Villaraigosa to Department Heads: It’s Time to Work Together on T.O.D. Planning

Mayor Villaraigosa Executive Order on Transit Oriented Development Cabinet

Too to many people, urban planning in Los Angeles is a joke. Even Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will play up Los Angeles’ uneven history with planning in private interviews or public speeches when he knows he’s addressing an audience that gets it. But the Mayor always claimed that the city was getting better, that he and his department heads “get it” when it comes to the need for urban density, urban design and transit oriented development. And apparently there is no time like the present to get serious.

In early 2012, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa tasked city department heads with developing and implementing a strategy for transit oriented development. As the year went on, he half-joked to Streetsblog and at RailVolution that the city was finally starting to plan for development around rail and bus hubs before the they were built instead of afterwards. Even the crown jewel of Metro’s T.O.D. program, the W Hotel and Development in Hollywood appears more Transit Adjacent than Transit Oriented.

But while Villaraigosa laughed, his ad-hoc committee produced a serious report outlining the steps the city needs to take to create a unified T.O.D. Plan and implement it. The plan looked at L.A. as a series of major transit corridors and concluded something obvious: that the city needs to coordinate its department heads and visionaries to create an implement plans for these areas before any true urban planning can happen. Last week, Villaraigosa took the long-awaited first step to make that happen.

In an Executive Directive last week, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called on the City’s General Managers to create the Los Angeles Transit Corridors Cabinet (TCC), a central entity to ensure all City departments and agencies coordinate, collaborate, and communicate their efforts to bring about a more transit-oriented Los Angeles.

“By coordinating the City’s efforts through the new Transit Corridors Cabinet, we can better focus our resources toward investments and policies that encourage and support transit use,” Mayor Villaraigosa said. “This strategy will provide Angelenos of all income levels access to quality transportation, housing, and job opportunities while encouraging participation in the community development process. Together we can ensure that all stakeholders share in the benefits of growth and revitalization created by transit investment.”

Gloria Ohland, a staff member at Move L.A. and long-time supporter of Transit Oriented Development, explains some of the ways the TOD Corridors Cabinet can make a difference.

“The TOD Corridors Cabinet is a very sophisticated 21st century approach, a new work paradigm that’s all about cooperation and coordination whereas the 20th century was about working in silos, often at cross purposes. For example, LA DOT will widen streets around stations to mitigate projected traffic increases, while Metro spends money trying to make station areas more walkable. Hopefully the Cabinet will help everyone get on the same page about TOD, which offers L.A. County real potential for building affordable, walkable, bikeable, healthy, groovy green neighborhoods.”

Noting that there is a coming boom in transit oriented development as new transit projects come online in the coming years, Move L.A. applauded the Mayor’s statement. “Thanks to voter approval of Measure R in 2008, Los Angeles, both city and county, are on the verge of a transit transformation,” writes Denny Zane, the Executive Director of Move L.A.

“Move L.A. applauds Mayor Villaraigosa’s initiative in creating the TOD Corridors Cabinet and charging it with ensuring a heightened collaboration among city departments and its communities take full advantage of the opportunities created by LA Metro’s investments in our county’s transit system. The Cabinet will help everyone get on the same page about TOD, which offers LA County real potential for building livable, equitable, affordable, walkable, bikeable, healthy, green neighborhoods.”

While the announcement produced a collective yawn in the media, if the cabinet works together and with communities to create an implement visions for better streets and the process is continued by Villaraigosa’s replacement in 2013, this could mark a major turning point in the city’s planning history. With the current and coming transit boom, better planning is needed for buildings that work in and for the community and streets that better serve all users. Another report from earlier this year shows what kind of tactics the Cabinet and city will embrace, although breaking down the “bunker mentality” of the different departments that Ohland mentioned.

Technically, it’s the general managers and department heads who will make up the committee, although “designees” can take their place as need be. Joining them will be representatives, as appointed by the Mayor, from the Metro Board of Directors, Board of Public Works, City Planning Commission and a “Citizen’s Representative.” The department heads making up the bulk of the committee will be from The Department of City Planning, The Department of Transportation, The Housing Department, The Bureau of Engineering, The Bureau of Street Services, The Bureau of Street Lighting, The Bureau of Sanitation, and The Department of Building and Safety.

  • Sign me up for that “Citizen’s Representative.”

  • Brianmojo

    I see this less as ‘coordinating government for urban planning’ and more as ‘actually coordinating the way government should.’

  • Anonymous

    1. Repeal or relax entitlement height and FAR limits.
    2. Form-based code, no restriction on residential and non-polluting commercial uses.
    3. Repeal minimum parking requirements.

    Done. There is no evidence developers will not provide dense mixed-use development when freed from regulations that prevent them from doing so. That’s what they did before the existence of strict zoning. We’re not going to get TOD on any meaningful scale if every proposed project is subject to months or years of hearings, workshops, permits, etc. Just have a few community meetings, upzone everything within a mile of the corridor, and be done with it.

  • Anonymous

    4. Rein in LADOT from endlessly widening streets in pursuit of Level of Service metrics.

    For me, this is easily the biggest. A lot of LA’s dense, transit oriented nodes would be far more walkable today if the roads weren’t unnecessarily wide and flanked with tiny sidewalks.

  • Juan Matute

    @ChrisLoos:disqus , I have a policy brief on options to de-escalate automobile-centric level of service metrics in California.  Los Angeles’s methodology is especially bad because the methodology the city has chosen doesn’t work well when one intersection impacts another.  There are some state requirements that keep them from abandoning level of service for certain intersections, but for most LADOT can go to a non-automobile-centric method.

  • Anonymous

    Juan – That’s good to hear. So you’re talking about possible changes at the state level, right? Does that mean that LADOT would have to follow suit? Or is it possible that they’d keep right on pursuing auto LOS even though the state is saying “you don’t have to”? Without knowing much about the leadership or internal politics at LADOT, I get the general impression that they are just not interested in changing their ways at all.

  • Anonymous

    @ChrisLoos:disqus Agreed, we should be spending more money on maintaining roads and sidewalks in good condition, and improving ped/bike infrastructure. FWIW, I saw Jaime de la Vega (head of LADOT) speak at an event a few months ago, and the general thrust of the presentation was they want to use their resources to capitalize on Measure R projects (e.g. things like improvements near stations) and add more bike lanes, more mid-block crossings, etc.

    @google-b28581b3f66870c80865233ffca38a7d:disqus Do you have a link for that policy brief, or is it still in draft form?

  • Juan Matute

    @ChrisLoos:disqus the 1990 Congestion Management Program (Government Code §65089) requires use of one of two methods (Highway Capacity Manual or Circular 212) to monitor performance at County-designated critical intersections. If level of service declines below thresholds, the county transportation commission (now Metro) must prepare a deficiency plan. Counties can opt out of the program if cities representing the majority of the county population pass resolutions seeking opt-out.  
    Other than that, nothing in state law or city code requires use of a specific method. LADOT elects (at its discretion) to use Circular 212 – which was always meant to be an interim method until the Highway Capacity Manual was finalized. LA’s main challenge is that this method is so bad that there’s a risk case law will supplant the LADOT’s ability to manage project-level traffic impact analysis. A judge could decide that the method is bad, which would put all entitlements for projects that require an EIR in question until LADOT adopts a new method. That uncertainty would wreak havoc on the area real estate industry. However, there’s also the uncertainty that a new method would bring on projects in the entitlement phase. Right now LADOT is sticking with the devil it knows versus the devil it doesn’t, but I think this will eventually bite LADOT in the butt.
    @northendmatt:disqus – it’s still in draft form.  It will be published by Next 10 in the Spring.  For the meantime, you can geek out at http://www.ladot.lacity.org/pdf/pdf223.pdf.

  • Anonymous

    @google-b28581b3f66870c80865233ffca38a7d:disqus thanks!!

  • I want to drve

    Shut up Villaraigosa
    I am scared your proposal.
    Do not create TOD that only within the perimeters of train stations. That is not the model  of public transit friendly city
    what have gotten on TOD in Long Beach, Pasadena, and Culver City, expensive housing, big parking lot structure and lack of bus system (even to the rail stations)
    There is so much you can do within perimeter of rail stations. The whole communities  have to be public transit friendly.
    I know the whole thing is not related to the topic, but the recent transit improvement for past 20 years (except Red Line) did not help people who don’t drive. People still have to drive.
    How many expensive apartments can you build around rail stations?
    How many business parks can you build around rail stations.
    If Villaraigosa has hard time understand, go to Asia..
    Still dumb enough, go to New York
    Still stupid, go to Vancouver or even DC.
    In many DC area, you don’t have to live near train station to be TOD