City Votes to Remove Monitoring Policies from Community Plans

By Richard Platkin

On Tuesday February 18, 2014 the LA City Council passed Council motion 12-0303-S3. In part it said:

INSTRUCT the Planning Department, in consultation with the City Attorney, to:

a .  Initiate the process of amending the General Plan’s Framework Element to make    clear that the Framework Element does not require, and was never intended to require, Community Plans themselves to contain monitoring policies or programs, and that the Framework Element’s monitoring programs are discretionary, not mandatory, and that they are contingent on the availability of resources and competing priorities, as the Court of Appeal held in  Saunders v. City of Los Angeles , Case No. B232415

It is possible to amend the General Plan, and the procedures are explained in detail in Charter section 555. All references to General Plan monitoring – which the Department of City Planning has overlooked since 1999 – could be excised from the citywide General Plan Framework Element. But it is incorrect that these monitoring provisions were originally intended to be discretionary. As a City Planning staff person who participated in the preparation of the General Plan Framework Element, there was never any discussion or written documentation presenting the Framework’s monitoring program and the annual monitoring report as discretionary. In fact, after the City Council adopted the General Plan Framework Element in 1996, I was assigned to a Framework monitoring unit that produced three annual monitoring reports in the late 1990s. Furthermore, the Framework’s monitoring requirements are also discussed in detail in the General Plan Framework Element’s Final Environmental Report, where it is clearly described as a detailed, mandatory, and on-going aspect of the General Plan Framework Element, not a discretionary feature contingent on available staffing.

9.3 Periodic Review

The Department of City Planning shall periodically review the need to either revise or update the citywide elements, including the Citywide General Plan Framework Element, and the Community Plans. The results of this periodic review, when conducted, shall be reported to the City Planning Commission, the City Council, and the Mayor through the Annual Growth Report. The Annual Growth Report shall recommend which citywide element or Community Plans should be amended and why. These recommendations shall be based on an evaluation of changing circumstances, trends, and other information provided by the Department of City Planning’s monitoring system.

This monitoring system shall be kept up to date by City staff through inputs from the applicable departments within the City of Los Angeles. Contributing departments/agencies include: Department of Water and Power, Solid Waste Management Department, Metropolitan Water District, Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles Fire Department, Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Public Libraries, Los Angeles City and County health departments, Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, California Department of Fish and Game, City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering, Southern California Gas Company, County Sanitation, SCAG, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit District, and Department of Public Works.

Furthermore, the General Plan monitoring program was subsequently incorporated into Community Plan Updates that were prepared and adopted subsequent to 1996, the Framework’s initial adoption date. For example, this is the language in the 2001 Wilshire Community Plan regarding monitoring. If the General Plan Framework Element’s monitoring provisions were removed, then much of the Land Use Element (i.e., 35 community plans) would become inconsistent with the amended General Plan Framework Element, and they, too, would require General Plan amendments per Charter provision 555. As the amendment process cascaded through many other EIR’s and Community Plans, eventually Los Angeles’s 3,800,000 residents, as well as day time employees and visitors, would be impacted by removing all references to monitoring, such as the following:

In order to accommodate changes in anticipated population growth, The Wilshire Community Plan has a theoretical maximum land use and population capacity greater than the projected development likely to occur during the Community Plan period. The Framework Element of the General Plan commits the Department of City Planning to develop a monitoring system and prepare an annual report on growth and infrastructure, to be submitted to the City Planning Commission, Mayor and City Council.

In the fifth year following plan adoption (and every five years thereafter), the Director of Planning shall report. to the commission on the relationship between population, employment, housing growth and plan capacities. If growth has occurred faster than projected, a revised environmental impact analysis will the prepared and appropriate changes recommended to the community plan. These plan and zoning changes shall be submitted to the Planning Commission, Mayor and City Council as specified in the Los Angeles Municipal Code.

The methodological problems of the Hollywood Community Plan are more extensive than the use of old census data in the Draft Environmental Impact Report. These other problems, many mentioned by Judge Alan Goodman in his decision, include the following:

  • The use of an old SCAG model, without any explanation of why it was selected. SCAG has subsequently updated this regional model two times, and the Department of City Planning must explain why it has selected any SCAG model, and it must hen utilize the most current SCAG model for any revisions of the Update, its DEIR, and its zoning ordinances.
  • The use of old census data from 1990 and 2000, when new 2010 census data was readily available when the original DEIR and FEIR were prepared.
  • Failure to calculate population buildout for the existing zoning of the Hollywood Community Plan area.
  • Failure to calculate population buildout for the proposed zoning for the Hollywood Community Plan Update area.
  • Failure to analyze infrastructure and social services capacity for the Update’s horizon year, presumably 2035.
  • Failure to include a program to monitor infrastructure conditions, public services, population, housing, employment, and status of the Update’s goals and policies, as elaborated by the State of California General Plan Guidelines.
  • Failure to present DEIR alternatives of downzoning or an environmentally preferred alternative.
  • Failure to update the General Plan Framework Element or the seven mandatory General Plan citywide elements to be consistent with the Hollywood Community Plan’s base and horizon years. The Framework is still an outdated General Plan element, as are all of the other required General Plan elements. None of them have the same base or horizon year as the Community Plan Updates, so they are all internally inconsistent with each other. This means that none of them comply with the requirements with the State of California’s General Plan Guidelines.
  • Failure to incorporate accurate seismic data in the Draft Environmental Impact Report.
  • Failure to comply with the State of California’s climate change legislation, AB 32 and SB 375, which were ignored in the FEIR’s Statement of Overriding Consideration accepting the Update’s generation of unmitigatable levels of the Green House Gases responsible for climate change and global warming.

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