Just before the Christmas holiday, the Department of City Planning released the Preliminary Drafts of the New Community Plans for South  and Southeast  Los Angeles. The plans, along with those for the West Adams-Baldwin Hills-Leimert Park  area, together comprise the approximately 45-square mile South L.A. Planning Region. It is an area that Principal City Planner Faisal Roble acknowledged to Curbed in May 2012  had long been neglected with regard to planning (with the Crenshaw Corridor being the key exception).
That neglect is what makes the scope of what the city hopes to achieve in the region both incredibly impressive and somewhat confusing. Impressive in that the plans seek to encourage high-quality development along existing transit lines, preserve industrial sites to draw new jobs in clean tech industries, deal with blight and community-identified concerns (such as the prevalence of liquor stores, fast food joints, or auto shops), attract new businesses (such as sit-down restaurants and grocery stores) and encourage economic revitalization, preserve the residential character of stable and historical neighborhoods, promote walkability by reclassifying major streets and adding other ped-friendly improvements, and promote greater access to public transit (even as approximately 17% of residents already use public transit as opposed to 11% city-wide).
The goals are laudable and appear to be aimed at building a more livable and economically stable South L.A. while preserving the best elements of its culture, character, and community.
My confusion had to do with trying to understand how all of this was going to come to fruition. Past attempts to make over the area have yielded little in the way of results.
Despite public and private sector declarations of their dedication to the cause, few of the investments promised after the uprisings of 1992 managed to take root and bear any kind of genuinely transformational fruit.
More recently, the region was hit hard by the foreclosure crisis. Its residents were also the first to lose jobs in the recession, prompting the L.A. Times  to declare last April that the economic outlook for African Americans in some parts of the area to be even bleaker than it was at the time of the riots. In the same piece, researcher Chris Tilly, director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, makes the case that private investment is not particularly good at rescuing depressed areas. What is needed, he said, was a combination of “muscular public investment” (particularly in education) and strong economic growth.
Obviously, some of this falls outside the purview of what city planners can offer via zoning and development standards. These can be effective in pushing out the liquor stores, auto shops, recyclers, shady motels, and other “nuisance” businesses and activities prevalent in some parts of the area, but it isn’t clear that the combination of their absence and whatever incentives the city can offer developers will be enough to draw new businesses into the area to anchor the transformation for the long term. Or ensure that those new businesses will be able to survive in economically challenged areas.
I was hoping the New Community Plans would offer some clues as to how this process would unfold. After a few days of poring over several hundred pages of drafts and other materials on each of the specific plans’ websites, I had a big headache and few answers. Bleary-eyed, I contacted Melissa Watson, the current planner for the South L.A. area (and participant on our planners’ riding tour  through the area), confessing I was somewhat new to the planning process and needed help figuring out how they were going to get from point A to point B.
She was kind enough to offer to meet up later this month to help me get a better handle on the process and talk about some of the conditions that make bringing development to the area a challenge (stay tuned for that). And, she nicely reminded me that the plans are still preliminary drafts and that once the revisions of the Community Plan Implementation Overlays (CPIOs) of South and Southeast L.A. are completed and released later this spring, it will be easier to see the specifics of what the city can do to implement the plan. The CPIOs are tailored to fit specific sub districts within communities and lay out the policies, incentives, and standards that will guide development in those areas going forward. When these, the maps, and the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) are completed, the city will be able to move into the final phase of public outreach. At that time, the community will be asked to offer comments and testimony on the draft plans at public hearings for consideration by the Planning Commission.
In the meanwhile, it’s never to early to take a look at what is in the works for the South L.A. region.
If you’re interested in South L.A., bounded by Pico Boulevard to the north, Figueroa Street and Broadway to the east, Century Boulevard, 105th, 108th and 120th Streets to the south and Van Ness and Arlington Avenues to the west, please click here .
If you’re interested in Southeast L.A., bounded on the north by the 10 Freeway, on the west by Figueroa Street and Broadway, to the east by Alameda Street, Central Avenue and Mona Boulevard, and to the south by 120th Street and Imperial Highway, please click here .
The planning process for the West Adams-Baldwin Hills-Leimert Park  area has moved along more rapidly than those for South and Southeast L.A. and they are now in the public outreach phase. If you have a stake in the future of the area, you are invited to attend the Open House and Public Hearing on Tuesday, January 15th, from 5 to 9 pm at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center (4718 W. Washington Blvd). Between 5 and 7 pm, handouts, policy documents and maps will be presented and Planning Department staff will be available to answer your questions. Beginning at 7 pm, a Hearing Officer will solicit public testimony and written communication for consideration by the Planning Commission. If you need further information, you may contact project staff at (213) 978-1209  or (213) 978-1204  or visit online at http://planning.lacity.org