LA Hopes To Blow Up Postwar Zoning Codes

LA Hopes To Blow Up Postwar Zoning Codes

Wilshire Boulevard in the 1940s. LA has not fully updated its zoning codes since then.
USC Archives/Courtesy

The most sweeping reforms of Los Angeles’ zoning codes in over half a century were recently reintroduced to the LA city planning commission. The efforts, to streamline several code-related processes, had been sidetracked for over a year in favor of medical marijuana and signage ordinances, among other matters.

This marks the first overhaul of codes since their last revision in 1946, points out Senior City Planner Alan Bell, who is overseeing the process. All subsequent changes to the code have been incremental, he said.

The effort was a major initiative of former Los Angeles Planning Director Gail Goldberg, who resigned a few days after they were reintroduced. Bell will carry on efforts to reorganize the department into new geographic areas and new sub-departments, eliminating redundancies. “This will streamline things and also help produce better projects,” Goldberg said, who lauds the idea of project-tailored zoning.

These efforts are especially important now that the city planning staff *has been reduced by 40 percent, Bell said. “We have to do things differently,” he explained. “Things have to be more effective and efficient.” The amendments focus on simplifying the city’s zoning codes, rendering them clearer, more standardized, and up-to-date. Currently, projects in LA often stall for months and even years.

Key changes include elements such as creating consistent timelines for land-use approvals; making zoning review more flexible and consistent; allowing for abbreviated review processes for minor deviations from the zoning code; creating consistent procedures for modifying existing projects; and streamlining zoning approval for projects that meet specific plan standards.

“This is really, really good stuff,” said Planning Commission President Bill Roschen, only the second architect to serve in that position. He and others seemed encouraged by the prospect of projects undergoing planning in a more predictable and expedited manner. “Anyone who has gone through a project knows it’s a nightmare, taking six months to a year,” said Father Spencer Kezios, another member of the commission.

While some doubters wondered if the changes would precipitate too much development or allow for too little oversight, most welcomed the long-overdue changes. “Just because things take more time doesn’t mean they’re more thorough,” Bell said, referring to the many contradictions and the outdated language of the postwar codes. “You can spin your wheels looking at the wrong things.”

As for the perennial development question: “Things grow inevitably,” commission member Diego Cardosa said. “But you can guide growth.” Bill Roschen added that making development easier is not a bad thing. “We’re not predisposed to more or less development,” Bell said . “This is just process reform.”

The amendments will be formally presented to the city planning commission this fall, and if things go as planned, voted on by Thanksgiving.