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LA Loses Its Head (of Planning)
Gail Goldberg steps down as city's planning director, leaving many of her marquee projects stillborn
Gale Goldberg presenting the Bring Back Broadway plan in 2008.

Los Angeles Planning Director Gail Goldberg announced her resignation today in a letter addressed to LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The move comes as a blow to a city that had reserved high hopes for the former San Diego planning director. While she was able to accomplish much in that city—notably a new direction and general plan for the city’s planning department, an expansion of public transit, preservation of several historic areas, and the revitalization of many neighborhood centers— it appears that many of her efforts in LA were stymied. Her firing had been rumored for months, according to a source in the planning department. Still many praised her accomplishments and her ability to push against the powers-that-be in City Hall.

After arriving in LA in February 2006, Goldberg made a splash by releasing a document in summer 2007 called “Do Real Planning,” a list of 14 planning principles expected to lay out how city officials would manage development as the city became a denser metropolis. The list incorporated, among other things, green building requirements, pedestrian-friendly streets, density around transit, and better design standards to “eliminate the sea of stucco boxes, blank walls, street-front parking lots, and other inhospitable streetscapes.”

Some of these items, like those related to pedestrian-friendly streets and green building, had begun to take hold through new codes and design standards, but many were held up in the city’s labyrinthine bureaucracy and because of the city’s recent drastic budget shortfalls. Goldberg's short time in office meant that many initiatives had just begun to move forward. Another source told AN that Goldberg may have been pushed out by Villaraigosa's new Deputy Mayor, Austin Beutner.

Calls to several LA planning officials, including most members of the LA Planning Commission, have thus far gone unanswered. But one planner outside of LA did respond: “She had some extraordinary accomplishments and she deserves to be recognized for them,” said John Chase, Urban Designer for the city of West Hollywood.

Chase also praised Goldberg's charisma and ability to run and sway public meetings. “She finally began the badly needed re-organization of the planning department to streamline the development process," he said. "She also empowered the Urban Design Studio, which has passed streetscape improvements and urban design guidelines for the city.” Chase added that Goldberg managed to move several community plans, such as the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan, and a draft of the new Hollywood Community Plan.

In her letter Goldberg laid out some of her accomplishments, among them the “Do Real Planning” initiative, her efforts to “build an efficient and effective department,” which includes an ongoing effort to streamline the planning process and restructure departments, and her efforts to “engage the public,” especially through closer communication with Neighborhood Councils. Other achievements include a just-begun citywide survey of historic properties, increased affordable housing, and the limitation of medical marijuana facilities. In a statement released today Villaraigosa thanked Goldberg for her “strong leadership,” which “helped bring together distinct members of the planning community and cultivated a department committed to developing streamlined processes.”

Goldberg’s last day in office will be July 16. She closed her letter with an appeal to Mayor Villaraigosa to “continue to see good planning—and the work of our Planning Department—as a centerpiece for your efforts to spur economic recovery and enhance the quality of life in Los Angeles’ neighborhoods.”

Sam Lubell