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JMBM Development Rights: President Of L.A. City Planning Commission Speaks At JMBM's Business Issues Forum

JMBM featured Jane Ellison Usher, president of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission, at its most recent Business Issues Forum. The breakfast Forums are presented several times a year by the firm’s Government, Land Use, Environment & Energy Department and feature public officials whose decision-making impacts upon the real estate and business climate of Los Angeles and the Southland. Most recent Forum speakers included Deputy L.A. Mayor Bud Ovrom, L.A. Planning Director Gail Goldberg and Gloria Jeff, Manager of L.A.’s Department of Transportation (DOT).

JMBM’s crowded conference room heard Ms. Usher detail the 14 principles which the Planning Commission recently adopted under the heading of “Do Real Planning”. The objective she said was to make the Commission more than a body that simply approves or disapproves projects. “We need to establish a basic framework upon which development and planning in Los Angeles can occur.” The 14 principles can be separated into two “baskets”— Administrative and Land Use Policies.

Under the Administrative category, Ms. Usher emphasized the need to eliminate systemic bottlenecks, promote professional planning, provide sound planning advice and materially change the intake process. Several land-use policy questions need to be asked including: will the project be built to human scale and be both acceptable and compatible with its surroundings? Does it have architectural relevance and can it meet LEED or “green” certification standards? On the issue of density, Ms. Usher noted that in general the Planning Commission supports density, but only in very specific areas including adjacent to transit stops. “We need to encourage development which will help the jobs/housing balance, which is sadly out of whack right now. We also need to examine some of the DOT strategies such as road widening which are the current pro forma way of dealing with traffic mitigation.” Ms. Usher also mentioned that her Commission was focused on eliminating urban blight, such as above-ground power lines and will deal with the Mansionization issue. “Bulk, mass and scale ratios need to be clearly established so these massive homes don’t encroach on their neighbors,” she said.

Finally, Ms. Usher noted that implementing the Planning Commission’s 14 principles would require a partnership between the public and private sectors. “We’re empowering the Planning Department’s staff, under the leadership of Gail Goldberg, to take ownership of these principles. The Department added 20 new planners last year and we hope to have an additional 35 in place by the end of 2007. Developers can also assist the process by coming to the Planning Commission with the right level of detail for the project they’re proposing. They need to ask themselves questions such as, is this project appropriate for the location? Will it enhance and benefit the community? If the answers to these questions are “yes,” they should be prepared to make a strong case because our Commission will be taking a cold hard look at every project that comes before it,” she concluded.

Some readers of this publication have received a copy of Jane Usher’s 14 Principles presentation in PowerPoint form. If you have not received it and would like a copy, please communicate with Ben Reznik at