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City planner recruited by Villaraigosa from San Diego announces retirement

June 30, 2010 |  5:14 pm

Gail Goldberg, L.A.’s planning director for the last 4 1/2 years, announced her retirement Wednesday, triggering speculation at City Hall about why she decided to leave the sensitive post now.

In her resignation letter to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Goldberg, 67, said she had “long been ready for retirement and new adventures” and listed her achievements in her efforts to “provide predictability for both developers and neighborhoods.”

Planning is a contentious arena where developers, real estate interests, community groups and others battle about projects.

In a statement, the mayor applauded Goldberg’s “strong leadership” and said she had worked hard to develop “streamlined processes” and “bring together distinct members of the planning community.”

However, one city official who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue said Goldberg had been “pushed” out because of dissatisfaction with the pace of efforts to streamline the approval process for developments.

The mayor has backed a much-ballyhooed “12 to 2” building reform plan, designed to eliminate what some see as unnecessary bureaucracy. The idea is to reduce from 12 to two the number of city departments that a builder seeking to complete a project must deal with.

The official who asked not to be named said Goldberg had done little to advance the initiative.

But Goldberg, in an interview, denied being pushed out and said she backed the streamlining scheme. She said she sensed no tension with the mayor’s office or with First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner, the city jobs czar, who is a major backer of the streamlining plan.

“My interaction with [Beutner] has always been pleasant and productive, and I never detected any kind of tension,” Goldberg said.  “The decision for my retirement is my decision.”

Villaraigosa has spent the last three years promising to make it easier for developers to get their projects reviewed. Beutner is expected to make an announcement on that initiative later this year

Goldberg, who came to Los Angeles from the planning department in San Diego, where she developed a reputation as an advocate for community concerns, said she tried to balance development with neighborhood desires.

“I am pro-development that is consistent with community plans and community vision,” she said.

The budget crisis has hit the planning department hard. Goldberg said it was operating at almost 50% of its authorized staff of 400 because of unfilled vacancies and departures stemming from early retirement. But, while calling the staffing issue “frustrating,” she said it was not a factor in her departure. 

-- Patrick J. McDonnell at Los Angeles City Hall