Magazine article Real Estate Issues

Public Process Counseling

Magazine article Real Estate Issues

Public Process Counseling

Article excerpt

An earthquake rumbled across Los Angeles early in the morning hours of January 1994, bringing extensive damage to the entire city, including the 70 year old art deco city hall. After the dust had settled, files, furnishings and employees were relocated and seismic damage teams called in to determine what was needed to return the building to its function. Under closer scrutiny, it was discovered that the damage was more structurally pervasive than first thought and, to complicate matters, continuing aftershocks made additional tiles topple from 27 stories above. Estimated repair costs mounted, and a panoply of options was advanced. Pending resolution, a shroud of black plastic was wrapped around the top of the flaking tower.

Twenty-four months and $26 million in consultant fees later, the process is stymied. The project budget has grown to about $240 million for this 750,000 square foot structure, and there are indications that it could increase to as much as $300 million. The mayor becomes alarmed as project costs soar to more than double the original budget, and he names a pro-bono citizens' panel to undertake a fresh look at the project and seek more cost effective solutions. Your name is on the list, and if you agree to serve, you will find yourself in the midst of a public process counseling assignment. So hold on to your hat; it is going to be a wild ride. This is a highly appropriate assignment for a CRE (Counselor of Real Estate), because it calls for one of the highest forms of ethical decision-making: the preservation of the public trust.

My experience in serving on six such counseling assignments in the past few years does not render me the ultimate authority on this subject, but each assignment has given me new insight into the process. I write this article to propose a possible framework for approaching public process counseling and to stimulate discussion, within our professional area, on a process which could profoundly impact public/ private land use in this nation. I write so that we might be the beneficiaries of such increased discussion and thereby better serve our clients.

Public Process Counseling Indicators

Public process counseling is most generally indicated when a public entity experiences a breakdown of its legitimate process for decision making. Most often, the focus of the political process has become diffused and uncoordinated, weighted down with all the normal political baggage: diverse constituencies, multiple objectives and overlapping jurisdictions, divided councils, weak mayoral positions and budget constraints. Proposed legislation can become so packed with a grab bag of issues from everyone's social agenda that the legitimate process is rendered unworkable. Sometimes wise leadership has no other choice but to seek the counsel of qualified outsiders.

Sewer Permit Allocation Ordinance-Los Angeles In 1988, Mayor Bradley convened a Citizens Review Committee to comment on a proposed sewer permit allocation ordinance. This less than romantic task would effect the pace and location of development in the city of Los Angeles over the next several years. It was, in fact, a prism through which we could justifiably look at transportation issues, neighborhood issues, urban sprawl, edge cities and each of the inputs in the urban development process.

The political process had loaded every wish list imaginable on the sewer ordinance, including the ratio of commercial development in the city to housing and the implementation of water saving devices in commercial buildings. A draft proposal of the ordinance stated that permits would be allowed on a priority basis for the following: homeless shelters, affordable housing, projects that achieved a 35 percent net reduction in waste water, economic enterprise zones, approved redevelopment areas, projects within one-half mile of the nearest mass transit, commercial projects providing child care for 30 or more children and home owner remodeling of less than 1,500 square feet. …

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