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Finally: Los Angeles Itself Wants to Determine Its Development Future

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Rather than letting one of two competing ballot measures decide the future of LA, the city is taking matters into its own hands

There seems to be a solid consensus now that Los Angeles's planning process is broken, but there are big divisions in opinions on how to fix it.

Two ballot measures have taken a stab at doing so: One, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, would more or less freeze development—especially big, tall, dense development—for a couple years and prohibit exemptions to the incredibly outdated zoning codes. Another, the Build Better LA ballot initiative, would allow for "favorable conditions for General Plan amendments" if projects included a modicum of affordable housing for tenants who qualify as extremely low- or low-income—something that the city sorely needs—as well as local jobs.

But there'd been nothing formally proposed from the city or Mayor Eric Garcetti that attempted to repair the system and public opinion of the planning process. The LA Times editorial board even threw down the gauntlet last month with a headline proclaiming that the city "need[s] to fix the development process before voters do it for them."

Today, the challenge was accepted. KPCC reports that Garcetti is going to announce his plans to hire 28 new city planners to update LA's 35 community plans, the planning documents that guide development in areas across the city. Letting these community plans become outdated, it's argued, is why there are so many exceptions made to them; new ones, it follows, wouldn't need so many of these amendments.

Mayor Garcetti "laid out a plan for ongoing funding for the program to ensure updates are completed – start to finish — within 36 months," says a release from Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell, who, along with other members of the LA City Council, introduced a motion today calling for an "overhaul" of the whole Community Plan program, as well as a new Citywide General Plan, which hasn't been fully updated in more than two decades.

This process is not likely to go smoothly—when the city finally managed to update the Hollywood Community Plan a few years back with provisions that would allow a bit more density around Metro rail stops, a NIMBY group sued to overturn it.

Garcetti says he hopes that activists like the ones proposing ballot initiatives can work with him on these changes instead of trying to push a dramatic set of changes through via a public vote. "If there are any mistakes or unintended consequences (associated with the ballot measure) you can’t undo them. If we can get (to a solution) without going to the ballot, I think everybody would love that," he tells KPCC.

But until we hear otherwise, the Build Better LA Initiative is still aiming to be on the November ballot, and the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is waiting until March 2017 (and its likely much lower voter turnout).