Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers

Ron Reiring / Flickr

“We support the concept, but the devil is in the details” might as well be the mantra for the city of Los Angeles and its constituents as it contemplates the possible merger of the Department of City Planning (DCP) and the Department of Building and Safety (DBS). The topic was the focus of a recent Planning and Land Use Management Committee of the city council.

If completed, the merger would create a Department of City Planning and Development, also folding in key development roles now under the Department of Public Works’ bureaus of Engineering and Contract Administration, and under the Fire Department and the Department of Transportation, according to a joint recommendation released by DCP and DBS. By consolidating these agencies, officials hope to cut the red tape of the permitting process.

“We think it’s a great opportunity for the city to move forward on economic development and really create a process that our customers deserve, so that we can have a streamlined process, reduced redundancies, and focus city agencies around livability, creating a sustainable future for Los Angeles,” said Michael LoGrande, director of city planning.

The realignment document calls for a strong customer service approach, creating project managers who would “take the hand of those intimidated by the process and guide them through it from soup to nuts,” said Alan Bell, DCP deputy director. Project managers would be the single contact point that would follow an applicant from pre-application all the way to code enforcement.

City officials said that the merger would not result in any layoffs. “If there are
redundancies we’ll be able to re-appropriate staff to help in areas that would have a great need,” said LoGrande.

Consolidating development services under one department is not a new idea, pointed out Bell. Cities such as Atlanta, Austin, and Portland have a similar setup, as do Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Long Beach.

The proposal has largely met with support from architects, industry, and community groups, including the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Associations, and the Central City Association of Los Angeles. “This is the strongest platform for change that promotes efficiency,” said Scott Johnson, principal at Johnson Fain and the new AIA Los Angeles Board President.

But several of the groups want to be more involved in the details, including fleshing out an organizational chart, which would be developed by a management consultant, should the move be approved by City Council. Despite support for the proposal’s vision of efficiency and ease, fire department representatives protested being left out of the process. “We fear this plan has been built within the silos we are all trying to work outside of,” said Donald Frazeur, assistant chief and assistant fire marshal. “We need to be separate so that there is no pressure to try and trade off those safety provisions.”

If approved by City Council, the proposal would start integration as early as July, with full implementation by January 1, 2014.