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Garcetti Bans Ex-Parte Communications With Developers And Accelerates Community Plan Updates

Mayor Eric Garcetti signing the executive directive on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of the Mayor's Office).
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Mayor Eric Garcetti issued on Thursday a sweeping executive directive that addressed many of the concerns raised by the ill-fated Measure S.

Quick refresher: Measure S, a citywide ballot measure that was overwhelmingly rejected by voters on Tuesday, correctly diagnosed many of the problems with L.A.'s broken planning process, but the solution it offered—essentially halting all development in the city for two years while fixing those problems—would have been disastrous for the city. Among the issues raised by Measure S was the lack of transparency in the planning process that happens between developers and city officials, and the fact that the city's community plans are so woefully out of date that most new projects need to receive exemptions from the existing, archaic guidelines.

Executive Directive 19, as the directive is officially called, is arguably a best-case scenario for the city, with City Hall now moving forward on addressing the (legitimate) planning process issues outlined in Measure S, without having to put the entire city on freeze while it happens.

The directive addresses concerns about what many see as an overly cozy relationship between City Hall and developers—ex-parte communications between private developers and planning commissioners about any projects currently under consideration will now be banned. Councilman David Ryu, who had previously introduced legislation to ban such private communications, applauded the mayor's decision, calling it "a major victory for transparency in local government," in a statement issued Thursday.

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"We think this is a good first step, but we still believe campaign finance reform is incredibly important," Ryu communications director Estevan Montemayor told LAist. "By removing just the mere perception of developers giving a contribution to elected officials at City Hall, we believe that we can really rebuild trust in the planning process. So we want to see [the legislation that Ryu previously introduced on campaign finance reform] scheduled, we want to see that passed and we want to see it implemented."

The directive included plans for reforms to the General Plan Amendment process, too, and more oversight for environmental impact reports.

The wide-ranging executive directive also centered on a number of housing and transportation initiatives, building on his commitment to an inclusive, transit-oriented future for the city. ED 19 is geared at helping L.A. build the transportation infrastructure and affordable housing that voters funded through Measure M and Proposition HHH last fall, while bringing long-awaited improvements to the City’s development process, according to a statement from the mayor's office.

More specifically, the executive directive will compel the Department of City Planning to develop a specific program and timeline for updating all 35 of the City’s Community Plans — a process that will take place within six years. Today's executive directive also established a Mayoral Planning Task Force to oversee those plan updates and ensure that they happen efficiently. As the city's chief executive, L.A.'s mayor oversees all of the city departments, meaning Garcetti (or any L.A. mayor) can direct a city department to take certain actions, which then become immediately binding.

"ED 19 will allow the City to build transit infrastructure and housing more quickly and efficiently by fostering collaboration among City departments, and with the MTA," according to a statement from the mayor's office. City departments will now appoint a Transportation Infrastructure Liaison to form a dedicated committee with the Mayor’s Office and the MTA, which will work together to streamline the delivery of transportation projects across the city. The mayor will also be releasing plans for a "Transit Oriented Communities," which would expand development incentives for mixed-income housing projects located within one-half mile radius of major transit stops. These incentives are currently being drafted by DCP and are required by Measure JJJ, according to the mayor's office.

Affordable housing was also expressly addressed, with the mayor directing the Department of City Planning to expedite the preparation of an ordinance that would reduce potential regulatory hurdles for permanent supportive housing projects. He also called on City Council to "expeditiously pass" an ordinance to create an affordable housing linkage fee. The ordinance, which was introduced last month, would help ensure a permanent stream of funding for affordable housing projects.

Jill Stewart, campaign manager for Measure S, was unappeased by the new directives, according to City News Service. "Mayor Garcetti today does not come close to solving the problem of transparency in his attempt to follow through on his September 2016 promises for transparency,'' Stewart said.

The LA Tenant's Union, another strong supporter of Measure S, also expressed concerns about the directive, particularly in regards to transit-oriented development in the city. "We center displacement in our work, which means that transit-oriented development and accelerated densification projects will only serve to displace people if rent protections and right of return are not put in place across the board," an LA Tenant's Union spokesperson said in a statement to LAist.