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City Council OKs mayor's pick for Planning Commission

January 14, 2009 |  1:00 pm

The Los Angeles City Council voted today to approve Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s pick to replace Jane Usher, the planning commissioner who became something of a folk hero to homeowner associations for her outspoken views on billboards and high-density development. Sean Burton, president and chief operating officer of the investment fund known as CityView, will replace Usher on the powerful nine-member Planning Commission.

But Burton was plugged in at City Hall well before the council’s unanimous vote. A resident of Bel Air Crest, Burton served as treasurer of Proposition H, the $1-billion affordable housing bond that failed to win passage in 2006. He was co-chairman of Council President Eric Garcetti’s 2005 reelection campaign. And earlier this month, he spoke at the wedding when Garcetti married his longtime partner, Amy Wakeland. Burton has been serving on the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission. He is the son-in-law of Henry Cisneros, the former HUD secretary who is chairman of CityView. Since Villaraigosa’s election, two city pension funds have committed up to $50 million to CityView, which invests in “workforce housing” –- homes for families who earn just below or just above the median income.

As he walked to the City Clerk’s office to be sworn in, Burton signaled that he will break from his predecessor on at least some issues. Usher has been a vocal critic of the city’s decision to roll back height limits and provide greater density to residential projects that have even a tiny amount of affordable housing. She irritated council members by sending an e-mail to neighborhood groups telling them how they could file a legal challenge to the new rules. Neighborhood activists have warned that the “density bonus” law will bring out-of-scale residential projects to residential communities and render the city’s planning rules meaningless. Burton, on the other hand, called the law itself a good one and said the city was “thoughtful” in its handling of it.

--David Zahniser