Thursday, June 22

Plan to decrease conflict of interest in city planning faces criticism


Westwood community leaders criticized the city’s latest attempt to mitigate conflicts of interest in city planning.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed an executive directive March 9 that will prevent developers from meeting privately with city planners in an attempt to to curb their influence in City Hall. Developers can often donate large amounts behind closed doors that sway city officials in favor of their projects, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Garcetti pledged to ban these private meetings late last year. He said in a press conference the order would increase trust toward the city government.

City planning commissioners are now prohibited from meeting with other parties about developer plans once developers submit a project to the city. Meetings with developers regarding scheduling, administration problems or emergencies are the only exception to the rule, according to the executive directive.

Garcetti signed the directive after Measure S failed. The measure would have restricted the city from passing development projects that require an amendment to LA’s general plan or zone change for two years.

[Related: Los Angeles residents vote against Measure S, pass Measure M, H]

Some Westwood officials said they think the mayor’s directive did little to address the developer-influence problem.

Lisa Chapman, president of the Westwood Neighborhood Council, said she thinks the directive’s language does not prevent developers from meeting privately with city planners before submitting building projects and that there are many other ways to circumvent the directive.

“Pay-to-play politics is alive and well in the city of Los Angeles,” Chapman said. “This is nothing but fluff as an attempt to deflect the public who are now paying much closer attention to how these projects are approved by the city.”

Sandy Brown, vice president of the Westwood Neighborhood Council, said the directive did not bar lobbyists and attorneys from meeting with commissioners in lieu of developers.

“Those that want to talk with the commissioners will talk to the commissioners,” Brown said. “It may not be the developer but it will be someone close to the developer.”

Brown added she would favor a policy that prevents planning commissioners from meeting with any members of the public and instead has them consult only their city staff on projects.

Joan Ling, a UCLA urban planning lecturer, said in an email that she thinks the directive was a step in the right direction, but also suggested the city go further to minimize developer influence.

“In order to eliminate the perception of developer influence, the City Council should adopt an ordinance that bans individuals and companies that have applications pending in the city from making election campaign contributions to council members,” Ling said.

She added the proposed ban should prevent donations 12 months prior to an application and 12 months after a decision on an application is reached.

The directive also instructed planning commissioners to prioritize Measure HHH, which authorized the city to construct 10,000 housing units for the homeless with $1.2 billion in bonds.

Chapman, who also heads the homeless task force of the Westwood Neighborhood Council, said she supports the directive’s emphasis on Measure HHH. However, she and other Westwood community leaders remained skeptical that the directive would positively impact the city.

Brown said she thinks big money will still drive the politics of Los Angeles.

“When projects cost a lot of money, you will be surprised at the extent to which people will lobby,” she said.

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