*In this time of government contraction, municipal services reduction and fiscal scrutiny, the nation’s largest county, Los Angeles County, is undergoing a massive revision of its general plan. The general plan represents hundreds of BILLIONS in resource allocation based on a regional and local population growth forecast that will take place over the next three decades.
For those of you that aren’t aware, which I’m sure is about nearly 10 million Angelenos, the general plan covers the growth, housing, transportation and land use policy of the county for the next 20 to 25 years. Noise and abatement policies will be determined. Safety and environmental impact policies will be determined. Zoning and density policies will be determined.
Green space and recreation space policies will be determined. And, of course, economic development policies will be determined—which you KNOW that is a driving factor. It’s the County’s best secret and is on a fast track to be approved with the next year. The question we all should be asking is, why? The second question we all should be asking is, what’s the rush? It’s a process that we all should be paying attention to—but we are not. Because we’re not aware of it.
To understanding how the County Plan impacts our lives, let’s draw some context here. There are 88 cities in the county of Los Angeles. The General Plan overlays those 88 cities, plus the unincorporated areas of the County. Los Angeles County has more people than 42 states. Its geography is larger than the combined geography of the states of Delaware and Rhode Island. The City of Los Angeles is 467 square miles. The County is nearly TEN times larger at 4,081 square miles. This is not a small engagement.
The new county plan will place new housing, jobs and infrastructure around “anticipated areas of growth” in the county for the three decades. We know L.A.’s infrastructure is crumbling. Where the new infrastructure is built, so is the housing and the jobs markets. Who determines if the housing is high density or low density? Is this the re-creation of urban ghettoes, or is it the gentrification process that will lead to un-affordable housing in the last places to be developed in Los Angeles, the south and eastside of the county. Where will poor people be relocated if they can’t afford the housing where they currently live? What is the safety plan around the SEVEN new transit districts to be built around the south and east segments of the County, where most people of color live (blacks and Latinos). What is the plan to expand hospitals and clinics in those areas? Does the community even know what is happening to it? Probably not.
So, why is it such a secret? It shouldn’t be a secret process where people have to search for the question to get an answer. In an information age, not a SINGLE County Supervisor has anything about the County General Plan on their websites. Nor does the Board of Supervisors website. You have to KNOW where to go to even get answer—if you know what questions to ask, the County Department of Regional Planning (http://planning.lacounty.gov/generalplan). If you go there, you’ll see that the last County plan was adopted in November of 1980, over 30 years ago. Do you even remember what Los Angeles, particularly the County, looked like thirty years ago?
You will also see that the County is ONE YEAR into the planning process. They supposedly had workshops about this plan from September to November of last year. They had 22 meetings where 150 people showed up. Not 150 people per meeting (less than we get at a monthly Urban Issues Breakfast Forum). 150 people TOTAL…for all 22 meetings. One Hundred and fifty people out of 10 million residents know anything about the impending County General Plan. They are currently in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) phase of the planning. Studies tell us that children who live around transit oriented district have more adverse health consequences than children who don’t.
I wonder if the EIR will call that out. It won’t if we don’t know about it. Where will the jobs come from? From development? From health care? From transit? From retail? We don’t know…It is being discussed somewhere. Just not in the community. The County Board of Supervisors are scheduled to adopt the new County plan in December of 2012, according to the General Plan update on the planning website.
Los Angeles TODAY looks vastly different than it looked thirty years ago. Downtown, the Westside, the Valley, the Central City all look extremely different. The whole county looks different as does many of the 88 cities it houses from Torrence to Pasadena to Lancaster. The whole region looks different except South L.A. and East L.A., which looks hauntingly the same as it did 30 years ago, 40 years ago, even 50 years ago. Why? Because poor communities sleep regional planning processes, or aren’t informed about it. By the time they find out about it, it’s too late. The plan is set, the money and resources divided, and of course—the jobs and the contracts given to who knows whom. Los Angeles County 30 years from now will look vastly different too.
The Los Angeles County General Plan, called “General Plan 2035” will determine where and how the County will grow over the next 30 years. Having seen my community remain the same for the past 30 years, I don’t want to see it remain the same the next 30 years, or have mixed use commercial and residential properties built by interests outside the community, who drive rents up and the people out. We’ve seen it before, and if we don’t talk about it, I KNOW, we’ll see it again. If you think our communities are steeped in poverty now? Imagine what it will look like 30 years from now…when the population is 15 million instead of 10 million. Will King Hospital still be the only hospital in South Los Angeles? I think you get the point. This process needs to be more publicized and deliberate than it is. Somebody around this county needs to start asking some questions.
Of course, we’ll have to know who to ask…if it’s not a secret.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.