A Brief History of Planning & Zoning in Los Angeles

on January 06, 2014


Urban planning in Los Angeles has a rich history dating back to the original founding of Los Angeles.

The following timeline details a few key planning milestones in Los Angeles which help to illustrate how we have gotten to where we are today:




A photo of the statue of Spanish Governor Felipe de Neve in Olvera Street

Spanish Governor Felipe de Neve founded el Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles along what is now known as the Los Angeles River. A plan was laid out for the area identifying sites for a public plaza, church, homes, farms, an irrigation system, and a road. Eleven families constituted the first settlers.



United States Army Engineer Lieutenant E.O.C. Ord completes the City’s first official survey and mapping under American rule. Los Angeles is a western frontier town of less than 2,000 inhabitants.


A photo of Edward L. Doheny

Edward L. Doheny discovers oil at what is now the intersection of Second Street and Glendale Boulevard.


Los Angeles City Oil Field, Los Angeles, California, from First Street and Belmont Avenue, facing eastLos Angeles is the oil center of the west with a population of over 100,000.


The City adopts an ordinance that establishes the nation’s first land use designation.


The Council establishes a 15-member Planning Committee to develop a “comprehensive plan whereby Los Angeles may develop her material improvement along artistic as well as practical lines.”


William Mulholland designs a system for transporting water from the Owens Valley located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. A 250 mile long aqueduct is completed in 1913.


Detail of the San Fernando Valley, from a manuscript map of Los Angeles and San Bernardino topography, 1880, by William Hammond Hall, Office of the State Engineer, California.

The San Fernando Valley is annexed, nearly doubling the size of the City.


The City’s first power plant, the San Francisquito Power Plant No. 1, becomes operational. E.F. Scattergood develops a hydroelectric system to harness the energy generated by Owens River aqueduct.


The Planning Committee is replaced by a 52-member City Planning Commission comprised of representatives of the largest civic groups in Los Angeles. George Gordon Whitnall is appointed the Commission’s first secretary and also serves as its first professional planner. It completes the City’s first comprehensive Street Plan and Zoning Ordinance. Close to 600,000 people live in a City of 364 square miles.


The Planning Commission is reduced to five members and creates a professional planning department. Whitnall is appointed to head the new department.


Before Whitnall resigns, he revises the zoning ordinance. Height, area, density and parking regulations are prepared and standard zone categories are developed.


A consolidated zoning ordinance is adopted and the entire City is remapped.


The Council adopts the Centers Concept, which envisions the City as a network of urban centers connected by a rail transit system.


The Council adopts a new guiding document for long-range planning called the General Plan Framework. Much more detailed than the Centers Concept, the Framework includes a comprehensive strategy for directing the City’s future growth in population, jobs and housing into neighborhood districts, community centers, regional centers, the downtown center, and industrial districts.


The City Planning Commission is expanded from five to nine members and seven Area Planning Commissions are established.


The City’s Development Reform Strategic Plan calls for a comprehensive revision of the Zoning Code to more effectively accomplish the goals, objectives, and vision of the City of Los Angeles General Plan.


Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa performing a digital "ribbon cutting" which officially launched our project website, recode.la.

re:code LA, approved by the City Council, is launched - starting the 5-year comprehensive Zoning Code rewrite.