Photo by John Schreiber.
Los Angeles City Hall. Photo by John Schreiber.

A City Council committee made several recommendations Tuesday to change the way Los Angeles considers and approves construction projects.

The debate comes as the influence of deep-pocketed developers in getting their projects approved by the city has received increased focus and sparked a number of moves by the council toward more transparency.

The Planning and Land Use Committee voted to recommend that developers be required to select environmental impact report consultants from a pre- approved city list. EIR consultants are currently picked by developers.

The committee also recommended the creation of an ordinance to update the city’s 35 community plans every six years. Some community plans — which provide guidelines for what can be built in a neighborhood — have not been updated in 15 years or more.

The recommendations stem from a council motion introduced last April by Councilman Jose Huizar and six other council members that also received support from Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“Our community plans affect scores of communities, each as distinct and vital as the next, and we must require that these plans are regularly updated to allow stakeholders to weigh in on what they want their communities to look like,” said Huizar, who chairs the committee.

“We need to expedite this process so we can bring accountability and transparency back into our general plan and community plan review processes — the public deserves no less,” he said.

The council has recently come under scrutiny for granting general plan amendments to some major developers, essentially granting special permission to build a structure taller or larger or with different parking requirements that zoning in the area allows.

One recent example involves a high-rise by developer Rick Caruso near the Beverly Center. The council this month granted a number of general plan amendments — also called “spot zoning” — and approved the project even though it was 185 feet high and far above the 45 feet that the area was zoned for.

Opponents of the project pointed to a Los Angeles Times investigation that found Caruso and his affiliates have donated a total of $476,000 to all but one of the city’s 17 elected officials and their initiatives over the past five years.

The committee’s vote comes about two months after the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office opened a review of questionable campaign contributions allegedly linked to developer Samuel Leung’s $72 million apartment complex in Harbor Gateway.

The committee also recommended that general plan amendments in a community be considered on semi-annual basis, so the city and communities can consider multiple development projects in a neighborhood and their potential impacts more comprehensively.

The committee also recommended the creation funding for community plan updates, which Huizar’s office  estimated would be $10 million to $15 million annually.

The recommendations are not the only moves the council has made recently to address development issues.

Four Los Angeles City Council members on Jan. 10 also introduced a motion on campaign finance reform that proposes banning developer contributions to city elected officials and candidates.

Councilman Mike Bonin introduced a motion on Jan. 17 that would substantively change Los Angeles’ campaign finance laws.

Candidates would demonstrate viability by collecting a certain level of low-dollar donations, agree to forgo corporate donations, special interest money or significant self-financing and, in exchange, receive a statutorily established amount of money sufficient to run “an aggressive and well-financed campaign.”

The process would be paid for in part with increased developer fees.

City voters are also set to vote March 7 on Measure S, which would halt all spot zoning for two years and require the council to write a new city general plan. The measure also would prevent developers from hand-picking environmental impact report consultants.

–City News Service

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