Local politics in Los Angeles over the last two election cycles has been dominated by questions of planning, housing, transit, homelessness, growth and change. These issues have long been at the heart of urban governance.  When LA voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition U in 1986, which downzoned much of the City of Los Angeles, its anti-development advocates declared it the “dawn of a new era.” (LA Times, Nov 6, 1986). Thirty years later, we have this measure to thank in part for 3% vacancy rates throughout the city, higher rents and increased homelessness.   It is too soon to tell if the emphatic defeat of Measure S represents the passing of the slow growth generation and the dawn of.. something else.

What is clear is that almost no one is satisfied with the status quo on planning, housing and related issues. LAplus is keenly interested in post-measure S conversations, research, policy making, prototyping and other creative efforts to inspire and advance LA’s positive urban future. That’s our mission. It’s why we created LAplus.

As a brand new organization, we have mainly been in planning and conversations mode ourselves. We stepped forward from our soft launch to collaborate on No on S, Yes on LA. Now that voters have said No to S, what can residents and stakeholders imagine and advance as a “Yes to LA”? LAplus sees our role as helping illuminate some of the rules and attitudes that have held back the positive evolution of the region, and in exploring and advancing potential reforms: new ways forward.

Before we advocate, we want to look deeply at existing systems, rules and assumptions. We are developing an outline for inquiry: a post-measure S research agenda. It covers four critical and interlinked topics and systems that we believe are crying out for reexamination, and in some cases, reform and reinvention.

These are land use planning, housing, urban innovation (which includes urban design and sustainability), and equity.

A post on planning provides an initial set of issues for inquiry. They are presented in question form rather than as answers because we while and other stakeholders have ideas on what changes are needed, we want to look more deeply at what works and what doesn’t- and to acknowledge trade offs and uncertainty.    

In considering areas for potential reform, I tried to frame questions through the lens of LAplus’ mission, and our values. First, we want an open city. This means that Los Angeles should welcome and support all types of residents old and new, allow enough homes for all who want to live here, and be open to change and innovation.

Second, we want to empower more people and organizations to be city builders. This means that barriers to different types of ownership and development should be reduced. Our byzantine, years-long development process requires owners to have lots of money to pay for consultants and the costs of holding land while seeking permits. We want good rules and simple, quick processes.

Third, we want reality-based rules. We like magical urbanism in our literature and art (and in encounters & contingencies of daily life) - not in our policy.  this means that rules should be based on evidence, not wishful thinking (with all the appropriate caveats that people are more motivated by stories and by values than by data).

We will use this blog to post research-in-process on possible reforms. Nothing posted here should be considered LAplus’ formal positions, unless we clarify that we are taking a stand.  Please also reach out at hello@la-plus.org if you would like to talk about any of these topics or collaborate on research!