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Villaraigosa chooses City Hall veteran as planning chief

July 23, 2010 |  3:26 pm
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has selected a 13-year City Hall veteran to replace Gail Goldberg, who retired earlier this month as director of the Planning Department, according to city officials familiar with the selection process.

Michael LoGrande, the city’s chief zoning administrator, will be put in charge of a Planning Department that has been buffeted by budget reductions, including the departure of a number of senior planners.

LoGrande, who lives in Long Beach, had no comment. First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner, Villaraigosa’s “jobs czar,” declined to confirm or deny the selection Friday, but offered praise for LoGrande.

“I look at Michael as someone who gets things done,” Beutner said. “That doesn’t mean that he’s going to roll over for developers. It just means Michael will get to a yes or a no, and I think that’s a good thing.”

The Planning Department plays a major influence in the size and scale of new development and is, in many ways, responsible for the visual quality of the city’s neighborhoods and business districts.

Goldberg was originally tapped by Villaraigosa to update a series of “community plans,” documents that spell out the policy guidelines for the type of development allowed in each section of the city. That effort became more difficult as Planning Department employees volunteered to take early retirement or were required to take furloughs because of the city's budget crisis.
Meanwhile, real estate developers and their representatives have complained for years that their projects are not reviewed and approved quickly enough.

“Part of the reason for a change in leadership is to make sure we drive all aspects of planning -- including community plans -- further, faster and more aggressively than have been done,” Beutner said.

Two sources at City Hall said earlier this month that Villaraigosa had sought Goldberg’s departure, partly out of frustration with the pace of her efforts to make the approval process for new development less cumbersome. Goldberg disputed that, saying she was on good terms with the mayor’s team and was ready to retire after more than four years in her post.

The City Council must vote to confirm any general manager selected by the mayor. On Friday, Councilman Tom LaBonge said a decision to hire LoGrande would show that the mayor is shifting focus toward the effort to expedite the process of approving planning applications.

LaBonge said that process needs to be streamlined. But he also argued that the city will need someone with the vision to plan what neighborhoods should look like over the next 20 years.

A formal announcement is expected Monday.

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall
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