Preliminary Drafts of New Community Plans Released for South L.A. Region

The view from the Slauson stop, Metro Blue Line (photo: sahra)

Just before the Christmas holiday, the Department of City Planning released the Preliminary Drafts of the New Community Plans for South and Southeast Los Angeles. The plans, along with those for the West Adams-Baldwin Hills-Leimert Park area, together comprise the approximately 45-square mile South L.A. Planning Region. It is an area that Principal City Planner Faisal Roble acknowledged to Curbed in May 2012 had long been neglected with regard to planning (with the Crenshaw Corridor being the key exception).

That neglect is what makes the scope of what the city hopes to achieve in the region both incredibly impressive and somewhat confusing. Impressive in that the plans seek to encourage high-quality development along existing transit lines, preserve industrial sites to draw new jobs in clean tech industries, deal with blight and community-identified concerns (such as the prevalence of liquor stores, fast food joints, or auto shops), attract new businesses (such as sit-down restaurants and grocery stores) and encourage economic revitalization, preserve the residential character of stable and historical neighborhoods, promote walkability by reclassifying major streets and adding other ped-friendly improvements, and promote greater access to public transit (even as approximately 17% of residents already use public transit as opposed to 11% city-wide).

The goals are laudable and appear to be aimed at building a more livable and economically stable South L.A. while preserving the best elements of its culture, character, and community.

My confusion had to do with trying to understand how all of this was going to come to fruition. Past attempts to make over the area have yielded little in the way of results.

Despite public and private sector declarations of their dedication to the cause, few of the investments promised after the uprisings of 1992 managed to take root and bear any kind of genuinely transformational fruit.

More recently, the region was hit hard by the foreclosure crisis. Its residents were also the first to lose jobs in the recession, prompting the L.A. Times to declare last April that the economic outlook for African Americans in some parts of the area to be even bleaker than it was at the time of the riots. In the same piece, researcher Chris Tilly, director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, makes the case that private investment is not particularly good at rescuing depressed areas. What is needed, he said, was a combination of “muscular public investment” (particularly in education) and strong economic growth.

Obviously, some of this falls outside the purview of what city planners can offer via zoning and development standards. These can be effective in pushing out the liquor stores, auto shops, recyclers, shady motels, and other “nuisance” businesses and activities prevalent in some parts of the area, but it isn’t clear that the combination of their absence and whatever incentives the city can offer developers will be enough to draw new businesses into the area to anchor the transformation for the long term. Or ensure that those new businesses will be able to survive in economically challenged areas.

I was hoping the New Community Plans would offer some clues as to how this process would unfold. After a few days of poring over several hundred pages of drafts and other materials on each of the specific plans’ websites, I had a big headache and few answers. Bleary-eyed, I contacted Melissa Watson, the current planner for the South L.A. area (and participant on our planners’ riding tour through the area), confessing I was somewhat new to the planning process and needed help figuring out how they were going to get from point A to point B.

She was kind enough to offer to meet up later this month to help me get a better handle on the process and talk about some of the conditions that make bringing development to the area a challenge (stay tuned for that). And, she nicely reminded me that the plans are still preliminary drafts and that once the revisions of the Community Plan Implementation Overlays (CPIOs) of South and Southeast L.A. are completed and released later this spring, it will be easier to see the specifics of what the city can do to implement the plan. The CPIOs are tailored to fit specific sub districts within communities and lay out the policies, incentives, and standards that will guide development in those areas going forward. When these, the maps, and the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) are completed, the city will be able to move into the final phase of public outreach. At that time, the community will be asked to offer comments and testimony on the draft plans at public hearings for consideration by the Planning Commission.

In the meanwhile, it’s never to early to take a look at what is in the works for the South L.A. region.

If you’re interested in South L.A., bounded by Pico Boulevard to the north, Figueroa Street and Broadway to the east, Century Boulevard, 105th, 108th and 120th Streets to the south and Van Ness and Arlington Avenues to the west, please click here.

If you’re interested in Southeast L.A., bounded on the north by the 10 Freeway, on the west by Figueroa Street and Broadway, to the east by Alameda Street, Central Avenue and Mona Boulevard, and to the south by 120th Street and Imperial Highway, please click here.

The planning process for the West Adams-Baldwin Hills-Leimert Park area has moved along more rapidly than those for South and Southeast L.A. and they are now in the public outreach phase. If you have a stake in the future of the area, you are invited to attend the Open House and Public Hearing on Tuesday, January 15th, from 5 to 9 pm at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center (4718 W. Washington Blvd). Between 5 and 7 pm, handouts, policy documents and maps will be presented and Planning Department staff will be available to answer your questions. Beginning at 7 pm, a Hearing Officer will solicit public testimony and written communication for consideration by the Planning Commission. If you need further information, you may contact project staff at (213) 978-1209 or (213) 978-1204 or visit online at http://planning.lacity.org under New Community Plans for all proposed policies.

  • Anonymous

    The dynamics of urban neighborhoods are complex, and it’s often tempting for people to want to find some silver bullet solution – attracting a new factory, commercial development, etc. But if your city is already going, those developments will happen anyway. If your city seems to be stuck, attracting one or two big projects probably isn’t going to do very much.

    On another level, many people seem to have trouble distinguishing between cities that are really in economic trouble (like say, Detroit, which keeps bleeding people and jobs) and areas that are low-rent districts but fundamentally ok. For example, over the last 10 years, there has been much hand-wringing over “what to do about Downtown Crossing” in Boston. But there was never really anything wrong with DTX, it was just a lower-class area than the surrounding hoods (Beacon Hill, Financial District/Waterfront), a place where you know who rides in on the bus to hang out. It has tons of foot traffic, plenty of transit service, all the shops seem to do ok. 

    I think South LA and Southeast LA would be great places to try the economic gardening approach. Rather than focusing on trying to attract large outside development, focus on the assets the area already has. Instead of trying to attract one new business with fifty employees, ask what it would take for fifty existing businesses to each add one more employee. Instead of trying to attract outside housing developers, ask what it would take to empower existing homeowners to do things like build an accessory dwelling or tear down and SFR to put up a 2-3 story apartment building.

    There is a lot of human potential in urban neighborhoods like these, but they are areas that the large-scale economic development machine (banks, developers, and contractors) are not designed to serve.

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/10/04/economic_gardening_my_favorite_new_to_me_idea_of_2012.html
    http://www.strongtowns.org/strong-towns-podcast/2011/5/26/do-you-garden-or-hunt.html

  • sahra

     Thanks for your thoughts and links. I don’t disagree with your suggestion about working with existing businesses. I actually think that is a viable way to go. When I first got in touch with the planners, I mentioned that most of the “nuisances” that they are looking to get rid of are actually an integral part of the local economy, even if their contributions to the overall health of the neighborhood are questionable. Taking them out of the mix could make a fragile micro-economy collapse. The best approach might be working with many to help them re-orient their businesses. Corner markets and even liquor stores might like to offer different fare, but can’t afford to jump through all the health dept. loops and don’t have enough capital to make that kind of investment all at once. Working with businesses who want to hire people who are coming out of rehab or prison are and incentivizing those kinds of hiring and training practices would also help move some of the unemployed into more stable work. Without dealing with some of those issues, fancy new things won’t be sustainable.

    The planners I’ve spoken with have heard some of these things from me and appear open to hearing them. They may be limited in what they specifically can do, but we may be able to work together to start cobbling together community organizations and other resources to have the implementation process be more comprehensive. I guess I will learn more about that possibility when I meet with them… that will be the next installment of the story.

  • Born1diva

    Please don’t let them do to us what happened to Hollywood. All pretty on the outside but no living wage jobs. Many small business left for franchises which hire at lower rates and shorter terms. 12,000 ethinic were pushed out for approx. 7,000 new non ethnic residents. 5 story condo/apartments with street level retail is a cop out. We need real industry not a more Baldwin Hills jungle-like project. If you want to get rid of something get rid of the hoe motels everywhere. They are the source of much of the crime in my area.

  • sahra

     Which area are you in? I know of a few areas (Wilmington, a few places along Main, Western, S. Fig…) where the motels are quite the hotbed of unfortunate activity. The problem (at least in some areas) is that, at Wilmington and Imperial, for example, the motel is part of the draw to outsiders from the community who wouldn’t otherwise spend money there. It is almost a catch 22–the guys that come to the motorcyle bar nearby bring a lot of money into the community, but it isn’t always supporting healthy activities. Take it away, though, and there is nothing to fill that void. So, I’m hoping that when the development shifts are made, that it is done in a way that brings new resources, job training and opportunities, programs to assist small business owners, whatever into the area to replace it. It isn’t an easy way forward, but I completely agree with you that just pushing things out in favor of shiny new things could be very detrimental to the area.

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