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.