D.J. Waldie picks up on my post on Jane Ellison Usher's resignation as chair of the city planning commission and runs with it at his KCET blog. He starts with the quick selection by Mayor Villaraigosa of Sean Burton as her replacement.
I don’t have to tell you that Burton is both politically connected and development smart.
But don’t mistake that as being smart about growth. Usher, as commission president, surely knew what sort of insider would replace her after she suggested that Los Angeles residents could sue the city over development policies hostile to their neighborhoods....
In a city that was essentially “built out” by the mid-1970s, the growth machine has struggled to find product to pitch. There are no more tracts of little houses to sell. Downtown redevelopment took up some of the slack in the 1980s and 1990s, but now there’s nowhere left but the city’s endless miles of older neighborhoods. In each of them, there are modest, low-rise retail strips, small commercial centers, and disused manufacturing sites that can be cynically reimagined to be ideal locations for “transit-oriented development.”
As Usher warned Mayor Villaraigosa in her letter of resignation, “Our shared goal . . . demands that we build vertically, but only in my view at major commercial or employment centers or within walking distance of locations where we have or will provide a substantial mass transit stop. We still need . . . to define these sites with precision, a controversial process because it requires us to identify land use winners and losers – an essential task that our government has shied from...."
Winner and losers . . . Usher’s coded phrase isn’t only about the fate of particular neighborhoods (which might be a winner or a loser in an unruly rush to greater density). It’s also about which developers (and consultants and lawyers and city council members) will win or lose in the high-stakes Monopoly game that is land use planning in Los Angeles.
The game has never had any place at the board for you. It’s always been the machine’s game.
The growth machine has been processing the landscape of L.A. for more than 100 years. Its practices are embedded in the DNA of the city.