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Revamping development regulations in Los Angeles may sound boringly wonkish, but the effect on the future of millions of residents could be significant.

Mayor Eric Garcetti and a group of City Council members announced plans Wednesday to revamp the way future development projects are regulated throughout Los Angeles.

Seven council members put forward a motion under which the planning department would be directed to recommend ideas for ensuring that local development plans for 35 different neighborhoods around the city are up-to- date.

Because of outdated plans, developers often ask for amendments to the existing plans. This practice has led to accusations by development foes that projects are out of step with local planning and zoning rules.

A group of residents and the nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation have launched a ballot initiative campaign to temporarily halt many large development in Los Angeles for two years, and to require the city to update its general plan every five years.

The proponents were recently cleared to begin gathering signatures needed to qualify the measure for the March 2017 ballot.

AHF President Michael Weinstein said the motion — which was introduced by Councilmen Jose Huizar, Gil Cedillo, Mitch O’Farrell, David Ryu, Bob Blumenfield and Mike Bonin, and seconded by Councilman Paul Krekorian — validates his group’s contention “that the current system is broken.”

But the ballot initiative proponents said the proposal by Garcetti and the council members falls short of what needs to be done to fix the way developments are handled.

Garcetti is expected to include an additional $1.5 million in his budget proposal — which he plans to release April 20 — to more than triple the planning department staff working on plan updates from 11 to 39 people, with the goal of ensuring all community plans that guide development projects and the general plan are updated within 10 years. The total annual cost for the community plan program would be $4.2 million in the upcoming year.

“We have a responsibility to plan for prosperity and growth in ways that reflect the energy of this great city and protect the character of our neighborhoods,” Garcetti said.

“I want Angelenos to have a sense of ownership over the development of their communities and these reforms help us get there,” he said. “Together, we’re creating a blueprint for the Los Angeles of today, and the Los Angeles of tomorrow.”

The mayor and council members also want the city’s general plan, which lays out rules for development projects throughout the city, to undergo its first complete update in about 20 years.

Such plans set overall development goals and regulate how tall buildings can be, places caps on the number of units a project can have and designates areas for industrial, residential, commercial and other uses.

The average time it takes to update a community plan is about 18 years, according to O’Farrell, who represents Hollywood, one of the major battlegrounds for contested development projects in recent years.

O’Farrell called the ballot initiative’s proposal to update the general plan every five years “ridiculous” and unrealistic, adding that it makes more sense to bring the city’s average down to 10 years.

The delays in updating the planning documents have been primarily due to the lack of funding, according to O’Farrell.

“There hasn’t been enough of a focus quite frankly, and an investment, to plan adequately,” he said. “I think now our mayor is probably feeling the pressure, but he’s also, I think, stepping up to that pressure in a very constructive way,” especially in his proposal to fund more planning staff.

O’Farrell called the ballot proposal to stop development “a very, very risky proposition” that would jeopardize or delay projects that benefit the city, such as the Union Station plan.

“I think what we’re doing at a city level is a much more methodical and constructive approach and it’s less reckless,” he said.

Huizar, who chairs the council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee, said with outdated plans, there is less certainty about what is appropriate for a neighborhood.

“There’s a lot of flexibility … and it leaves a lot of ad hoc decision-making to happen,” he said. “Once we update our community plans, it is going to lay out for us more of a framework about what is allowed and what isn’t allowed in a particular neighborhood.”

Huizar said the ballot measure raises good points and he also agrees the city has neglected its duties in updating its plans. He wants to look at whether the city should play a bigger role in conducting environmental impact studies on projects, rather than leaving that job up to developers.

—City News Service

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