According to reader Chris, who has served on a planning group, too often communities are not taken seriously by city officials:

… because they claim the community lacks the professionalism needed to make the right choices in development

However, the fundamental pillar of democracy is an optimistic expectation of rational beings to organize into a collective opinion that benefits them most. The major obstacle to this organizing is incomplete or misleading information.

Here are three guiding principles to evaluate the development process reforms:

Firstly, community input should be the cornerstone of any process. Genuine input involves not just tolerating an organized opposition, but actively engaging affected members of the community in shaping large projects. In terms of regulations, the prevalent cat-and-mouse game between developers and the community has to end. Los Angeles has a Site Plan Review process in which every project over 50,000 square feet or 50 units gets sent to the planning department. If the project has a significant effect on neighboring properties, then a public hearing is held, and conditions can be imposed. This ensures that any large project will have at least a minimum level of discretionary review.

Secondly, there has to be transparency in the decision-making process. In the downtown plan, a significant decision (Re: the sale of additional FAR for parks) was made by the mayor behind closed doors with the building industry. We regularly hear new deals coming out of the 11th floor (Mayor’s Office) at the 12th hour. Here are some ways to throw light on the wheeling and dealing:

  • Create a Sunshine Reform Taskforce, similar to the one recently formed in San Jose focused on enhancing transparency and community participation.
  • Require the staff reports accompanying large discretionary projects to include detailed costs and benefits of proposed projects to the community.

Lastly, the explicit goal of public policy should be to maximize community benefits occurring from new development. This could include new revenues, affordable housing, quality employment and environmental benefits (like parks). This will give clear direction to public agency staff negotiating with developers, what the priorities are.

If the city does not mind its own store, who will?


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