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Los Angeles Landscape Ordinance Sets National Precedent by Kay Tiller, Executive Regional Editor It took seven years...a myriad of negotiations..long nights and tedious days... meetings, meetings, meetings...but finally ...on July 12, 1996, Los Angeles, California's new landscape ordinance went into effect! Who was behind all the work to get it done? It was the City of Los Angeles Planning Department's Michael O'Brien, ASLA, who as "Planning Assistant" with the City of Los Angeles Planning Department is one of only two Landscape Architects in the entire 250-person department. The other, Emily Gabel-Luddy, FASLA, who was profiled in an earlier LASN issue, is also quoted here. Indeed, in commenting about the plan which Mike O'Brien guided to fruition, Ms. Gabel-Luddy stated, "Mike's work struck a good balance between creating more beautiful places within the city and satisfying the diverse political entities within the city. His contribution to our profession is that he had the perspicacity to actually make it all real." Actually, two ordinances affect the Landscape Architect's work in Los Angeles. The first, which is a Xeriscape Ordinance, Mike got passed within two months by attaching it to a "Sewer Permit Allocation Ordinance" which, Mike O'Brien admits, passed because Los Angeles "City Fathers" had to do something about the city's sewer problems immediately. But the landscape ordinance was a completely different matter! "The city had a mandate from the State regarding green waste-water conservation management," O'Brien said. "We had a seven-year dash ahead of us to get the landscape ordinance written and through the political process." In 1988, Mike called together the "green industry" for the first time. "Representatives from city government, both public and private landscape architectural firms, landscape contractors, private industry, seed and sod producers, golf course superintendents, public school officials...and anyone connected at all with what we were trying to accomplish...was asked to attend a series of meetings to work on the landscape ordinance," he said. Noting that the meetings he envisioned and brought to reality for the landscape ordinance were the impetus for the formation of what is now The Greater Los Angeles Green Industry Council, Mike O'Brien acknowledged, "For a time, we just sat and stared at each other, but finally we began to realize that we were all working for the same thing to green up the city and make it better for everyone." In the process, others interested in the outcome of the project began to make their presence felt. Homeowners associations were interested and, as Mike said, "they are a most important part of our city." Architects and developers wanted a say in what was happening, and all the facets of the entire picture began to take shape. Once the document was brought into some sort of "shape," Mike O'Brien had to begin on the climb up the city ladder, starting with his own department. He had to convince his superiors of the validity of both the process and the ordinance and then get them to convince their superiors. Then, there were the City Council committees, the City's Department of Commerce, and City Attorney's office...all the way up to the City Council. Emily Gable-Luddy commented, "Mike had to work both sides of the aisle on behalf of the landscape ordinance. He had to navigate the industry interest -- and in some cases bring competitors face to face with each other for the common interest. Then, he had to convince the people with the bucks and the people he needed to make it happen. He did it all!" When the completed "Los Angeles Comprehensive Landscape Ordinance" went before the City Council in April, passing unanimously. That vote, in itself, proved that the long hours and negotiations which Mike O'Brien had been through for seven years had not been in vain! The ordinance applies to all projects, except single-family dwellings, that create 2,000 square feet or more of non-permeable surface. Although Mike O'Brien says "this landscape ordinance is different from normal landscape ordinances in that it ignores aesthetics and concentrates more on mitigating heat and glare shading," the result is a much more beautiful city. With shaded streets and parking lots, improved air quality achieved by encouraging tree planting, the renewal of the Los Angeles River and the rewards achieved through the conservation of existing vegetation and indigenous ecological communities, Los Angeles is going to be a much more beautiful ... healthful... and happy city! Noting that Mike O'Brien "did a really great job," Emily Gabel-Luddy concluded, "The true implication for the Landscape Architect is that this ordinance, which is based on environmental concerns will have as a by-product, an extremely beautiful city."

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October 17, 2019, 6:26 am PDT

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