“Until LAPD restores faith in our communities, a visible presence at public meetings must not be encouraged,” Black city planners urge LA’s planning director.
In an open letter distributed to dozens of LA City officials and staff — including the planning director, the mayor, and the council president — Wednesday evening, the Black Professionals of Los Angeles City Planning (BPLA), “respectfully demand[ed]” the removal of armed Los Angeles Police Department officers from City Planning outreach events, including Planning Commission and City Council meetings. The letter, addressed to Planning Director Vince Bertoni, has since been made publicly available.
“Until LAPD restores faith in our communities, a visible presence at public meetings must not be encouraged,” the letter states.
Consisting of “all Black planners within the City and allies,” with one member estimating participation of around 50 people, BPLA began as an organic and informal social and professional group among Black planning professionals within the City. While it continues to serve that function, in 2020, the George Floyd uprising led to the group’s formalization and a new orientation towards public and direct action. In December of that year, BPLA published a Framework and Action Plan, which has been guiding the group’s work with the Planning Department.
“Not only do we want to ensure that Black communities receive the investment and care they deserve, but we want to end de facto segregation in the City and ensure all neighborhoods are accessible in terms of housing and job opportunity. At the end of the day, when it comes to public safety in our City, we know that the safest communities aren’t the most policed, they are the most resourced. This is a planning problem. This is why BPLA exists,” a BPLA member told Knock LA.
The demand follows newly introduced legislation by Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez to remove armed officers from LA City Council meetings, a proposal the planners explicitly name and “strongly support” in the letter.
“We cannot continue to ignore the crises of excessive force and violence within our policing system,” Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez said. “Far too many Angelenos have been impacted by police violence and the presence of armed officers at City Council meetings and other public hearings serves as a deterrent for many who do not feel that our public safety systems keep them safe.”
Stating that she stood in solidarity with BPLA’s demands, Councilmember Hernandez continued: “Angelenos deserve an open and accessible local government where they are free from fear and intimidation and encouraged to fully participate in the governance of their City. I believe that we can achieve that goal by employing unarmed de-escalation and mediation, both in Council chambers and at public hearings and gatherings.”
BPLA members similarly cited the need for open and trustworthy settings in the planning process, saying that City and particularly Planning staff needed to be trained in facilitation and de-escalation.
One BPLA member explained, “We’re going to have a lot of heated conversations when it comes to growth and development in the city, and those really require the skill set that planners have to de-escalate and communicate. And we’re not going to get feedback with a gun or intimidation, we’re gonna get feedback through conversation. So what that process looks like is, yes, removing lethal weapons from the room when we engage in dialogue about the future of our communities. Planners must also have access to professional development opportunities to engage as well. The goal is to build trust in the community — and you can’t do that with armed officers in the room.”
BPLA’s Framework and Action Plan and the organization’s ensuing work have led to the establishment of the Office of Racial Justice, Equity, and Transformative Planning and new rules regarding the permissibility of hate speech in official Planning feedback. The plan also identified that while the San Fernando Valley, the Westside, and downtown all have accessible planning buildings — “public counters” — that allow residents to engage with the department directly, no equivalent institution exists in South LA. Since then, a site has been identified and work to open such a location is underway.
The Planning Department acknowledged receipt of the letter and said it valued BPLA’s feedback.
“As a Department, we value open lines of communication with our internal employee working groups, such as BPLA, and take their feedback seriously,” said a Planning Department spokesperson, writing anonymously via a shared email address. “In establishing our Office of Racial Justice, Equity, and Transformative Planning, we offer a safe space for planners to share their lived experiences and foster ongoing discussion, and in doing so, we strengthen our own cultural sensitivity on topics of importance to everyday Angelenos. This remains a core principle of our Department as we embark upon the work ahead in concert with our communities.”