Despite angry attendees and concerned citizens opposed to the recent update for 2006 to 2014 of the Housing Element of the City of Los Angeles General Plan, the City Council approved it in a vote of 13-0 Wednesday, August 13th. The Housing Element was submitted by the Los Angeles Department of City Planning.

The Housing Element is required to be updated every five years and is subject to detailed statutory requirements and mandatory review by the state of California Department of Housing and Community Development.

The Housing Element states that Los Angeles has a regional housing need of 112,876 housing units during the 2006-to-2014 period, of which 44,733 are for lower-income households. The element had to include detailed analyses of identified sites, zoning for a variety of housing types and potential government constraints.

The amount of time and money spent on this Housing Element belies its importance, and yet, one planner attending a local Neighborhood Council meeting told the audience, “It’s just an exercise and your local Community Plan serves as your protection.”

This Housing Element that “is an exercise and probably won’t be put into action” is based on a 12-year-old Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) based on the city’s General Plan Framework Element.

Some opponents say the element totally ignores the fact that there is not sufficient water for California now, confirmed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his recent order declaring a drought.

David Coffin, a Westchester resident and member of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester/Playa del Rey, said, “The city stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the link between the continuing housing production and the water shortage.

Westchester resident Harry Rose said he believes that the “we don’t have enough water” argument is illogical.

“Between 50 and 60 percent of the water consumed in Southern California is used for landscape irrigation,” said Rose. “Logic would therefore dictate that denser development as infill would be a higher use of that water.

“I also believe that such development could be required to be water-neutral.

“That said, I’m not thrilled about increased density, given the lack of any real infrastructure to support it. By that I’m referring to transportation, utilities, waste treatment and recreational facilities.

“Los Angeles needs to get serious about how we squander water. The current restrictions on use are a joke despite the cries of foul I have seen from folks that don’t have a clue.”

At a recent meeting of Playa del Rey Neighbors, Jane Usher, president of the Los Angeles Planning Commission, told the audience that a letter used to be sent out to developers by the Department of Water and Power, assuring them of an adequate water supply, although that has not been the case for the last three months.

Some attendees at the City Council meeting said they came away with the feeling that many of the council members were not truly aware of the significance of voting for approval, and that only two councilmembers, who are the main force behind the high-density focus of the Housing Element, displayed detailed understanding of the issue.

Just as the local residents at the Neighborhood Council meeting were seemingly falsely assured that the Housing Element “is an exercise that means nothing,” Usher said that the Community Plans of Los Angeles are also being disrespected and interpreted in a variety of ways.

The city’s General Plan doesn’t fare much better, and is generally ignored and interpreted for the benefit of developers, said one meeting attendee.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the 11th District, was unavailable for comment, said his communications deputy, Nate Kaplan.