Ron Kaye is the former Editor of the Los Angeles Daily News. For more, visit Fox & Hounds Daily
The City of Angels has become a city of limits, facing major environmental decisions that will determine the political agenda until the end of the century and the quality of life for decades.
Loosely controlled growth in the postwar years has outpaced efforts to protect Los Angeles’ air, water and soil from pollution. Studies by local, state and federal agencies warn that deterioration of the city’s environment will reach critical levels as the population soars by an expected 20 percent in the next 13 years.
Cleaning up the environment will cost billions of dollars and force drastic changes in lifestyle, with such measures as trash separation, water conservation and mandatory car pooling, according to interviews with politicians, community leaders, educators, environmentalists and consumers.
“There is a collision with myth and reality,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Woo. “The main crisis now is there is a conflict of the dream of living in Southern California. The dream is colliding with the reality of what L.A. is becoming – a big city with pollution problems.”
Those are the top four paragraphs of a two-part story by reporter Karen West published in the Daily News on Nov. 29, 1987 under the headline: “City of Limits: L.A. MYTH, REALITY CLASH, ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS LOOMS.
The articles examined the problems of over-development, traffic congestion, air and water pollution, landfills and ultimately the threat to the quality of life in a city of neighborhoods with tree-lined streets and abundant sunshine.
Clearly, things haven’t worked out too well — and they are about to get worse.
For every step forward, there have been two steps back.
Traffic congestion is worse, the worst in the nation. For strides made in cleaning the polluted air, we still have the nation’s dirtiest. Contaminated ground water is still as big a problem as it was 23 years ago.and water is increasingly in short supply. The still relies on dirty coal plants for nearly half our electricity. Despite progress in recycling, there is still a long way to go to reduce our reliance on landfills.
You can read these articles and judge for yourself whether our officials have recognized that a generation ago LA had reached the limits of growth and the growth economy and needed to change the direction of its policies to conserve resources to preserve the essence of what made our city such a great place to live and work and do business.
No issue that was touched on in “City of Limits” was more important than development.
The articles were written at a time when then Councilmen Zev Yaroslavsky and Marvin Braude had overwhelming voter support for a ballot measure that was supposed to put tight restrictions on new projects.
“If we don’t make tough decisions very soon, the region as a whole could take a quantum leap backward,” said City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky.
“We are entering a generation of sacrifice.
“Uncontrolled growth is the largest single contributing factor to our sewage problem. Unless we check this growth, there is a real likelihood that sewage flow will soon exceed capacity.”
The truth is we have trampled on the limits on growth, becoming one of the densest cities in the nation with high-rise office buildings even as we gobbled up industrial land and open space.
We have turned a city of single-family homes into a city dominated by apartment buildings, chased away the middle class, good jobs and major corporations.
Our roads and sidewalks are crumbling, our water and power systems aging and deteriorated, our public transit system inefficient, carrying no more passengers than it did two decades ago.
Our city teeters on the brink of bankruptcy even as it slashed public services and imposes fee and rate increases on its heavily-taxed citizenry.
Yet, we still refuse to recognize our reality and are racing forward to short-circuit planning processes and rules that protect the quality of our lives.
The architect of this escalation in pro-development policies is Austin Beutner, the de facto mayor, first deputy mayor for job creation and economic development, interim general manager of the DWP.
Beutner’s vision is to line up the interests of business, developers, contractors, organized labor and the political apparatus while using the wealth in the Community Redevelopment Agency, DWP, Airport and Harbor departments to subsidize even more development.
At the same time, he is embarking on a radical transformation of planning policies to speed approval of new developments, remove safeguards and limit public input.
In an article on City Watch LA, Cary Brazeman outlines many of these changes and offers his evaluation of their danger.
The seven changes he examines are Zoning Code Makeover, Westside Subway EIR, New Hollywood Community Plan, Draft Urban Design Standards, Community Design Overlay Ordinance, “12-2” Plan B, California Sustainable Communities Strategy
He rates some as far-reaching dangers, others as moderate — evaluations that many concerned people believe are even more threatening.
Commenting recently on the City Planning website, activist James O’Sullivan concluded that the proposed zoning code simplification ordinance had only one purpose: To make it easier for developers to get around the rules on variances.
“They were easy enough to get around before but Planning is now looking for slam dunks…The reason I think is simple, to make it easier for Planning to approve more projects, to make many more projects basically by-right.”
LA has been in a long downward spiral for a long time and the speed of our descent is about to accelerate for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many.
It is madness.