PLANNING WATCH - Hubris has no bounds when it comes to City Hall’s repeated but failing efforts to pack more buildings and people into Hollywood.
The current Hollywood Community Plan was adopted in 1988 because in 2014 former Superior Court Judge Alan Goodman rejected the 2012 Hollywood Community Plan Update (HCPU). He ruled in favor of three lawsuits and wrote:
“… the City and City Council (must) rescind, vacate and set aside all actions approving the HCPU and certifying the EIR adopted in connection therewith and all related approvals issued in furtherance of the HCPU, including but not limited to the text and maps associated with the HCPU, the Resolution amending the Hollywood Community Plan, the adoption of rezoning actions taken to reflect zoning changes contained in the HCPU . . .”
Left without a valid Community Plan, City Hall returned to its former 1988 Hollywood plan. That plan is still in force, even though the City Council adopted a new Hollywood Community Plan in May 2023. This update is, however, so bogged down by follow-up studies, that it is stuck on the back burner.
Because the 2023 update is similar to the 2012 update, it is a whodunit to figure out why City Hall thought that a “new” Hollywood plan would lead to a different outcome. Since the three lawsuits against the 2023 version could again win, let us take a quick look at them. We also need to remember that another defeat of the Hollywood Community Plan (HCPU) jeopardizes the updates of 33 other community plans. They rely on the Hollywood and Downtown LA Community Plan as upzoning templates.
The new Fix-the-City lawsuit argues that City Hall did not comply with previous court orders and that the City misused the planning process to greenlight greater height and density for Hollywood real estate projects, oblivious to the area’s deficient infrastructure and public services.
“The City’s approval of the 2023 HCPU fails to consider the adequacy of infrastructure to support the increased density approved in the Plan. Without this information, the City has failed to respond to the critical infrastructure deficiencies by instituting the development controls required by the General Plan. As a result, the system designed to provide regular monitoring of the state of infrastructure and to mitigate the impacts of the development called for in the General Plan if that development proved unsupportable, has broken. The injury is compounded when the City does not utilize accurate data to confront and consider the deficiencies of its infrastructure systems.”
Fix-the-City’s remedy would stop new projects until the Hollywood Community Plan is properly updated and adopted.
“That this Court enjoin Respondents from taking any action to implement the
amendments to the Framework Element and Hollywood Community Plan, and to further enjoin respondents from taking any action to approve any development project under the standards of the amended Hollywood Community Plan until such time as the City Council has prepared an amendment to the Hollywood Community Plan that conforms to the General Plan and the requirements of CEQA.”
A parallel lawsuit from Voters for a Superior Hollywood Plan painstakingly tracked the delays resulting from Judge Goodman’s 2014 decision to rescind the 2012 Hollywood Community Plan Update.
Because the 2023 Update retains so many features of the 2012 plan, we are left with a nagging question. What combination of arrogance and incompetence allowed a City department to resurrect a 2012 Hollywood Update that Judge Goodman had already rejected?
The third lawsuit is from the Laurel Canyon Association. Its focus is the new Hollywood Community Plan’s multiple errors related to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
The three lawsuits present a powerful critique of the recently adopted Hollywood Community Plan. The dilemma faced by the planners updating LA’s Community Plans are their contradictory goals. On one hand, they are bound by the planning provisions in the LA City Charter, the Los Angeles Municipal Code, and the State’s planning laws. On the other hand, their mission is to undermine LA’s existing zoning ordinances to encourage speculative real estate investment. This will not only fail, but it will also unleash four additional problems:
- When upzoning is implemented through land use ordinances appended to Community Plans, it inflates the market value of the underlying parcels. This encourages property owners to flip their parcels. It can also lead to nothing at all. For example, LA’s commercially-zoned parcels – many on transit corridors – permit by-right apartments augmented by density bonuses. Yet, few developers ever build on these parcels.
- When new development takes place in Los Angeles, the actors are profit-seeking private developers. They build market-rate and luxury apartments for the well-off, not unprofitable units for the homeless and overcrowded.
- The main purpose of Community Plans is to ensure that a city’s infrastructure and public services meet the needs of forecast numbers of people and jobs. By abdicating this role, unrestrained real estate development can lead to the failure of LA’s old public infrastructure and service systems.
- Community plans are the bridge between citywide General Plan elements and local communities. Unfortunately, many of these elements are out-of-date. They should be updated before they are applied to local communities. For example:
- The Air Quality Element was adopted in 1991.
- The Infrastructure Element in 1972.
- The Open Space element in 1973.
- The Public Facilities and Services Element in 1968.
- The Noise Element in 1999.
How telling that despite successful lawsuits and City Hall’s unsuccessful misuse of the planning process to promote real estate development, City Hall won’t change course. By increasing property values, upzoning prices even more people out of housing, and many become homeless. Plus, because the new apartments are expensive, upzoning also replaces low-income transit riders with high income automobile drivers. Even though real world outcomes expose these fictitious cover stories, developers still benefit from upzoning, its intended purpose.
(Dick Platkin is a retired Los Angeles city planner who writes about local planning issues for CityWatchLA. He is a board member of United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles (UN4LA). Previous Planning Watch columns are available at the CityWatchLA archives. Please send any questions to [email protected].)