A friend recently sent me a link to an article from The Planning Report where Bill Witte, CEO and Chairman of Related California, talks about the toxic development debate in California. He focusses mostly on LA, and discusses the factors that drove activists to put Build Better LA and the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on upcoming ballots. I have to say it was really refreshing to hear a developer talk honestly about why the situation has gotten so bad, and to offer a plausible solution.
What does Witte recommend? That we actually do some planning. And he’s not talking about blueprints drawn up in a backroom by politicians and lobbyists. Witte urges developers to engage with communities in order to create a realistic framework that will allow us to build for the future. And he also asks for leadership from City Hall that will make this happen.
Really, this is the only way to break the current stalemate. People all over LA are furious because they feel they’ve lost control of their communities. Developers are constantly asking for zone changes and general plan amendments, and City Hall hands these out freely. When people complain, our elected officials often adopt a condescending tone and insist that they have to grant entitlements to encourage growth. They also tend to characterize anyone who objects as an anti-development NIMBY. City Hall tells us they’re acting in our best interests, but affordable housing is disappearing, the number of homeless keeps growing, traffic is steadily getting worse, air quality is declining, crime is on the rise, and our water resources are drying up.
But if our elected officials made a serious attempt to bring developers and communities together to plan for the future, we could make some real progress in addressing these problems. It wouldn’t be easy. Witte says flat out that developers would have to make concessions. Community stakeholders would also have to give some ground. But the end result would offer huge rewards for both sides. Residents would finally feel like they had some control over how their community was going to grow. Developers would know exactly what the plan allowed and could build their projects without going through endless meetings and without facing court challenges.
Could this really happen? It’s probably a long shot. Developers would be reluctant to give up potential profits. No doubt some communities would be averse to making any significant concessions. And while City Hall is good at staging dog and pony shows, they’ve shown zero interest in seeking meaningful input from LA’s communities. In fact, in recent years they seem to be doing everything they can to shut the public out.
Still, it would be great if we could all get together and do some planning. It’s really the only way out of this mess.
Here’s the link to Witte’s comments. They’re worth a read.