Do Real PLanning

In fall 2005, the Mayor appointed nine new commissioners to the City Planning Commission (CPC). The Commission quickly identified a need to better frame the planning policy dialogue and establish the context by which the Commission would conduct their decision-making. In response, the CPC launched an effort which ultimately changed the culture of planning both within the organization and citywide. The Commission created a series of planning principles to frame the way policies, programs and projects would be considered. The “Do Real Planning” mantra became the Commission’s document title. Instead of the Commission simply responding and reacting to the projects and programs brought before them, they were now in a position to proactively guide and more effectively influence the outcomes. The “Do Real Planning” document provided 14 guiding principles to set the tone for civic discussions about planning issues and quality of life for communities and neighborhoods.

Over the last eight years, these principles have served as a policy roadmap for the City and have resulted in a thoughtful discourse and tangible results, as highlighted in the review of accomplishments incorporated in this document. Thanks to the Mayor and the CPC’s leadership, the City family was empowered to advance various objectives including enhancing neighborhood protection, elevating design quality, repurposing streets, achieving community equity, and promoting sustainability and mobility. The Department of City Planning moved in a new direction and began to look at re-engineering the planning processes and playing an active leadership role in shaping the livability of our city.

Today Los Angeles is undergoing a significant urban transformation. Each principle in the Do Real Planning initiative addresses the different yet related elements of building a more livable city and has brought the human scale into the planning, designing and remaking of the urban environment. In short, the CPC’s leadership in developing these principles has elevated the value of planning citywide. This document celebrates the achievements by the Mayor, City Council, CPC, and the Department of City Planning over the last eight years, and provides a foundation upon which future elected and appointed officials can build.

The Department of City Planning has taken these concepts to the next level in its long-range planning efforts. Several of these projects have been funded and are currently in development. The creation of the City’s first Mobility Element, a new Health & Wellness Chapter of the General Plan Framework Element, transit-oriented land use planning programs along the City’s future rail lines, the new community plan program, and the comprehensive overhaul of the City’s 67-year-old zoning code are just a few of the catalytic projects that will continue to influence the culture of our City and how Angelenos experience the built environment.

Table of Contents

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The answer to one question, more than any other, will tell us whether a project has it right: Does the proposal actively welcome its own users, its neighbors, its passersby? The planning history of Los Angeles exposes our failure to analyze buildings in context. Smitten by the automobile, we trivialized our daily role as pedestrian, our need for inviting storefronts, broad sidewalks, plentiful benches, graceful lighting. We must prioritize the human scale of our built structures and street environments. We must insist that each new project visibly knit people together.

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Chapter 2: Offer Basic Design Standards

Too many rules are a bane to growth and development. But too few rules, or misguided rules, can invite shoddy product and shabby boulevards. We must strike the right balance by announcing a handful ofrequirements. Our goal should be to eliminate the sea of stucco boxes, blank walls, street-front parking lots, and other inhospitable streetscapes.

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Chapter 3: Require Density Around Transit

We need more jobs and housing for our current residents and for those whose arrival is imminent. At the same time, we must foster our fledgling rail system and its bus partner, to untangle our worsening traffic. The planning solution is elementary: congregate additional density at train and rapid bus stops, and discourage new density where we anticipate no mass transit relief valve.

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Chapter 4: Eliminate Department Bottlenecks

The volume of permit applications, our caseloads, and processing time have risen exponentially. Yes, these increases have occurred during years of hiring freezes and unaddressed attrition. But, this Mayor and City Council have pledged to strengthen our numbers. We must respond by ferreting out our systemic slowdowns. Our delayed responses abet inferior

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Chapter 5: Advance Homes for Every Income

We own a prized commodity: the power to increase the value of land by making its zoning more lucrative. The property owner need not be the exclusive beneficiary of our pen stroke. In this time of housing crisis, let’s unabashedly exploit this asset for the common good. Every upzoning should carry with it an obligation to provide, preferably through on-site units but at least via monetary contribution, housing for the poor and middle class. We can all win.

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Chapter 6: Locate Jobs Near Housing

The time for segregating jobs from housing in Los Angeles has passed. The age of unrelenting sprawl has met its match in intolerable commute times. Fortunately, we have several stale business boulevards and districts that are ripe for reno-vation; in these traditionally commercial-only locations, we must include both jobs and housing in the new mix.

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Chapter 7: Produce Green Buildings

We are late to the party. The City’s codes must be overhauled to require, or at the very least incentivize, building materials, systems, and methods that are health conscious and environmentally friendly. We planners should not wait for such new rules to hit the books. Let’s announce today a menu of benefits that any developer who will commit to building a LEED certified project can expect in return from our department.

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Chapter 8: Landscape in Abundance

The Mayor has challenged us to plant a million trees. But most development proposals still only offer to meet the minimum requirements for landscaping; many do not even rise to that level. We must rewrite our project submission requirements and our landscaping mitigation mea-sures to show our seriousness and solidarity of purpose on adding shrubs, vines, and trees to create an urban forest.

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Chapter 9: Arrest Visual Blight

Amidst the clutter of power lines, slapdash signage, and the demolition of our historic gems, it is difficult to find visual calm on our streets. The Planning Department has a key role to play in reducing the built intrusions into the lives of our residents. We must seek phased above-ground wires, controlled limitation of signage to appropriate districts, numbers, and sizes, and preservation of our historic resources.

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Chapter 10: Neutralize Mansionization

Neighborhoods zoned single family deserve our protec-tion. The most pervasive threat they face is the replacement of existing homes with residences whose bulk and mass is significantly larger than the street’s current character— sacrificing greenery, breath-ing room, light, and air. Let’s be the champions of a city-wide solution to p revent out-of-scale residences.

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Chapter 11: Nurture Planning Leadership

Professional planning advice has been supplanted in this City with politically engineered compromise. Decades of this behavior have produced a reticent Planning Department that bends freely to both elected officials and fellow departments. We must alter this culture by standing strong for one thing at all times: advocacy of sound planning. Courageous and cogent planning must be rewarded and its practitioners promoted to positions of leadership.

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Chapter 12: Identify Smart Parking Requirements

Our long-standing love affair with the auto-mobile has led us to mandate acres of parking spaces and parking lots that often occupy prime street frontage. We must revisit our “one size fits all” suburban parking standards, and replace them with project and location-specific tools such as parking maximums, pooled parking, automated stacked parking, and other emerging techniques.

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Chapter 13: Narrow Road Widenings

The most overused mitigation measure in the City is the requirement that the road adja-cent to a project be widened to appease the introduction of additional people. This rarely solves, and often invites, more passenger car congestion, and typically undermines our walkability goals. We must categorically reject nonsensical road widenings.

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Chapter 14: Give Project Input Early

A hallmark of our passivity has been to offer our advice so late in the development process as to be irrelevant. We routinely hear “the plans have been finished for months” or “the cost of making that change would be prohibitive.” The Planning Department must reorganize its case intake process and provide preliminary guidance, o r outright rejection of the case as incomplete, within sixty days after an application is filed.