Land Use Law & Order: 2014 Edition

UCLA Extension Land Use Law ConferenceWhen I was in my early twenties, I considered becoming a land use attorney.  Inspired in part by the life, work, and writings of advocacy planner Paul Davidoff (who had expertise in both planning and law), I applied for admission to two local law schools and was fortunate to be accepted by both.  However, upon further consideration and reflection, I realized that I was probably having a quarter-life crisis and decided instead to focus on my career as a planner.  Nowadays, I try to go to events like UCLA Extension’s annual Land Use Law & Planning Conference to stay informed and indulge my interest in land use law and issues.  As I shared before, this is a conference that I have been going to for a few years in a row.  (My review of last year’s conference is available here.)  Held at the historic Millennium Biltmore Hotel, this year’s event took place on January 31st and was attended by over 250 attorneys, planners, public officials, developers, consultants, and other professionals.  Summarized below are highlights for me:

Learning from San Diego Planning Directors

The keynote address featured three well-known planners: Gail Goldberg, Bill Anderson, and Bill Fulton.  It was quite remarkable that UCLA Extension was able to bring together three generations of San Diego’s planning directors to share their insights and discuss how the evolution of planning in three regimes has shaped the city.  I appreciated their candid comments about their work, especially the challenges they have had to overcome and the political environments they were/are in.  It was also great to learn more about each of them.  Goldberg was eager to share her experiences as San Diego’s planning director from 2000 to 2005.  She talked about how she was involved in the process to update the city’s 20-year old General Plan which has become a model for urban revitalization.  Downtown San DiegoThe plan is a 20-year vision for San Diego and a long-term strategy for achieving that vision called the “City of Villages.”  After Goldberg left to become the director of the City of Los Angeles Planning Department, Bill Anderson took over the job and faced challenges trying to implement the General Plan, including the development of community plans.  I was surprised to learn that Anderson was previously a member and chair of the San Diego Planning Commission.  I can see how that experience and background would have come in handy when he became the planning director.  Fulton is the current director and probably the most famous of the three having previously been an author and politician.  He wrote the book Guide to California Planning (which every planner should be familiar with) and was the former mayor of Ventura.  It is obvious from their discussion that planning does not happen in a vacuum and that politics has directly impacted the size, functions, performance, morale, and even the name of the Planning Department.  I was encouraged by Fulton’s optimism and confidence when he talked about the current and future state of planning in San Diego and the work of his staff.  Specifically, he shared that this is a tremendous opportunity and time to shape San Diego and its planning, especially with so many outsiders watching and eager to see how he and the city would do.

Demographic Changes and California Planning

California Population MapThis was a welcome break from the many cases and pieces of legislation covered earlier in the day.  (It was good to be updated, but the information can be a bit dry and overwhelming at times!)  I really enjoyed this session which included professor Dowell Myers from USC, Victor Rubin from PolicyLink, and Jeannette Dinwiddie-Moore with Dinwiddie and Associates.  As a graduate student at USC, I had classes with professor Myers through which I gained an interest in urban demography.  Myers’ presentation was very informative and perfect for the conference.  I have seen him present at different times and he always makes an effort to tailor the materials/content to the audience.  In this case, he explained how the following assumptions many people, including planners, hold are no longer true:

  1. Population growth booms out of control.
  2. Immigration is swamping California.
  3. California workers and home buyers come from outside the state.
  4. The increase in seniors is minor compared to our number of working age adults.
  5. Children are more numerous than we can afford.

Using graphs and figures, Myers demonstrated what is actually happening:

  1. There is a sustained slowdown in population growth.  (Contrary to previous projections, California’s population will not reach 50 million until 2049.)
  2. Immigration has declined and the foreign-born share of the population is leveling off.
  3. The percentage of California residents who are homegrown (California-born) is increasing, meaning fewer workers and home buyers are coming from outside the state.
  4. The senior ratio (seniors per 100 working age (25-64) adults) is soaring.
  5. There are fewer children than in most counties.  This growing shortage of children makes them even more important.

(For more information, please visit his site “PopDynamics“.)

Rubin followed with an interesting presentation on how planners can respond to the demographic changes in California.  Specifically, he raised some thought-provoking questions:

  • How do we increase social cohesion and promote civic participation and community engagement in planning process?
  • Many challenges are regional in scale: how do we promote regional coordination, collaboration, and cooperation?
  • How do we address the marginalization of specific groups (i.e. minorities, poor, immigrants, elderly, disabled)?

Obviously, I do not have all the answers, but I think as planners, we should all be thinking about these questions and how we can address them in the work that we do.  Dinwiddie-Moore’s presentation was a great follow-up to Myers and Rubin’s talks.  Specifically, she shared some very important points which we should all take to heart when we do planning and outreach:

  • Underrepresented populations are very interested in their communities and values.  New ways of engaging them in the process is required such as one on one meetings, potlucks, small in-home meetings etc.
  • Effective community engagement and input in underrepresented communities requires long lead times.  Building trust and relationships needs to start months and sometimes years before any public meetings and sessions.
  • We have to know each underrepresented group/culture.  It is important to understand the community, its demographics, background, culture and values in order to engage the community and stakeholders.  We also need to be sensitive to generational differences within the group and culture.
  • Effective planning in diverse and underrepresented groups and cultures requires planners to help educate them on the value of planning, helping them to embrace how those values create better neighborhoods and communities, and strengthen their culture.

I have previously shared in “Parks and Recreation: Not Just Fun and Games” about the Community Parks and Recreation Plans that we are preparing for six underserved unincorporated communities in Los Angeles County.  Given what we have learned so far as part of our research and outreach process, I can tell you that Dinwiddie-Moore is absolutely on target with her statements above.

Revised Quimby Act

County ParkOne piece of legislation that was discussed and is particularly relevant to my work as a park planner is AB 1359 (Hernandez).  It authorizes fees paid pursuant to the Quimby Act to also be used to develop or rehabilitate parks in a neighborhood other than the one in which the subdivision for which fees were paid as a condition of tentative map approval is located, if certain requirements are met.  It requires the legislative body to hold a public hearing before using fees as prescribed in the bill.  It also authorizes the use of joint or shared use agreements to facilitate access to park or recreational facilities for residents in specified areas.  While I understand the intent of the bill is to provide more Quimby dollars to park-poor, needy areas, I agree with the panelists that there will likely be litigation down the line as this is implemented.  The Mitigation Fee Act, the Subdivision Map Act, the Quimby Act, and court decisions all require local governments to identify the nexus between a project’s effects and the conditions they impose.  Using this nexus requirement, cities and counties can require developers to pay fees that mitigate their projects’ impacts.  AB 1359 appears to violate this fundamental nexus test.  The law allows local governments to divert fees raised from a specific subdivision and use the money to benefit another neighborhood or the wider community.  Mitigation fees are supposed to be used to offset the project’s effects, not to compensate for other unmet needs or existing deficiencies.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the future.

Other Updates

Another park planning-related bill that passed is AB 265 (Gatto).  This law provides that a public entity that owns or operates a dog park shall not be held liable for an injury or death of a person or pet resulting solely from the actions of a dog in the dog park.  This is good news and may encourage more local governments to develop dog parks to meet the growing demand for such facilities.  On an unrelated note, I also found out that the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) is moving toward completion of a comprehensive update of the General Plan Guidelines which is nearly 40 years old.  The guidelines are needed to guide California cities and counties in the preparation of their general plans.  Back in September 2013, the OPR provided updates on their work at the APA California Conference in Visalia.  That was also when the draft guidelines were supposed to be circulated for public review.  According to the OPR website, the draft will now be released in early 2014 with a voluntary 60-day public review period and outreach meetings across the state.


Overall, I enjoyed the conference, and found it very informative and helpful.  The speakers did a great job sharing a lot of useful information within a relatively short span of time.  In retrospect, I am glad that I did not pursue a career in law. I simply cannot see myself being as eloquent and knowledgeable as many of the attorneys who presented up front!  Even though I find land use law interesting and relevant to my work, I am more than happy being a planner.  I look forward to going back to the conference next year.  If you have not been to one of these events yet, you should try to go in the future.  I highly recommend it to all planners, attorneys and non-attorneys.


Photo Credits:

UCLA Land Use Law & Planning Conference brochure cover from UCLA Extension – fair use doctrine, review

Downtown San Diego from Wikipedia, Author, Bernard Gagnon

California Population Map from Wikipedia, Author Jim Irwin

County park photo by author

Profile photo of Clement Lau About Clement Lau

Clement Lau, AICP, has 15 years of professional experience in urban and regional planning. Currently, Dr. Lau is a Departmental Facilities Planner with the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation. He enjoys writing about a variety of planning issues and is on the author panel for UrbDeZine. He also has published articles in the California Planning & Development Report, Public Works Management & Policy, and Progressive Planning. Dr. Lau previously worked for Los Angeles County's Department of Regional Planning and the consulting firm of Cotton/Bridges/Associates in Pasadena. He has guest lectured on public policy and urban planning topics at the University of Southern California and California State University, Northridge. He holds a doctorate and master's in urban planning from USC, and bachelor's in economics from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.