The Great LA City Council Salmon Run: ‘Proposed’ Planning Dept Ordinances Leap From 22 to 27 in 60 Days!

EASTSIDER-Every so often I take a look at the Planning Department’s list of Proposed Ordinances, just to see what the rascals are up to. A couple months ago, I looked, and then, again, this month. The results were startling, to say the least! 

  1. NEW: Collection Bins Code Amendment.
  2. NEW: Processes and Procedures Ordinance.
  3. NEW: Interim Motel Conversion Ordinance.
  4. NEW: Permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance.
  5. West Los Angeles Multifamily Q Conditions.
  6. Commercial Cannabis Location Restriction Ordinance.
  7. Value Capture Ordinance.                       
  8. Temporary Signs on Construction Walls Code Amendment.
  9. North Westlake Design District Ordinance.                  
  10. Measure JJJ Transit Oriented Communities Affordable Housing (Incentives).
  11. Measure JJJ -In-Lieu Affordability Fee Gaps Study.
  12. Protected Tree Code Amendment.
  13. Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance.
  14. Bicycle Parking Code Amendment.
  15. Affordable Housing Linkage Fee Ordinance.
  16. Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone.
  17. Proposed Neighborhood Character Ordinances.
  18. Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) Code Amendment.
  19. Small Lot Code Amendment and Policy Update.
  20. Home Sharing Ordinance (Short Term Rentals).
  21. Second Dwelling Unit Repeal.
  22. Homeless Shelters – Emergencies.
  23. Draft Exposition Corridor Transit Neighborhood Plan.
  24. LAX Draft Plans and Document.
  25. Redevelopment Plans - Transfer of Land Use Authority.
  26. Citywide Sign Ordinance.

And finally,

    27.  NEW/OLD: Warner Center 2035 Plan Board Implementation Ordinance.

You can find the current document here. 

Two things are immediately apparent. First, the list seems to grow, not shrink, sort of like the expenditures of the City Council. Second, there is absolutely no way that there are enough planners in the Planning Department to staff this stuff. According to the Mayor’s 2017-18 Budget, there are a total of 41 positions assigned to the Major Projects and Project Plan Support group of City Planning. 

That’s not a lot of folks, particularly when you realize that out of the 41 staff, not all positions are Planners. We also must remember, some of these proposed ordinances are a very big deal indeed, and require significant Planning Department resources. Think Airbnb (Home Sharing), Accessory Dwelling Unit/Second Dwelling Unit Repeal (Granny flats), and the “new” Processes and Procedures Ordinance, whatever the hell that is. 

Actually, the Processes and Procedures Ordinance is an “under the radar” bureaucratic euphemism for Part 2 of a total (as in comprehensive) rezoning for the entire City! The Draft Ordinance is over 260 pages so far. 

But not to worry, we don’t really know what any of this means because of deliberately obtuse language, like: 

Chapter 1A will be adopted in phases, replacing the current content of Chapter 1 over time, and implementing the policies of Community Plans as they are adopted.” 

I will leave the real explanation of all the ways the Council actually approves development to CityWatch contributors like Dick Platkin whose recent column you can find here

A final note on the P&P Ordinance: at last Saturday’s LANCC meeting, it was explained to us that this is really Re-CodeLA. This will ultimately wind up putting all the ordinances into one large document.  Unfortunately, staff had to admit that doing all the recoding after tons of meetings will not change the bottom line -- the City Council can continue to spot zone any (and all) the developments that they want. We will just be able to find out how they did it more easily. 

Some of My Favorites So Far 

You knew that I would have some favorites from the Proposed Ordinance list. For example, I find it droll that we are in the middle of adopting Homeless Shelters-Emergencies in late 2017. Seems a bit odd when you consider that Measure HHH passed in 2016, when, supposedly, there was a dire emergency that required our tax dollars. But this “Emergency” Ordinance still doesn’t seem to have been adopted. At least I’m assuming this is true since the Council file is from 2015, the Hearing was in February 2016, and that file is still listed under “Proposed Ordinances.” Wow, good thing those homeless folks don’t need emergency shelter. 

Another favorite of mine is the Protected Tree Code Amendment. This one adds more protected trees to the old list, which was already much more restrictive than State law. I wrote in CityWatch about how the current City Ordinance is more restrictive in the context of the Walnut Canyon fracas. 

The amendments would add the Mexican Elderberry & Toyon trees. Good for lovers of CEQA, not so good for developers. I wonder why these new amendments still haven’t been adopted? Maybe not until the developers who own City Hall are finished construction? 

Anyhow, there are a couple of currently toxic biggies on the list.  First would be the Home Sharing Ordinance, which has been in the works for over two years, and is still going.  You can read about the current status here.  

Second, there’s the related (in terms of toxicity) Small Lot Code Amendment and Policy Update.  The reason I rate this high in toxicity is that it, like the Short-term Rental Ordinance, has a direct and immediate impact on the elimination of the City’s shrinking stock of Rent-Controlled (RSO) housing.  I’ll bet that the Interim Motel Conversion Ordinance is somehow related to these as well, but I haven’t had a chance yet to look into its innards. 

You will be shocked that the City is getting major pushback on the Short-Term Rental and Small Lot Code Amendment Ordinances. Yup. Of course, the City has another proposed Ordinance to take care of that, the Affordable Housing Linkage Fee Ordinance, which will make developers pay the City some money to tear down SRO housing. Good one – right, that should work. 

The Takeaway 

I won’t even point out the absurdity of a City on the brink of insolvency trying to do all this stuff in one or two budget cycles. Really, I won’t. The Planning Department staff, the true blue and dedicated few, can barely show up at all the meaningless City Council Committee meetings, much less the full Council sessions. But there is a method to the Council’s actions. 

I posit two basic reasons for all these Ordinances, beyond the simple fact the Council knows the Planning Department Staff cannot conceivably handle the load: 

(1) If there is sufficient pushback on an issue, the Council l can hide under a mountain of paper to obfuscate and thwart the innocent from rebelling; and if that doesn’t work, 

(2) the Council can delay anything at all happening with a series of obtuse Committee Meetings, amendments, report backs, etc., until the opponents get tired, discouraged, disgusted, and ultimately give up and go away.  

Personally, I like to call these machinations the LA City Council Purgatory Two-Step. Pretty nifty way to blow people off without having to assume personal liability. When you consider that the City Councilmembers each get paid about $200,000 per year to do very little, this process may be the crowning jewel to guarantee their re-election by a numbed electorate. 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.