How the City of Los Angeles Wants to Price You Out of the Appeals Process
Let’s say you’ve been given a parking ticket by an overly ambitious City of Los Angeles traffic enforcement officer for occupying a space past the posted 6PM deadline. You check your watch: it’s only 5:57.
You take a time-stamped photo of your car and the sign and the street. You schedule an appeal. At the hearing you present your evidence and a hearing officer, eventually, dismisses the wrongfully administered fine.
The cost? Your time and effort.
Now let’s say the City of Los Angeles flouts its own rules and ordinances and illegally allows a politically-connected developer to build a 5-story structure on a neighborhood street zoned for 2-stories maximum. At a City Hall hearing, a zoning administrator, heeding his boss’s instructions, rubber stamps the building approval and allows the illegal construction to continue. You and your concerned neighbors file an appeal, heard by a different administrator, one who might possibly act independently of the Mayor and his cronies. Whether or not you get a just result, at least you’ve had your day in court, where the City’s malfeasance can be proven and made part of the permanent record.
The cost? Your time, effort and, at present, $89.
Now suppose the cost to file an appeal over the City’s land-use decisions was higher than$89. What amount would you be willing to pay to have your concerns addressed by an allegedly impartial arbiter?
How does $13,538 sound?
The City of Los Angeles, already notorious for its broken and corrupted planning process, in which officials in the Garcetti administration consistently refuse to follow their own rules, has proposed raising the cost of a citizen appeal 15,000%. According to city officials, without an increase of this magnitude, the City must tap its General Fund—which is used, in part, to cover public works and transportation projects, health and sanitation, recreational services and cultural pursuits.
For the record, 266 such appeals were filed in the last fiscal year, and the City claims it can no longer defend itself without losing money.
For reasons that are obvious to those familiar with Garcetti’s disdain for public participation in the planning process, it does not seem to have occurred to City officials that they could save an enormous amount of money fighting citizen appeals simply by behaving lawfully.
The issue is currently pending in two City Hall committees. Here in Hollywood’s Council District 4, our Los Angeles City Councilmember-in–absentia, David Ryu, said he does not support such a drastic increase, while CD 13 Councilmember Mitch “How May I Help You, Mr. Developer?” O’Farrell indicated he supports “reasonable increases.”
What’s reasonable? Burbank charges its citizens $127 and Long Beach $50. Glendale charges $2,000. San Francisco charges $600 for such appeals.
San Diego officials recently increased the cost to file an appeal directly to its city council from $102 to $1,000. But all other appeal fees, including Planning decisions, remain at $100.
In a written statement, the Echo Park Neighborhood Council said raising the fees so drastically “is a dereliction of one of the primary duties of government—to provide a fair and impartial system of reviewing decisions … accessible to all citizens, including minority voices, and not just those with wealth and power.”
James O’Sullivan, President of the Miracle Mile Residential Association, said he has been following the city’s efforts to increase appeal fees and suggests they’re merely poorly disguised attempts to silence opposition. “They tried this for years,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s just one more effort to push the little guy down. It’s just mean spirited.”
Indeed, the true cost to truly appeal a development is often much higher than the initial filing fee. Most neighborhood associations must hire a lawyer and, in many cases, their own traffic engineer and inspectors to refute the fraudulent reports issued by developers. As a project works its way through city approvals, there are multiple instances when an additional appeal must be filed. Do the math: $13,538 x 2. $13,538 x 3 – and now you and your neighbors are paying more than $40,000 to get your elected representatives to follow the rules.
Ironically, the City’s own Department of Planning, where the bulk of Los Angeles’s dirty deals seem to emanate, has suggested that the appeal fee be raised to only $271 (a demure 300% increase), which would only minimally offset what the City claims are its exorbitant handling costs. Predictably, the Garcetti administration has ignored voices of reason inside and outside of City Hall. When you’re running a kind of sanitary Mafia in which made members profit at the expense of everyone else, abstract concepts like “fairness” and “justice” are merely nice words that sound plausible at election time but end up being terribly inconvenient when trying to run the City like a personal fiefdom.
But don’t fret. If you happen to disagree with the City’s next hand-out, $13,538 will get your (inconsequential) voice heard.