Los Angeles Times
Tuesday, December 29, 1998
By PATRICK MCGREEVY
TIMES STAFF WRITER
Nearly 40% of the subdivision plans filed for the area since 1981 were bigger than the original general plan allowed. In one case, 204 homes were approved for a property designated for 37 homes.
Many projects were approved by the board about the same time that campaign contributions were made to county supervisors, including Mike Antonovich, who represented the area when many of the developments were approved.
"At a minimum it looks very sleazy," said attorney Carlyle Hall, co-founder and board member of the Center for Law in the Public Interest in Los Angeles.
Hall, who has sued the county in the past over planning issues, called for new campaign funding restrictions, similar to those in Orange County, where developers cannot contribute to officials while their projects are pending.
"It seems to have worked in Orange County," Hall said. "Orange County has not ground to a halt because of it."
State Sen. Tom Hayden, a Democrat who represents the affected area of the Santa Monica Mountains, said he is angry about how excess development has been allowed. He said he may introduce legislation to limit campaign contributions from developers to county supervisors, similar to a bill he pushed for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
"You've got to send a clear message that the Santa Monica Mountains are not for sale," Hayden said.
Hall said the county has been tougher on mountain development since Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky began representing many of the targeted areas in 1991.
In response to The Times' stories, Antonovich said in a letter that he has supported agreements reached between homeowner groups and developers on the scope of projects.
"However, the bottom line here is that the process only saw the addition of 814 new homes to the area over what was contemplated by the Santa Monica Mountains Area Plan, a less than 1% increase."
The Times' analysis found that the county approved 2,200 homes on land designated for 1,000.
Hayden said he also may sponsor legislation to address another practice he found objectionable, by which developers have been allowed to claim major public streets as part of their projects, increasing the number of homes that can be built because the acreage is greater.
James Hartl, county director of planning, vowed to correct the situation and issued a directive spelling out what is allowable.
Hartl said Monday that he has asked his staff to review the issues raised in The Times' stories "to determine whether there is anything else we need to do as far as corrective action."
Hayden said state legislation may be needed to plug a loophole that has allowed county planners to consider streets in determining the acreage of projects.
"That is a straight-out abuse that should be banned, and it may be possible legislatively to ban it," Hayden said.
Hall also supports such a ban, calling the past practice inappropriate.
The attorney said it appears that the county general plan for the area exists only on paper.
"In this particular case, they felt free to amend the general plan any time they wanted," Hall said, who added that he hopes the new plan now being developed will include provisions making it harder to change.
Joseph Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, said it is clear that straying from the general plan has contributed to crowded conditions in the area's schools and roads.
"I think the strong message is that the general plan has to be respected, and to the extent it's not, we get these kinds of problems," Edmiston said.
He said he was troubled by The Times' findings that developers were sometimes granted density bonuses based on promises of providing open space or affordable housing that never materialized.
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