Westchester community activist John Ruhlen has been named Citizen Planner of the Year by the American Planning Association ñ Los Angeles Section.

Ruhlen, president of the Westchester Streetscape Improvement Association, received the award at the 2008 Planning Awards ceremony Tuesday, June 17th, at the Southern California Institute of Architecture.

The City of Los Angeles Planning Department also earned the Planning Excellence in Implementation for Large Jurisdiction Award at the ceremony for its Community Design Overlays project.

The city Planning Department developed the Community Design Overlay (CDO) in an effort to protect and enhance commercial districts and small town centers. Providing design guidelines and standards tailored for Los Angeles’ distinct neighborhoods, design overlay districts build on the visual and aesthetic qualities of each neighborhood.

At the same time, the districts ensure that future development reflects a vision of cohesive, pedestrian-friendly and vibrant commercial and mixed-use districts, planning officials said. The city recently implemented design overlays on Lincoln Boulevard in Venice and near Sepulveda Boulevard in Westchester.

“We’re honored to be recognized for the Community Design Overlay project, which is an important tool in planning for the future of our communities,” said Christopher Koontz, city planning associate. “Our planning professionals are proud to deliver projects that reach many communities throughout Los Angeles.”

The award entry included a grouping of three new CDOs, including in downtown San Pedro, Lincoln Boulevard in Venice and downtown Westchester. Based on many principles of sound planning, the award’s judging criteria included originality, innovation, transferability, quality, comprehensiveness, public participation, role of planners, effectiveness and results, according to the planning association.

“We applaud the City of Los Angeles for its smart planning efforts that create more livable Los Angeles communities with choices for everyone,” said American Planning Association ñ Los Angeles section director Kevin Keller.

The association’s annual Planning Awards recognize individuals and organizations for efforts that demonstrate excellence in planning and advance the planning profession.

A volunteer panel of distinguished planning professionals selected 19 award winners in 15 different categories, ranging from best practices and innovative technology to public outreach and green building.

Award recipients included individual planners, an engineering firm and a university, as well as city and county planning departments. Award winners become eligible to submit their entries for the corresponding association California Chapter Awards, considered the profession’s highest honor at the statewide level.