In this time of government contraction, municipal services reduction and fiscal scrutiny, Los Angeles County, the nation’s largest county, is undergoing a massive revision of its General Plan.

The General Plan represents hundreds of billions in resource allocation based on regional and local population growth forecasts that will take place over the next three decades.

For those of you who aren’t aware, which I’m sure is about 10 million Angelenos, the general plan covers the growth, housing, transportation and land-use policy of the county for the next 20 to 25 years. Noise and abatement policies will be determined. Safety and environmental impact policies will be determined. Zoning and density policies will be determined. Green space and recreation space policies will be determined. And, of course, economic development policies will be determined, which you know is a driving factor.

It’s the county’s best-kept secret, and is on a fast track to be approved next year. The question we all should be asking is why? The second question we all should be asking is what’s the rush? It’s a process that we all should be paying attention to, but are not, because we’re not aware of it.

To understand how the county plan impacts our lives, let’s draw some context here. There are 88 cities in the county. The General Plan overlays those 88 cities, plus the unincorporated areas. Los Angeles County has a greater population than 42 states. Its geography is larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. The city of Los Angeles is 467 square miles. The county is nearly 10 times larger, at 4,081 square miles.

The new county plan will place new housing, jobs and infrastructure around “anticipated areas of growth” in the county. We know L.A.’s infrastructure is crumbling. Where the new infrastructure is built, so will be the housing and the jobs markets. Who determines if the housing is high density or low density? Is this the re-creation of urban ghettos, or is it the gentrification process that will lead to unaffordable housing in the last places to be developed in Los Angeles, the south and east sides of the county.

Where will poor people be relocated if they can’t afford the housing where they currently live?

What is the safety plan around the seven new transit districts to be built around the south and east segments of the county, where most people of color live? What is the plan to expand hospitals and clinics in those areas? Does the community even know what is happening to it?

So, why is it such a secret? In an information age, not a single county supervisor has anything about the General Plan on their websites. Nor does the Board of Supervisors website. You have to know where to go to get an answer–that is, if you know what questions to ask–the county Department of Regional Planning (http://planning.lacounty.gov/generalplan). If you go there, you’ll see that the last county plan was adopted in November 1980, more than 30 years ago. Do you even remember what Los Angeles, particularly the county, looked like 30 years ago?

You will also see that the county is one year into the planning process. They supposedly had workshops on this plan from September to November of last year. They had 22 meetings where 150 people showed up. Not 150 people per meeting, but 150 people total for all 22 meetings.

They are currently in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) phase of planning.

Where will the jobs come from? From development? From healthcare? From transit? From retail? We don’t know. It is being discussed somewhere. Just not in the community. The county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to adopt the new county plan in December 2012, according to the General Plan update on the planning website.

Los Angeles today looks vastly different than it looked 30 years ago. Downtown, the Westside, the Valley, the Central City all look extremely different. The whole county looks different, as do many of the 88 cities it covers from Torrance to Pasadena to Lancaster. The whole region looks different except South L.A. and East L.A., which look hauntingly the same as they did 30 years ago, 40 years ago, even 50 years ago. Why? Because poor communities sleep regional planning processes, or aren’t informed about it. By the time they find out about it, it’s too late. The plan is set, the money and resources divided, and of course the jobs and the contracts given to who knows whom.

The Los Angeles County General Plan, called “General Plan 2035” will determine where and how the county will grow over the next 30 years. Having seen my community remain the same for the past 30 years, I don’t want to see it remain the same the next 30 years, or have mixed-use commercial and residential properties built by interests outside the community, who drive rents up and the people out. We’ve seen it before, and if we don’t talk about it, I know we’ll see it again.

If you think our communities are steeped in poverty now? Imagine what they will look like 30 years from now . . . when the population is 15 million instead of 10 million. This process needs to be more publicized and deliberated than it is. Somebody around this county needs to start asking some questions.

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, “Real Eyez: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture.” He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.


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