RIO approved by Planning Commission

February 18, 2009 § 1 Comment

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The Planning Commission approving the River Improvement Overlay

The River Improvement Overlay, or “RIO,” zoning ordinance was approved by the Los Angeles City Planning Commission last week on Thursday February 12th 2009. Keen-eyed non-memory-impaired Creek Freak readers are already familiar with the RIO from our earlier in-depth coverage. The RIO is one small part of the larger 20+ year Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan.

The RIO creates a new set of city planning rules (technically a supplemental use district) that will apply to an irregularly-shaped corridor approximately 1/2 mile on either side of the Los Angeles River, within the City of Los Angeles (actual boundary map here.) The RIO is a kind of river-friendly checklist – a bit like the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) system for certifying green buildings. It makes things a bit greener, more sustainable, and more oriented toward bicycle and pedestrian transportation. It also encourages affordable housing, river-orientation of activities, and more.

Two smart things that I want to point out about the RIO:
> It offers alternative traffic mitigation for development. Right now, when a developer wants to build a new building, she/he is required to include traffic mitigation – often in the form of paying for widening streets, synchronizing traffic signals, etc. I think that this is a big problem – we just continue to plan for more and more cars, and the environment and quality of life goes from bad to worse. Under the RIO, developers can instead provide facilities for bikes and pedestrians, instead of just cars.
> It’s scalable. Right now, the RIO tool kit is just being applied to the L.A. River corridor, but future RIO zones can be implemented along any waterway (or even for watersheds.) Sooner or later I hope we’ll see these districts applied to the Tujunga Wash, the Pacoima Wash, the Arroyo Seco, Ballona Creek, Compton Creek, the Dominguez Slough, Sacatela Creek, and… indeed, all the waterways and watersheds in the city of Los Angeles.

At last Thursday’s meeting, Planning Commission president Bill Roschen had nothing but praise for the RIO. He introduced the items stating that the commission was going to get dessert before lunch, praised the work of planning staff, and closed with “O happy day” when the measures were approved unanimously.

There were eight public comments in favor of the RIO, including representatives from the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority, Mujeres de la Tierra, the Arroyo Seco Foundation, and even your friendly neighborhood L.A. Creek Freak. Friends of the Los Angeles River‘s Lewis MacAdams, quoting George Mihlsten, said that he could think of no more powerful words than that he “concurred with the staff report.” The only voice of criticism was from a representative of the Sportsman’s Lodge (which neighbors the river in Studio City) who requested that the RIO include more incentives for development.

Commissioners including Mike Woo and Diego Cardoso praised the RIO. They credited the broad level of support to good staff processes in developing the RIO. The entire commission voted unanimously to approve the RIO and the LA RIO. The RIO puts in place the overlay as a potential tool in the city’s toolbox of zoning regulations. The LA RIO applies that tool to the specified set of boundaries along the Los Angeles River.

From here, the ordinance will be heard by city council committes (I expect it will go to both the Planning and Land Use Management committee and the Ad Hoc River Committee) before going to the full city council. It takes effect only after being approved by the full council.

Kudos to LA City Planning staff – Claire Bowin, Tom Rothman, and Deborah Kahen – for getting things this far!

(Image above cross-posted at my Handmade Ransom Notes art blog.)

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