LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed an executive directive March 9 affirming his commitment to several transportation and housing initiatives, including a ban on private meetings between planning commissioners and developers.
Garcetti made a promise to the backers of Measure S in September to ban the private meetings in an attempt to convince them not to put Measure S on the ballot.
The measure, which would have created a ban on any development projects requiring special permission on zoning rules for two years, was thoroughly rejected by voters and only received 31 percent of the vote.
Garcetti, meanwhile, was overwhelmingly re-elected March 7 with 81 percent of the vote.
“Today we are taking action to move full speed ahead, on actions that predated those elections and will continue on afterwards, that we build a city here of the future in Los Angeles that will improve the quality of life for all of us,” Garcetti said.
The move bans the private meetings and communication between developers and commissioners when a developer is going to have a project before the Planning Commission. It does not ban private meetings between the mayor and developers, or between City Council members and developers.
“Mayor Garcetti today does not come close to solving the problem of transparency in his attempt to follow-through on his September 2016 promises for transparency. Ending ex-parte communication only with his planning commissioners will have virtually no positive affect,” said Jill Stewart, campaign manager for Measure S.
The directive also will create a task force on transportation to help guide the expansion of the city’s rails and bus lines following county voter approval of Measure M in November, which is expected to raise $120 billion over 40 years for transportation projects.
The directive also created a steering committee on planning and commits the mayor to working with the council on its recent vote to create an ordinance requiring the city to update its community plans every six years.
The directive requires the Department of City Planning to prioritize updating the plans and to also prioritize Measure M and Measure HHH — which was approved by city voters in November and will raise $1.2 billion for homeless housing — as the community plans are updated.
Garcetti said despite his opposition to Measure S and stances on the need to build more affordable housing and housing in general, he is not “pro density.”
“There’s always this theme that City Hall is pushing density on community members who don’t want it,” Garcetti said. “What I’m saying is the number of people who live here are the number of people who live here. The number of people who move here aren’t signing up for permission from City Hall to move here, or to have children. They are here period and we have to respond.”
The city’s 35 community plans guide in detail what can and cannot be built in every neighborhood, but 29 of them have not been updated in over 15 years. With deep-pocketed developers donating generously to the campaigns of the city’s elected leaders while also frequently seeking special permission to build outside of zoning requirements — known as general plan amendments — the backers of Measure S argued City Hall was too cozy with developers and too quick to approve high-density, expensive housing that was pricing the city’s lower income residents out of certain neighborhoods.
Due to Measure S, housing became a big issue in the city over the last few months and in some of the city council elections, as challengers criticized incumbents for being too cozy with developers and not doing enough to address the city’s housing shortage for low-income residents.
But with all six incumbents re-elected — although Councilman Gil Cedillo may still face a runoff after all the provisional and mail-in ballots are counted — and Measure S being thoroughly defeated, voters seemed to send a message that they want more housing and are comfortable with City Hall’s approach to guiding its construction.
“There is no doubt that our city is facing a housing crisis and this requires an all-hands-on-deck approach,” Garcetti said.
Garcetti signed the directive at a news conference at City Hall, flanked by Councilman Jose Huizar, the council’s chair of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, and Councilman Mike Bonin, chair of the Transportation Committee.
Huizar stressed the number of moves the council has made recently to address some of the issues raised by Measure S and increase transparency. The council recently voted to craft an ordinance requiring the city to update its community plans every six years and to ban developers from using their own environmental experts.
“We certainly need to do a much better job of planning ahead for the city with regard to our community plans and our general plan,” Huizar said.
Bonin said that although voters approved Measure M and Measure HHH, he does not take the rejection of Measure S as an endorsement of the city’s planning process.
“Voters have said yes to mass transit, and they have said yes to solutions to homelessness. But I do not take [last] week’s vote in any way as an endorsement of the way that we do planning and development in Los Angeles,” Bonin said. “I think the voters that I heard from said we need to fix this process.”
Councilman David Ryu was not at the news conference but praised Garcetti’s directive. Ryu introduced legislation in September that would ban private meetings between developers and planning commissioners, and the motion is still in committee.
“I want to thank Mayor Garcetti for moving forward on this important planning reform,” Ryu said. “By banning ex-parte communications between commissioners and developers, we will continue to restore the public’s trust in the city’s planning process. This is a major victory for transparency in local government,” Ryu said.
“While this ban is a step in the right direction, we cannot stop here,” he added. “We must ensure that all 35 community plans are updated within the next six years and that community input is taken seriously throughout that process.”