LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced earlier this week that he would be postponing the merger of the Department of City Planning and Department of Building and Safety, an initiative birthed by former mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa. According to LA Downtown News, the idea behind the merger is to create a single unit that would handle all aspects of the entitlement and permitting process. As it exists now, developers and non-developers alike must navigate the departments separately, seeking approvals both here and there to be able to move forward on any project, from a high-rise tower to a single-family home addition. Thus, “…the dispersed authority on land-use issues makes for a complicated approvals process that is fraught with contradictory directions and riddled with delays.” (LA Downtown News)
In forcing the merger to happen quickly, Garcetti told the LA Times, “I think that’s just rearranging the bureaucracy and not the systems.” Without taking the time to create a methodical approach to the merger and leaving no stone unturned, a hasty merger could be chaotic on all sides—communities seeking input on development projects, city staff unsure of the process, and developers caught in the middle.
Now that the merger of the departments will be postponed, the department heads and policy makers have a chance to take into consideration the policy recommendations enumerated in the Los Angeles Business Council‘s 2013 Livable Communities Report: A Call to Action. Perhaps the most applicable recommendation for this scenario is to reduce development fees for Livable Community Development. By streamlining the entitlement process, the City’s land use authority will have the opportunity to codify a formal definition for the preferred mix of uses found within the “Livable Community Development” typology, as well as offer reduced or zero development fees for Livable Community Development projects that are located within a half-mile of transit stations. This merger stands as a chance to prioritize Livable Community Development throughout the city and provide incentives to developers to funnel growth in this direction.
The success of the merger will most definitely hinge on its leadership. The combined departments will need champions of Livable Community Development to spearhead these uncharted territories.