Published : Monday, August 7, 2017 | 6:15 PM
After serving as Los Angeles County Planning Director since 2010, former Pasadena Planning and Development director Richard Bruckner has announced his retirement.
In an interview with the The Planning Report, Bruckner looked back at his 40 years of work in the planning and development sector and shared some of the highlights of his career that created the present climate for housing and city planning in the Los Angeles region.
Bruckner was particularly fond of his memories of working in Pasadena as the city’s planning and redevelopment director.
“I moved to Pasadena as planning and redevelopment director. Clearly, Pasadena has a great history of planning and redevelopment, from both its staff and its elected leadership. I’m very proud of the work we did around the light-rail stations and the emergence of those neighborhoods,” he told The Planning Report.
Bruckner said in particular he was proud of his contributions to the preservation of Pasadena’s historic districts.
“Historic preservation was always in place in Pasadena, but during the decade I was there, it blossomed, and we doubled the number of historic districts. We saw the revitalization of Paseo Colorado (now the Paseo), and guided city growth that was respectful of neighborhoods and transit policies,” he said.
Under Bruckner’s leadership the number of historic districts in Pasadena was doubled.
Bruckner was also instrumental in the City’s adoption of the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, completion of Paseo Colorado including restructuring of finances, revision of the Pasadena Zoning Code, and the establishment of three property-based business improvement districts.
According to Bruckner, his experiences as redevelopment director in Pasadena also equipped him better at his job as planning director for the Los Angeles County.
“In the seven and a half years I’ve been with the county, the Board has also adopted its first historic preservations ordinance, as well as several area plans, including the first update in quite a while of the Antelope Valley Area Plan. That is a major accomplishment. We also worked closely with Universal Studios to update their plan, which they have been remarkably successful in implementing,” he said.
With a career in planning that stretches for about 40 years, Bruckner emphasized that a good planner to be successful, must excel in communication skills—both in public and in relationships to decision-makers—common sense, and hard work.
“I’ve stayed in touch with every one of my supervisors. I’ve been blessed to work with great people—most of them women, by the way. Each one brought a different aspect of planning to my education,” he said.
Bruckner recounted his experience in Pasadena with former city manager Cynthia Kurtz who he said, always hammered the importance of tailoring the plan into achieving the agenda of the decision makers.
“In Pasadena, I worked for Cynthia Kurtz, who is a great leader and city manager. She always enforced the idea: Make sure you understand the decision-makers’ agenda. Then work toward achieving their agenda in your planning, and position projects to achieve that agenda,” he said.
Bruckner said he brought that insight about effective collaboration from Pasadena to his job at the county.
“Having an agenda from a public elected official is an important thing. At the county, with the board and with CEO Sachi Hamai, it’s really about collaboration among departments and between departments and the board,” he said.
“You need someone who works hard, collaborates, and can understand the policy agenda. It’s a combination of all of those things,” Bruckner added.
But while Bruckner was willing to share his wealth of experience and insights on the planning profession, he admits, sadly, that some of the skills needed to excel in his profession has now been lost in Los Angeles.
“Let me put it this way: The type of planning we did in redevelopment, because we were very focused on specific neighborhoods, sharpened everyone’s communication tools. It brought us closer to neighborhoods, and it brought many more resources to planning and implementation than we have today,” he said in his interview with The Planning Report.
“I think we’ve lost some of those skills in Los Angeles, because we deal in such broad geographies—in both the city and the county. The county is over 4,000 square miles; in the unincorporated areas, there are 1 million people. The city of LA is a smaller geography, but with 4 million people. I just don’t think the resources are there for planners to drill down into the detailed neighborhood conversations of making plans and building trust. We have to work harder at that now,” Bruckner added.
As he retires, Bruckner stresses on just how important communication is essential in the area of planning and redevelopment.
“Much of it is about communication on many levels: communication with decision-makers, communication with neighborhoods, and communication with staff. Understanding implementation of the plans is also important. And I do think implementation by-right is where a lot of planning is headed now, because of the litigious nature of discretionary decisions,” he said.
For the full interview, see http://www.planningreport.com/2017/08/03/la-county-planning-director-richard-bruckner-s-exit-interview