Does the L.A. planning department not want feedback from the city’s neighborhood councils for Re:code L.A.? At recent public hearings, it sure seemed that way, with officials awkwardly explaining why there was virtually no neighborhood council presence. What’s going on?
Neighborhood councils are community advisory boards that are supervised by the city’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. They are comprised of residents and business people who live and/or work in a community, and one must be elected to serve. Neighborhood council members take up such matters as new development proposed for their community.
Re:code L.A. is a little-known, yet far-reaching program led by the city’s planning department. It will extensively revise L.A.’s zoning code, such as making room for more dense, expensive luxury housing in a middle-class neighborhood. Re:code L.A. can dramatically impact the character of a community and one’s quality of life.
Community activists have long been skeptical about Re:code L.A. They fear that it may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing: city officials will promote it as a community benefit but then streamline and revamp zoning code to favor developers over residents.
Three weeks ago, the planning department held Re:code L.A. public meetings at City Hall in downtown and the Felicia Manhood Multipurpose Center on the Westside. The gatherings, where planning staffers explained what they were up to, were obviously important. But there was a major problem: few people knew that the so-called “open houses” were actually taking place.
Members of the Coalition to Preserve L.A. attended the hearings, noticing that only a handful of residents had shown up. That wasn’t good.
At the Westside meeting, we asked if the planning department had coordinated with neighborhood councils — a seemingly logical thing to do, especially since they are part of city government. We received an odd response: staff said they didn’t want to “spam” neighborhood council members with emails, and therefore no notices went out. What?
One staffer tried to make it seem as though the non-notification was no big deal, saying that people aren’t all that interested in Re:code L.A. and find it “boring.” Hmmm. Even if that’s true, the planning department should be drumming up interest with all tools at its disposal, including sending emails to neighborhood council members.
The entire episode goes to what the Coalition to Preserve L.A. has been demanding for months — a more transparent, resident-friendly planning department that includes the community in decision making. Residents can’t do that if meetings are taking place without the public’s knowledge. But maybe, in the case of Re:code L.A., that’s what the planning department wanted all along.