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Looking for a plan at L.A.'s planning department

August 7, 2010 |  1:54 pm

It's back to the status quo at the Planning Department, says Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne.

Hawthorne says that's unfortunate news for anybody concerned about the shape of public space in Los Angeles, the city's fading reputation as a home for cutting-edge architecture or the balance of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's time in office.

When Gail Goldberg announced in late June that she was leaving her post as planning director after nearly five years, the city's pundit class shifted into high gear, ruminating on whether she was pushed out, which she appears to have been, organizing panel discussions — one of which I took part in on Wednesday evening — and putting together open letters to the mayor about the kind of candidate who might excel in the job.

As it turned out, they were a step slow: The mayor tapped Michael LoGrande, 39, a veteran of the department and most recently its top zoning administrator, to take Goldberg's place before the chair in her City Hall office had a chance to cool. LoGrande was confirmed Wednesday by the City Council.

LoGrande deserves a chance to prove himself and make his own mark on the department, to be sure. But the way the mayor handled his appointment is hardly encouraging — not for the unfinished goals Goldberg left behind, which were concerned mostly with streamlining the department's structure and completing a number of neighborhood-specific community plans, and certainly not for the notion that the planning director is the one department head with the potential to articulate a broad vision for the future of the L.A. cityscape.

Read Christopher Hawthorne's full critic's notebook here.

Photo: John W. Adkisson / Los Angeles Times