Ed. note: Measure S on the LA city ballot this month is supported by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, The Crenshaw Subway Coalition, and Elena Popp of the Eviction Defense Noetwork, and opposed by the Mayor, many unions, ACLU SC, SAJE and others. C-L takes no position, but here’s a different take on “S”.
by Jill Stewart, Coalition to Preserve LA
Of America’s 65 biggest cities, Los Angeles is the most park-poor. https://parkscore.tpl.org/rankings.php There’s never been a excuse for this, but the LA City Council has come up with a series of reasons. In 2008, Controller Laura Chick blasted the Council for sitting on $129 million in unspent parks money as each fiefdom-oriented council member quibbled for years over “whose district” got what, and numerous council members shied away from allowing parks on land where insider developers wanted to build.
The planning of parks, would be key in crafting a modern General Plan. But the City Council has abandoned the duty of creating General Plans that answer our needs each 5 years for sewers, water, stores, housing, safety services and other infrastructure. What has consistently left parks dead last: the people want and need parks, but the people don’t donate large sums of money to LA’s elected officials, so they have no voice.
Our Measure S campaign is tracking a dozen pending “deals” to build a luxury hotel, luxury condos and a luxury subdivision on land where parks are needed, or where open space is important to the surrounding habitat. Last year several pieces of land ripe for parks or open space were lost to luxury housing or commercial projects. And the year before. And before.
We stand with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy in trying to save several acres of old farmland now surrounded by homes in West Hills along Bell Creek tributary to the LA River, instead of allowing a land speculator to ignore the City Charter and toss out the zoning to build 50 tract homes.
A few blocks south of Hamilton HS, on land zoned for Open Space, one of the city’s most protective zoning codes, a famous hotelier has speculated on the land, feeling sure he’ll be granted a spot zone by the Council a spot zone to wipe out this rare piece of parkland in a crowded working and middle class area.
In Koreatown, after years of community planning, neighborhood activism and officials working to assemble money to buy land for a park on a vacant lot, City Hall decided the price was too high and allowed a developer to build a luxury housing complex.
In Pacific Palisades, the last open bluff space from which you can see the ocean was long planned for a park. Then the city abandoned the effort and the land is now planned for luxury apartments. The same is true in Echo Park and near the Marina Freeway.
Without a General Plan, there are no guideposts the Council must follow when it comes to parks and open space. Quimby funds, under state law, must be used to build parks near the new density created by the developers who pay mostly in lieu fees into the funds. But this year, AB 1191 allowed the funds to be used to rehabilitate existing parks, seen by environmentalists as a dilution of the law.
On September 7, the City Council “interpreted” the state Quimby law, so developers can ignore their impact on crowded areas desperate for parks, and the money can be diverted to parks up to 10 miles away. The Council softened this blow by requiring apartment developers to begin paying into the fund, not just condo and home developers. There will be more money — to build parks nowhere near the high-density construction projects.
City Hall insists it can’t find land near most projects it approves that would adhere to the state Quimby law of one-half mile proximity. But the City Council has other motivations—campaign contributions, wining and dining, and gifts to their pet projects that arrive before votes on allowing land speculators to “upzone” land in “hot spots” to build things few people can afford.
“Fix the City” warned that their vote illegally altered state law. (Fix the City has successfully sued the Council for allowing mega-developments that don’t provide basic levels of infrastructure and mitigations to neighborhoods.
How did the highest paid City Council in the US at $190K a year, more than US Senators, arrive at this 10-mile rule? Did they hold public impact hearings with environmentalists, social justice groups, tenants rights organizations or Neighborhood Councils? Studies to aid their debate? No. They took a poorly informed guess. And incredibly, no Environmental Impact Report was prepared, as officials quietly agreed the change could be made as a “categorical exemption.”
Nor did the Council make any of the findings as provided in state law. Charter section 555 details that all amendments to the General Plan must be proposed by the Council, the Planning Commission, or the Director of Planning. But in this case, the move was initiated by the CAO and Mayor.
Details below, from Fix the City letter of protest.
Letter of Opposition from Fix the City:
Sent via Email to Sharon.Dickinson@lacity.org from Fix the City
August 30, 2016
Re: 16-0529, Agenda Item #6
We write today to comment on Council File 16-0529 (CPC-2016-2583-GPA), Item 6 on the agenda.
We strongly recommend that the council require evidence of thorough public outreach on this matter. Neighborhood councils have not been informed and neither have Park Advisory Boards.
Further, we provide the following observations:
The proposed change goes far beyond the state law and may be in conflict with the metrics required by state law. The City should avoid making the same mistake it did with SB-1818, with that mistake being corrected by the courts. Specifically, diversion of funds from areas with insufficient park space per capita to any other area is improper.
A recent report on per capita park space can be found here: https://publichealth.lacountv.gov/chronic/docs/Parks%20Report%202016-rev 051816.pdf (“Within the City of Los Angeles…Council Districts 5, 8, 9, 10, and 13 all had less than 1.0 acre per 1,000 population.”) Additional documentation can be found at these links: 2016 Parks Report, Palms, Venice, West LA, WLA Unincorporated. The proposal is silent on the status of funds already in the Quimby system which have been specifically allocated to parks within a radius of already approved and/or developed projects.
Diverting funds that have already been allocated within the radius of a project is improper, lacks in transparency and retroactively makes previously approved projects’ environmental findings invalid. In addition, developers may be unhappy to learn that Quimby fees paid will likely not be used in the vicinity of their project as required at the time their fees were paid.
Specifically, the proposal fails to account for Quimby funds that were specifically designated as mitigation for local park impacts. For example, many projects contain mitigation language consistent with the following:
“New residents generated by onsite development would increase the use of existing neighborhood and community parks and recreational facilities, which could cause or accelerate physical deterioration of the facilities. However, with payment of required Quimby fees and/or Recreation and Parkf ees and the provision of required onsite open space, impacts to parks and recreational facilities would be less than significant.”
There has been no outreach to neighborhood councils or park advisory boards that funds which had previously been dedicated to local parks may be syphoned off to park projects 15 miles away.?
No EIR was prepared as a categorical exemption was used. The proposal has a substantial likelihood of impacting the environment as funds are used up to 15 miles away from where they originated. Some areas of the city may receive less environmental benefit than under the current usage guidelines. In fact, this is the stated purpose of the proposal.1
The proposal fails to address the growth-inducing aspect of exempting a class of projects from fees. The proposal also fails to address the per-capita reduction in park facilities which will occur as project classes are exempted.
?The proposal makes nor requires any of the required findings as provided in state law. Charter section 555 details how the General Plan may be adopted and amended. All amendment to the General Plan must be proposed by either the Council, the City Planning Commission, or the Director of Planning. Council file 16-0529 indicates it was initiated by the CAO and Mayor.
– Fix The City
Letter from Chick 2008 Audit QUNIMBY funds.
From City Controller Audit 2008
Dear Mayor Villaraigosa, City Attorney Delgadillo and Councilmembers:
To be truly great, a City must have ample and safe parks and recreation facilities. It is no secret that Los Angeles suffers from a lack of open space. ..a problem that we have long grappled with to find adequate solutions.
In 1975, the California Legislature passed the Quimby Act which requires developers to set aside land or pay fees for parks and recreational facilities. This important law was designed to help balance the burgeoning demand for new housing with the need for public parks.
My audit of the City’s collection and use of Quimby funds finds that after more than 30 years, the program falls short in fulfilling its goals to provide additional parks and enhance existing ones. As of last month, the City had $129 million in Quimby funds sitting, waiting to be spent.
Part of the problem rests with the Recreation and Parks Department and the fact that they have been operating without a comprehensive plan to effectively use Quimby monies. The Department has been painfully slow in using these needed dollars to address the shortfalls in open space and recreational facilities in the areas with the greatest population growth.
It is hard to fathom, that as the City faces a $300 million dollar budget shortfall, we have $129 million intended for our youth, families, seniors and pets sitting unused and gathering dust.