(Original Post 6:27 a.m.)
The controversial, proposed merger between the city's departments of Planning and Building & Safety will not occur on Jan. 1 as originally proposed, a city consultant told a key City Council committee recently, and may not occur at all if alternative methods are adopted to streamline the city's construction bureaucracies.
Gary Goelitz of Matrix Consulting Group told members of the City Council's Planning & Land Use Management Committee last week that it was too late to implement the merger in 2013.
"No, it's not possible," he said when asked by PLUM chairman Jose Huizar if the merger could still be completed this calendar year. "I'm not suggesting that you don't start the process, but I am suggesting that to expect the end of the process to be Jan. 1 is beyond reasonable now."
Goelitz spoke a few minutes before committee members voted to recommend postponing the merger until July 2014, if at all. The PLUM Committee recommended that the Council instruct its consultants to study "options other than consolidation that would improve the City's development process."
About 30 people spoke to the requested delay at the PLUM Committee hearing, with the vast majority of the speakers in favor of the delay.
The overwhelming support of a delay was in stark contrast to a month ago, when council members Curren Price Jr. and Tom LaBonge first proposed a motion on the Council floor for a postponement. Quick-acting and vocal community members forced the council to steer the motion to committee, where they said the pros and cons of stalling the merger needed to be discussed in public.
Proponents of the merger say that consolidation will result in lower costs and quicker processing times. They point out that managers of both departments publicly support the merger. They also say that the city has spent $850,000 to study and prepare for this merger and doesn't need to spend more money to study it further until July.
Opponents of the merger say there is no proof of either lower costs or quicker processing times, and they question whether a merger of two departments with different and sometimes conflicting roles should be under one banner. Building & Safety is a policing agency that guarantees residents' safety, they say. Planning is a development agency that is judged by the amount and types of projects that get built. They also say that most employees of the two departments are quietly opposed to the merger.
The merger was first proposed under then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and was endorsed by then-councilman Eric Garcetti. Now that Garcetti is mayor, he has not indicated whether he wants to go through with it.
“The priority for Mayor Garcetti is less red tape and faster customer service, and he is analyzing consolidation options that would best help businesses open and create jobs here in L.A.,” spokesman Yusef Robb told Rick Orlov of the Los Angeles Daily News in mid-September.
The item is now with the council's Budget and Finance Committee but is not currently scheduled for a hearing date.
PLUM Committee hearing Oct. 8 audio
Councilman Price's motion to delay merger
Letter of support for merger delay
LA Daily News: Hearing set on merger of L.A. building, planning departments
City Watch LA: City Council Trying to Bypass the Public and Hijack LA’s Department Consolidation Process