In the latest response to the FBI corruption probe which has enveloped multiple elected officials and Downtown real estate projects, Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez has introduced three motions calling for changes in how the City processes developments.
“Restoring the public’s trust in our City government is job one, and we are taking steps today to close loopholes that corrupt individuals might use to their advantage,” said Martinez in a news release. “These action items will help us increase transparency, create more uniformed and fair development standards, as well as build the City’s affordable housing that we desperately need.”
The first motion, which was seconded by Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell, directs the Planning Department and Chief Legislative Analyst to report on criteria for high-value projects to be approved directly by the City Council, skipping the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee.
Over the past several months, the PLUM Committee emerged near the center of the Federal investigation into City Hall corruption, with former Chair Jose Huizar alleged to have used his position to extract financial benefits and campaign contributions from developers of projects which required the committee's approval. PLUM has frequently served as the primary public hearing for large or controversial developments requiring discretionary entitlements - including zone changes and general plan amendments.
The second motion introduced by Martinez would direct the Planning Department to update its Processes and Procedure Ordinance to establish new criteria for when discretionary entitlements and conditional use permits can be granted.
"In many cases these entitlements are warranted due to the city's outdated zoning code, which makes many projects, particularly housing, infeasible," writes Martinez. "However, the sheer volume of entitlements can also erode public trust."
The motion, which was seconded by 2nd District Councilmember Paul Krekorian, also directs the Planning Department and Chief Legislative Analyst to set up new protocols for communications between elected officials and developers outside of official meetings, including disclosure requirements.
This policy, if adopted, would come three years after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti banned ex parte communications between city commissioners and developers in the wake of Measure S, a failed ballot initiative which attempted to limit the city's ability to grant discretionary entitlements for private real estate projects.
The third motion, which was seconded by current PLUM Chair Marqueece Harris-Dawson, calls for the Planning Department and Chief Legislative Analyst to report on a potential ballot measure intended to accelerate the ongoing update to the City's community plans.
Garcetti's 2017 executive order, in addition to banning ex parte communications, ordered the Planning Department to develop a schedule for updating its 35 community plans on a five-year rolling basis. This was also a response to the Measure S campaign, which railed against "spot zoning" granted to individual developers seeking to build larger and denser projects than allowed by the plans.
In the three years since the order, the City has adopted revised plans for South Los Angeles and San Pedro. Updates to 13 additional plans are currently being processed, according to the Planning Department's website. However, community plans in Martinez's district - which includes large parts of the Northeast San Fernando Valley - have not been updated since the 1990s.
In addition to addressing community plans, the ballot measure proposed by Martinez would take at the City's mandate to build 450,000 new homes by 2029, as set out under the most recent SCAG Regional Housing Needs Assessment. To achieve this, Martinez hopes to employ bonuses similar to those offered through the Transit Oriented Communities program to incentivize the construction of affordable housing, as well as other community benefits like public open space.
The proposed ballot measure also calls for new homes to be distributed across the city based on proximity to jobs and public transportation, as well as historic housing production. These criteria are similar to those proposed in several bills introduced by San Francisco legislator Scott Wiener, who has pushed to increase the capacity for multifamily housing near transit corridors and job centers statewide. However, his attempts to pass sweeping legislation have fallen short in three consecutive years, due in large part to opposition from Southern California lawmakers.
Martinez's motions have been referred to the Council's PLUM and Rules, Elections & Intergovernmental Relations committees for consideration.