Planning Southern California cities for a better future

As a new Pasadena planning commissioner, I’ve spent my first two meetings listening to seven hours of fierce community debates over projects proposed by developers: a 340,000-square-foot medical office and senior living project and a new 60,000-square-foot auto dealership.  The next scheduled meeting will consider a 206-unit housing project.  As in most California cities, our Planning Commission does more reacting than planning.

That’s not the fault of our City Council, staff or planning commissioners. It’s the result of a pervasive culture that’s developed throughout Southern California: we default to developers. That’s not even the fault of developers. Simply put, we’ve all lost sight of the purpose of city planning.

Every city in California is required to have a Planning Commission. California law is vague on duties except to say that all members “shall act in the public interest.” State law also requires every city to have “a comprehensive, long-term General Plan for the physical development.” Each city’s General Plan is supposed to be the basis for all other zoning codes and rules.

Unfortunately, those plans, codes and rules are often vague, out of date and contradictory. They contain complicated formulas that are hard for the public to decipher — and bear little relationship to shaping good development. So instead of relying on existing plans, codes and rules, communities fight sharp and often ugly battles over everything from a small apartment building to a massive mixed use project.

Pasadena’s Planning Commission was created exactly 100 years ago — and immediately set to work on the magnificent Civic Center plan that laid the design for our City Hall (so iconic it was used as the City Hall in the television series “Parks and Recreation”), Central Library and Civic Auditorium.

In those days, city planning was simpler and more effective. San Diego’s 1924 Comprehensive Plan outlined three common …read more

Source:: Los Angeles Daily News

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