Last Updated: April 4, 2012



from the desk of Will Wright , Hon. AIA|LA
Director, Government & Public Affairs
April 4, 2012

This report is written in effort to keep the AIA|LA membership updated on the various efforts I've been involved with on behalf of the organization. It's a call to action to inspire more architects to provide the leadership to improve the built environment.

+ The AIA|LA Mayoral Candidates Forums

As a city, how shall we select our next Mayor? What criteria will we use to analyze their leadership capacity?

Throughout February and March, we coordinated a series of forums with five prospective mayoral candidates. Well-attended, the forums served as an opportunity for AIA|LA to hear more about each candidate's vision for the future of our city. The forums also provided a chance to examine the candidate's leadership capacity to move our city forward, as well as, their general attitudes about the role of architecture and design. Notable observations:

  • Most of the candidates agree with each other on broad principals, so the details of the devil? Who will have the managerial skills, the charm, wit and leadership capacity to inspire the rest of the City of LA team to align around common goals? Answer: to be determined.
  • Core themes that emerged: the need for wider and more effective community outreach, fiscal repair, regulatory streamlining and more civic engagement from our design-thinkers.
  • Each candidate agreed that place making is a priority - however, in my opinion, no single candidate shared with passion the details about their favorite place - the where, the how and why, the what! In other words, I think we want our civic leaders to have strong opinions and even stronger passions about specific places. AIA|LA and the architecture profession have a key opportunity here to better educate the candidates and to inspire them about the core tenets of design matters.
  • Although all the candidates have a general idea about the importance of architecture and design, no single candidate shared a vision that resonated with confidence for what exactly could be done to transform our city. General approaches, sure. But step-by-step, catalytic steps are for the most part still not being discussed. I think we need an implementable, process-oriented roadmap for how we can go from A to Z as a world-class city and in my opinion, much of this will begin with Charter Reform so that the city departments can be substantially reorganized to strengthen/ optimize internal connectivity and efficiency - and that so more influence can be leveraged on all the projects that are being executed within the City by other public agencies (such as LAUSD, Metro, LACCD, County, State and Feds, etc). Also, there needs to be a re-affirmation that Public-private partnerships will be essential to fund and construct catalytic projects like Park 101, the Hollywood Central Park, the Figueroa Corridor and the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan.

As the campaign progresses, I recommend that architects and designers remind each mayoral candidate about the essential role of the profession in shaping our city. The door is opening and they're listening to what we have to say - so now is the chance to influence their campaigns and to let them know what we care most about as design leaders.

+ AIA|LA Executive Roundtable with State Architect CHET WIDOM, FAIA

On March 12th, we coordinated a roundtable discussion with Chet Widom at the offices of Harley Ellis Devereaux. Topics discussed included:

  • Widom's commitment to improving the DSA and strengthening the values of design excellence statewide
  • The opportunity to better align Federal ADA and California access regulations
  • The opportunity for architects to help shape the next reiteration of the CalGreen Building Code

If you have interest in volunteering your time and expertise to help shape the refinements to CalGreen, then please contact me at (213) 639-0764 and I will put you in contact with the appropriate statewide resources.

+ Meeting with Deputy Mayor Borja Leon, P.E.

On Tuesday, March 27th, I met with Deputy Mayor Borja Leon, P.E. and Nat Gale from the Mayor's Office of Transportation. We discussed ideas about how to celebrate the successful city-led projects under Mayor Villaraigosa's tenure, identify the process for how those projects were delivered (procurement, contracting and delivery methods), and ensure that that process is formally supported and institutionalized so that the process can survive the mayoral transition.

Deputy Mayor Leon was especially interested in identifying ways to further highlight the Mayor's involvement with the current process being utilized with the Union Station Master Plan. Another opportunity: to further recognize and celebrate the selection and delivery process that will be utilized for the Sixth Street Viaduct.

Both represent key catalytic projects that have the opportunity to use smart procurement and delivery methods, resulting in outstanding team-built place-making and city rebranding.

+ Meeting with Deputy Mayor Matt Karatz

Also on Tuesday, March 27th, along with Chava Danielson and Roger Sherman, I met with Deputy Mayor Matt Karatz, Dan Caroselli and Raffy Ardhaldjian from the Mayor's Office of Economic and Business Policy. Generally, the meeting served as an excellent opportunity to further connect with the Mayor's office and share the notion about creating an Office of Architecture and Urban Design within the city's current departmental structure.

Although such an office didn't seem to be a political reality, what did emerge is the opportunity that the LAND DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE may serve as an instrument to reach the same goals. The Land Development Committee, which was established by the Development Reform Strategic Plan, is comprised of the General Managers of DBS, DCP, BOE, DOT and DWP. By establishing a clearer hierarchy of decision-making authority, the committee could forseeably in the future, resolve the types of conflicts that often compromise the design excellence of city-led projects. An example cited included: whether to widen the street to add a right-turn lane, or to widen the sidewalk instead for better pedestrian access.

Another opportunity is to develop the BUILD LA software and web portal so that all of the moving parts that would otherwise be connected via the formal establishment of an Office of Architecture and Urban Design instead be connected virtually with better technology.

Additional topic discussed included:

+ The Adaptive Reuse Ordinance

Due the general fund cut to the Department of City Planning, many of the planners dedicated to important policy developments such as the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance (ARO) have been temporarily assigned to case processing. Therefore, progress to refine the ARO to include better opportunities for commercial uses in the historic core has been put on hold until at least July 2012. We need to remind City Council during their annual budgeting process to dedicate general fund dollars to DCP so that we are able to invest in better, more progressive city planning tools.

+ PARAMETRIC URBANISM: The Role of BIG DATA in shaping the future of Cities

On March 21, the AIA|LA Urban Design Committee coordinated a discussion about Parametric Urbanism. Conversation revolved around how governments are increasingly making available large data-sets that the private sector can access in effort to create innovative place-making tools. German Aparacio shared with us insight from his Informed Cities initiative. His presentation can be found by CLICKING HERE.

Mark Greninger, from the County of LA, shared with us all of the various data sets that he has been managing on the Los Angeles County GIS Data Portal.

The Data Portal makes easily available high quality geographic information such as updated parcel maps, infrastructure systems and tools such as the SOLAR MAP of LA County, which enable you to better identify potential renewable energy opportunities for your project area.

+ Encourage Los Angeles City Council to Invest in an Updated Zoning Code

Help us spread the word.

As the Director of Government & Public Affairs for AIA|LA, I strongly encourage you to reach out to your Los Angeles City Council and request that they support the Department of City Planning's budget request to fund the initial step to a comprehensive zoning code revision. The City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning has developed a proposal to embark on one of the City's biggest planning initiatives to date: a comprehensive revision of the City's Zoning Code. First adopted in 1946, the Zoning Code has grown from an 84-page pamphlet to a 600+ page book does not reflect our 21st Century needs or vision.

To review DCP's proposed work program and budget plan, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

Feel free to forward this information to anyone you feel might be interested. This is an issue that AIA|LA advocated to support as part of our 2011 Issue Briefs.

It's also an issue that was identified in the 2011 City of LA Development Reform Strategic Plan.

With smart reform we can update our zoning code to provide the public with greater clarity and certainty a vision for the future of our city. A revised zoning code will not only save the taxpayer money by streamlining the amount of staff time required to administer projects, but it will also streamline the process for economically sustainable urban infill development. I encourage you to learn more about the issue, and to lend support at the upcoming council meetings.

+ Multiple Approvals

On March 30th, the City Council voted on COUNCIL FILE 11-1140 to support the Multiple Approvals Procedural Revisions Ordinance. The complete ordinance can be found by CLICKING HERE.

The proposed revisions will help streamline specific sections of the zoning code and ensure more predictability in the development process by clarifying language regarding the "utilization" of approvals. The revisions will create more consistent procedures for the review of projects that require multiple approvals and will "synchronize" expiration dates of approvals in the effort to maximize efficiencies within the Planning Department. Streamlining the approval procedures section of the zoning code will eliminate planning staff redundancies and simplify administrative processes, which in turn will help save the City money and enable more planning staff resources to have the time to focus on envisioning and executing urban planning on the behalf of our City, as opposed to untangling bureaucratic burdens. Overall, these revisions will benefit the community by establishing a more transparent project review system, which will allow all stakeholders to more accurately assess the proposed project in context with its surrounding area. In short, it will help bolster additional certainty and facilitate the development of a more livable city by enabling planners, developers, community-stakeholders and architects to concentrate on improving the project for the benefit of all.

+ Hollywood Community Plan

On March 27th, PLUM heard testimony on the proposed Hollywood Community Plan. Because of the complexity and the importance of the community plan the item has been continued to an upcoming PLUM meeting and I will continue to monitor its status and the progress. Both Curbed LA and the NY Times have posted articles about the plan as it moves slowly through the process of public testimony.

DeLAB co-founder and walking advocate Alissa Walker responded to NY Times article with an excellent reminder that Hollywood is already an intrinsic part of our thriving metropolis, not a pastoral small-town isolated from LA's marbled mixture of chagrin and delight.

We're a complex city and we need simple planning tools to enable innovative and appealing design solutions. If we can't encourage investment in our neighborhoods, then that money will be spent elsewhere (i.e., other cities, states and countries will become substantially more competitive as desirable places to live, work and recreate). We will be exporting those creative design solutions as opposed to implementing them here in our own neighborhoods! Los Angeles has the possibility to be the best city imaginable. All we need is to make certain that we are planning for our future in a way that will ensure we're revitalizing the urban core and making communities like Hollywood and Downtown LA and other Regional Centers as vibrant and as well designed as possible. In my opinion, the Hollywood Community Plan is a positive first step in reaching that goal.

+ Updating the Mobility Element of the City of LA General Plan

Over the past several months, I've participated on the Mobility Element Task Force. One of the community outreach tools that DCP and DOT have coordinated is a website to solicit a wide swath of community input entitled LA/2B. I encourage everyone to get more involved in the process and to share innovative design solutions for how to enhance mobility throughout Los Angeles.

LA/2B - Mind Mixer

Questions to consider, for instance include:

  1. Is there an opportunity to facilitate demand-based transit routes that quickly respond to the user's needs?
  2. Can the definition of a street be expanded to be more about people and less about machines?
  3. How do we leverage mobility systems to enhance place-making?
  4. What streets are already working well and can serve as models?

+ Business Tax Reform

Unfortunately, the progress that was being made to reform City of Los Angeles Gross Receipts business Tax (GRT) policy has slowed down substantially due to differing analyses on financial impact. For the year ahead, The City of Los Angeles is facing a fiscal shortfall of over $200 million (2012 CAO BUDGET OVERVIEW). Depending on which GRT report you read, eliminating the City of LA GRT has a $400 million impact on the general fund. However, by eliminating the business tax, it's reported to generate **an additional $2 billion in economic activity **- which in turn will vastly enhance the City's ability to access financial resources. So, it's clearly a chicken and an egg, and all we need is the political will to take bold steps forward.

The City of Los Angeles Office of Economic Analysis has numerous reports that can help enlighten you on the issue:

The Blue Sky Report
BTAC Report by USC Prof Charles Swenson

According to BizFed CEO Tracy Rafter, "In the end, a key difference is each report's estimate of the economic response that would result from elimination of the GRT." To read more about BizFed's support to eliminate the gross receipts tax and other initiatives, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

+ USGBC-LA Collaboration

USGBC-LA leadership has reached out to me to identify opportunities to further collaborate on advocacy initiatives that advance the common goals between the organizations. We discussed possible techniques for how to keep each other better informed and agreed to further connect on an ad-hoc basis whenever policy initiatives are underway that could benefit from the additional examination and expertise of each other's design-thinkers.

+ AIA California Council Advocacy Advisory Committee

On March 30, the AIACC AAC reviewed and discussed the merits of numerous pending statewide legislative items. Many legislative issues in 2012 will impact the built environment and the architecture profession. From next steps with Redevelopment Agencies, Infrastructure Finance Districts, CEQA Reform, ADA compliance, and Building Code issues - quite a bit is happening and all AIA|LA members are encouraged to become more involved with the leadership efforts of the California Council.

If you're interested in serving as a resource to represent an LA perspective, please contact me at (213) 639-0764 and we can determine the most effective way to get your input integrated into the process for advancing the issues you're most passionate about.

+ The Status of the Community Redevelopment Agency

So much is at stake for how we transition from our Redevelopment process. The California Planning & Development Report has created an excellent summary of all of the pending redevelopment legislation, which can be found by CLICKING HERE. Pending legislation includes:

  • SB 654 (Steinberg) - Affordable Housing
  • SB 986 (Dutton) - RDA Bond Funds
  • SB 1151 (Steinberg) - Accounting for Properties
  • SB 1156 (Steinberg) - Community Development
  • SB 1220 (De Saulnier) - Affordable Housing
  • AB 1585 (Perez) - AB X1 26 Cleanup/Enforceable Obligations

For more information, please contact:

Will Wright, Hon. AIA|LA
Director of Government & Public Affairs
AIA Los Angeles
3780 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 800
Los Angeles, CA 90010
213.639.0764 phone
213.639.0767 fax

Photo Credit: Claire Harlan Photogrpahy

Last updated: 11-Dec-2012 04:06 AM
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