This update is long overdue. Thank you all for following along. You can now find my planning-related observations at Planetizen.com, where I am the Managing Editor.

Wow. Desert Raven by Jonathan Wilson off the album Gentle Spirit, which was picked as number 4 on MOJO’s 50 best albums of 2011.   

Above is a link to a piece by Christopher Gray detailing the historical decline of street space dedicated to pedestrians. Gray ruminates that, “for centuries, pedestrians had undifferentiated dominion over both the sidewalks and the roadbed — sidewalks were not pedestrian cattle pens, but off-limits zones for vehicles. ‘The street’ meant the entire open area, from building line to building line.”

Efforts aimed at increasing the sharing of streets by all users, such as this project along Exhibition Road in London, could help to reverse the trend that Gray laments.   

Above is a link to an article from earlier this week by Christopher Hawthorne on recent efforts to catalogue and protect elements of LA’s architectural, artistic, and engineering history. Picking up on the emerging efforts to honor the the city’s postwar history and cultural and technological contributions, reflected in the battle to preserve Richard Neutra’s Kronish House, the establishment of the Kleinrock Internet Heritage Site at UCLA, and in the ongoing Pacific Standard Time series of exhibitions, Hawthorne identifies an important moment in LA’s maturation.

However, to suggest that this moment of interest in preserving and remembering the recent past is novel, or in some way newly serious, and not part of a continuum flowing through the Los Angeles Conservancy (and its 6,000 members) and particularly its Modern Committee (when speaking of publicizing and preserving post war relics) is a major oversight. 

The LA Times published an article yesterday looking at the ways in which CEQA (the state statute requiring environmental review of a project’s impacts prior to securing approvals) can be nefariously used by developers against each other. I’m not fully versed in the positives and negatives that CEQA brings to the development process, but after 40 years, it’s clear that cracks are beginning to appear in its foundation and application.

While I think the aims of the legislation remain sound, and it has helped to give otherwise powerless community groups a seat at the decision making table, the current process provides ample opportunity for misuse. My gut opinion is that comprehensive CEQA reform is needed. However, the piecemeal reform measures recently signed by Governor Brown (SB 292 and AB 900) are uneven and unhelpful. Instead of providing more equity and certainty in the process, they seem ripe for abuse, cronyism, and uneven application.     

Judging Hollywood by its Surface

On Monday, I attended the first of two Open Houses and Public Hearings to be held this week for the Department of City Planning’s updated Community Plan for Hollywood. At the Open House, city staff from multiple departments were on hand to answer questions about the plan. At the Hearing, members of the public were invited to submit oral and written comments on the plan, for the record. Listening to the often contentious comments from the public regarding the additional development proposed in the plan provided me with a few insights regarding the planning process and the planner’s role in that process. 

First, I imagine it’s extremely hard for any community to imagine the benefits that increased density brings to existing residents. And the residents who raised questions about the ability of the area’s infrastructure to support such growth probably have a valid point. I imagine the conversation might go a bit differently if Hollywood were its own city with its own services, or perhaps if there was a city-wide visioning document that established each community’s role and responsibilities in contributing to the greater development of Los Angeles.

If residents and city staff accept the population and job growth figures projected in the document as valid (20,000 additional residents and 18,000 additional jobs by 2030), and there is much debate about the accuracy of those numbers, then it is imperative that the planning staff develop plans to accommodate such growth. Therefore the arguments made at the meeting in opposition to allowing any additional development seem like an invalid proposition. However, the argument that current zoning, as adopted in the current Hollywood Community Plan of 1988, is adequate to accommodate such growth may demand consideration in light of the community objections. Not having had the chance to do thorough research on that argument and not remembering any such reference in the updated plan, it’s hard for me to comment on the validity of the argument.   

Secondly, observing this community plan process reaffirms, for me, the crucial job that planners have in creating and articulating compelling, attractive, and achievable visions for the communities in which they work. Such visions, achieved through an open, aggressive, and engaging consensus building process, can galvanize a high percentage of stakeholders in support of a common goal.  

The process and plan also highlight, for me, the difficult position planners occupy in mediating between those individual existing stakeholders who have invested time, energy, and capital in their community, and whose products create an attractive location for speculative investments. And on the other hand, the developers who, taking advantage of that opportunity, seek to invest their own time, energy, and capital in implementing the vision set forth. In Hollywood, the city planning staff has the difficult task of speaking for another important stakeholder group as well: the 20,000 “silent” future residents who do not have a voice in the current process.   

While some communities may have a valid argument in wanting to severely limit future development, I don’t think Hollywood is in that position. For Hollywood to remain a global symbol of Los Angeles and a vibrant physical home to the entertainment industry, and not just a dying mnemonic association, the revitalization that has occurred over the last 10-20 years must continue. Hollywood is not Larchmont Village, it has global cache, and a Hollywood that cannot retain and perpetuate the tangible manifestations of everything that word signifies would have dire results for greater Los Angeles.

One issue I have with the Community Plan document itself is its relative silence on the multitude of disparate private surface parking lots in Hollywood. These surface lots negatively affect circulation, quality of life (public safety for instance), and quality of the physical environment in the area, and I’d like the Plan to include specific policies and/or procedures to address their proliferation and appearance. Hollywood would be the perfect setting for a coordinated and consolidated approach to parking management, the best local examples of which can be found in Pasadena and Santa Monica. Strategically located public garages can provide parking capacity and simplicity of use for residents and visitors alike (an issue in any urban environment). Use of such lots would inevitably decrease profitability for the private lots and hopefully encourage owners to sell those vacant properties to interested developers or develop the parcels themselves.

There may be other ways to make the use of vacant parcels for parking less valuable (thus encouraging redevelopment) such as city-wide regulations to license and/or tax providers. It’s an issue I’m not terribly knowledgeable about, so if any readers have any possible solutions, please comment. To me, it’s a huge problem for the neighborhood and one that other cities have found creative ways to address.

The final meeting will be held tomorrow from 4:30 onward at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood (the public hearing begins at 6:30). Approval of the plan will be formally taken up by the Planning Commission next month.