning Reform effort has been underway behind the scenes for a while now, gaining new relevance with funding provided in the recently released budget proposal (pdf) from Mayor Villaraigosa (see page 50 of the budget proposal). Under the Planning Department's funding proposal, appearing before PLUM today, the five-year reform effort will require $990,000 in the first year, and a little more than $5 million over the course of the project. Money would come from the Construction Services Trust Fund and from a 2% increase in the General Plan Maintenance surcharge, "which is currently 3% on any permit, plan check, license, or planning application fee. The surcharge currently brings in around $1.7 million annually. The proposal would raise it 2% for a period of five years, bringing in an additional $1.2 million every year." Funding would pay for a team of consultants for planning/design, environmental, and web development.
· Comprehensive Zoning Code Revision [City File 12-0460]
· Ordinance to Streamline Development Approvals is On Its Way [Curbed LA]