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Posts from the "Gold Line" Category

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Finally Given a Platform, Boyle Heights Speaks Out on Metro’s Mariachi Plaza and Affordable Housing Plans

Irwin Plata speaks about the importance of cultural markers in communities while Stephanie Olwen awaits her turn to speak. Both are students at YouthBuild in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Irwin Plata speaks about the importance of cultural markers in communities while Stephanie Olwen awaits her turn to speak. Both are students at YouthBuild in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Accused of smirking her way through Metro’s heated community meeting on the fate of Metro-owned properties in Boyle Heights by an agitated attendee, a clearly flustered Jenna Hornstock (Metro’s Deputy Executive Officer of Countywide Planning) had had enough.

“It’s hard to stand up and say, ‘We screwed up!’” she said of feeling like she had been on an apology tour since last November, when Metro bypassed the community engagement process and announced they were seeking to grant Exclusive Negotiated Agreements (ENA) to proposals for Mariachi Plaza and affordable housing projects at 1st/Soto and Cesar Chavez/Soto.

Agreeing that the community had indeed been overlooked, Hornstock declared to the packed house at Puente Learning Center that she was not smirking. Rather, she was trying her best to absorb the pain and heartfelt concerns of residents who feared being displaced — both culturally and economically — from their community.

But as residents continued to hammer her about the fact that implementing federal housing guidelines — the calculation of rents using the Area Median Income of L.A. County ($81,500) and the use of federal funds to build the sites — would harm the community by both pricing out area residents and opening up the applicant pool to folks from outside the area, she couldn’t help but throw up her hands.

“I don’t know what we should be doing,” she said citing the very real economic dilemma affordable housing proponents and projects face. “If developers can’t fund projects, they won’t build them.”

That dilemma is precisely why people seemingly counterintuitively cry “gentrification” when told affordable transit-oriented housing projects are coming to their communities.

In the case of Boyle Heights, for example, the median income is $33,325 — far below L.A. County’s median. And because it is the median and not the average, the number of households earning less than $40,000 per year is nearly three times that of those above the threshold.

Screen grab from the L.A. Times' neighborhood guide indicating ~16,500 homes are below $40,00 per year. Source L.A. Times.

Screen grab from the L.A. Times’ neighborhood guide indicating ~16,500 households in Boyle Heights earn below $40,000 per year. Source L.A. Times.

The majority of Boyle Heights residents would easily meet the first set of qualifications by falling below the maximum income limits set (calculated using percentages of the county AMI) on affordable units.

The problem is, as well over 9,000 households earn below $20,000 a year, a great many of them will struggle to the meet minimum income limits and the resulting rents developers may set for the apartments (see a sample set of requirements from the East L.A. Community Corporation below). Read more…

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Calendar for Metro Outreach on Boyle Heights Projects and a Correction About Tonight’s Meeting

Earlier this week, we mistakenly posted that Primestor, the developer looking to overhaul the space around Mariachi Plaza, would be presenting at the Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUC) meeting of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council tonight.

Instead, tonight’s meeting (see agenda) will focus on Abode Communities’ affordable housing plans for the site at Cesar Chavez/Soto. The Joint Development Agreement between Metro and Abode would result in 77 family-oriented units (54 2-bedroom/1-bath units and 23 3-bedroom/2-bath units) and 8000 sq. ft. of commercial space divvied up between two four-story buildings that will be connected by a skybridge. Another Metro-owned parcel across the street (in light yellow, at right) is slated to be the home to a new grocery store. (See more specifics here and here).

Abode's plans for the site at Cesar Chavez and Soto.

Abode’s plans for the site at Cesar Chavez and Soto.

The plans for this project will not be up for review at the meeting tonight, but Metro will be asking for the PLUC to recommend the project move forward with a the first phase of a phased exclusive negotiation agreement (ENA) between Metro and the recommended developer.

Typically, an ENA grants a developer the space to further develop their plans, work out the terms of a Joint Development Agreement (JDA), work out ground leases with Metro, and pull together the appropriate construction documents, free from competition from other developers. A phased or interim ENA of the kind Metro is proposing would allow for the community to have a window into the development of the plans and input on their refinement over a period of approximately three months. At the end of that period, Metro would be able to report back to the Board to seek the full ENA for the site.

The PLUC voted to recommend this approach with the 1st and Soto projects (below), to be built by Bridge Housing Corp. and ELACC, on December 11th (sending it to the larger BHNC for final approval), but rejected allowing the Mariachi Plaza project to move forward. Read more…

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Metro Postpones Approving ENA for Mariachi Plaza, Gets Blasted for Having it on Agenda in First Place

Recognize this place? Me, neither. But it's a rendering of the potential future of Mariachi Plaza. (Source: Metro)

Recognize this place? Me, neither. But it’s a rendering of the potential future of Mariachi Plaza. (Source: Metro)

“Injustice. [...] Lack of accountability. Lack of outreach in our community,” a frustrated Teresa Marquez, president of the Boyle Heights Stakeholders Association, told the Metro Board of Directors this morning. “Nobody’s talking to us!”

She was right.

Metro had apparently reneged on promises in 2012 that, “prior to seeking Metro Board approval [for a project at Mariachi Plaza], staff will be conducting a meeting to update the community regarding the development site.

Instead, only a handful of people were made aware of the plans for an 8-story parking garage with medical offices and a 3-story retail and fitness center adjacent to the plaza, the motion before the Planning Committee last Tuesday to grant developer Primestor an 18-month Exclusive Negotiation Agreement and Planning Document (ENA) for the site, or the motions to grant ENAs to two other affordable housing projects slated for Cesar Chavez/Soto and 1st/Soto.

The firestorm the Mariachi Plaza plans and the lack of community outreach ignited (not even the neighborhood councils had been advised of the plans) prompted the Board to pull the item and the two linked to affordable housing from the consent agenda. All three were postponed until February of 2015 in order to give the developers time to engage the community in the planning process. *(The extension of the ENA for the 1st/Lorena site, which some hoped to also see postponed, was granted to A Community of Friends.)

It was a move that Primestor CEO and Co-founder Arturo Sneider said he applauded.

During the public comment period, he spoke of Metro’s Request for Proposals (RFP) process as keeping them from being able to do extensive community engagement.

Although Metro had released the RFP almost a year ago, Primestor could do no outreach during the “blackout period” while its proposal was being considered. And since Metro had only conducted the final interviews in September and decided upon the winning proposals some time after that, there really had been no time for a community process. (The same had been true with the proposals for housing at 1st/Soto and Cesar Chavez/Soto)

Sneider reassured Metro that Primestor was committed to community engagement and local hiring, and was looking forward to beginning that process.

It was not enough to reassure those present to protest the project. While they were pleased that Metro had (finally) listened to the community, they were frustrated at their sense they were never seen as a partner in development and that their voices only tended to be heard when there was a massive outcry in the eleventh hour.

Many of the speakers wanted to make it clear that community engagement was not only important for a productive planning process, but also essential to ensure that current residents would be able to reap the benefits of any investments in the area. Read more…

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Dupont-Walker, Community Press Metro on Surprising Changes Slated for Mariachi Plaza, Demand More Outreach

Recognize this place? Me, neither. But it's a rendering of the potential future of Mariachi Plaza. (Source: Metro)

Recognize this place? Me, neither. But, according to Metro, it’s a rendering of what Mariachi Plaza could look like a few short years from now. (Source: Metro)

How can we ensure stakeholder input has value and is incorporated into planning? And, in so doing, help the community feel comfortable in trusting Metro to make sure that happens?

The queries, posed by Metro Board Member Jacqueline Dupont-Walker to Metro CEO Art Leahy during Tuesday’s Planning Committee meeting were in response to Boyle Heights residents’ complaints that Metro had failed to seek adequate community input on a potential development at Mariachi Plaza that would fundamentally transform the area.

She was right to ask.

Despite promises made in 2012 that, “prior to seeking Metro Board approval [for projects at Mariachi Plaza and other area sites], staff will be conducting a meeting to update the community regarding th[ese] development site[s],” no notice seems to have been given — either to the community or the advisory committee for the Eastside Access project — about Tuesday’s motion to allow Metro to enter into an 18-month Exclusive Negotiation Agreement and Planning Document (ENA) with Primestor Development.

An ENA grants Primestor — one of four applicants who submitted proposals for Metro’s RFP to develop the Mariachi Plaza parcels — the space to further develop their plans, work out the terms of a Joint Development Agreement (JDA), work out ground leases with Metro, and pull together the appropriate construction documents.

According to Metro, Primestor won out over the other applicants because of their track record with financing, commitment to job creation, “well-conceived proposal,” “attractive, transit-oriented design,” and expanded development footprint, made possible by their decision to “partner” with a neighboring property owner.

The new footprint of the plaza project. The green represents private property Primestor would acquire. Source: Metro

The expanded footprint of the plaza project. The green represents private property Primestor would acquire. Source: Metro

Specifically, that means that the buildings now housing J&F Ice Cream, Santa Cecilia restaurant, and Libros Schmibros (in green, above) will be turned into “retail and commercial office space that could provide a combination of food and beverage retail opportunities [and] a fitness center.”

The vacant lot at Bailey (the grey square below, at right) will be converted into an 8-story office building with 6 floors (528 spaces) of parking and 2 floors of medical offices, helping address the spillover demand for medical services from White Memorial Hospital (which sits across the street from the lot).

Together, the two buildings would provide 120,570 square feet of commercial space and be called “La Plaza del Mariachi.”

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Mariachi Plaza, is that you? An 8-story structure at Bailey (the grey square) will boast 6 floors of parking and 2 of medical offices. A 3-story fitness center and retail space could crowd the western end of the plaza. (Source: Metro presentation)

If that design comes as a surprise to you, either because of the notion that six stories’ worth of parking falls under the definition of “transit-oriented design,” because retail space appears to be built on the plaza itself, or because the murals that speak to the culture and history of the area and help define the space would be forever lost, you are not alone. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street, er, Rails: Foothill Gold Line Extension Tracks Complete

Metro Gold Line

Celebrating the final e-clip on the Metro Foothill Gold Line Extension tracks. Left to right: Doug Tessitor (Glendora), Sam Pedroza (Claremont), John Fasana (Duarte and Metro), Elias Avila (Gold Line construction crew), Habib Balian (Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority), and Andy Peplow (Kiewit Infrastructure.) Photo via The Source

Last Saturday, Foothill communities celebrated a Track Completion Ceremony for the initial phase of the Foothill Gold Line extension. Local leaders installed the final “e-clip” which attached the rail tracks to the rail ties. Streetsblog didn’t actually make it out to Azusa for the event; find coverage at ABC, CBSThe Source, and Railway Age.

The new 11.5-mile Foothill Gold Line extension is now less than a year away from its grand opening completion of construction, expected to take place in late September 2015. The opening will coincide with a cross-San Gabriel Valley multi-city “Golden Streets” open streets event similar to CicLAvia. Additional Gold Line extensions eastward to Ontario Airport are anticipated, but not yet funded or scheduled. To tour the new light rail line virtually, see SBLA’s recent 4-part Foothill Gold Line photo essay: the overall route, the bridges, the large-scale rail maintenance yard, and accompanying Transit-Oriented Development.

The Foothill Gold Line will extend from Pasadena to Azusa, with six new stations slated to open in September 2015. Image via Metro

The Foothill Gold Line will extend from Pasadena to Azusa, with six new stations slated to open soon after construction is complete in September 2015. Image via Metro

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Gold Line Foothill Extension Photo Tour: Transit Oriented Development (TOD)

In this fourth installment of the Foothill Gold Line Extension photo tour series, we explore planned Transit Oriented Developments (TOD) around some of the line’s future stations.

Recently, Streetsblog’s Damien Newton and Aviv Kleinman joined a behind-the-scenes tour of the newest Gold Line Extension phase under construction in the San Gabriel Valley. We joined Albert Ho, head of Media Relations for the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority, and Jeff Rowland, the Community Relations Manager for the Kiewit-Parsons Joint Venture, the contractors building the project. Part 1 of the series documented the rail corridor and stationsPart 2 highlighted the maintenance yard under construction in Monrovia. Part 3 looked at the new bridges.

For those just joining us, the Gold Line is a 19.7 mile light rail line running from East Los Angeles to Pasadena via Union Station in Downtown L.A. The line currently serves 21 stations, and is operated by Metro. The Gold Line Foothill Extension will extend from its current Sierra Madre Villa terminus east into the city of Azusa. The 11.3-mile new extension includes 6 new stations. The extension will serve five cities directly, and it is proposed to transform the San Gabriel Valley entirely. Once bounded by distress of being caught in freeway gridlock, San Gabriel Valley residents will now have the freedom to commute by rail into Downtown L.A. and endless locations from there by using the new Gold Line extension.

TODs are generally station-adjacent mixed-use areas. They often feature relatively dense housing so that residents can easily and safely walk to the nearby station. TODs frequently include apartment complexes, retail centers, and parks, which make for a rich mix of destinations around transit hubs. Find more about L.A. County Transit Oriented Development in this earlier SBLA series.

Monrovia Station Square is a great example of Transit Oriented Development.

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The city of Monrovia is converting an abandoned railroad station into Monrovia Station Square: a new transit-oriented retail development. Photo: City of Monrovia

The Monrovia Station Square is a large-scale improvement project underway, hosted by the City of Monrovia. The city plans to re-vamp the area immediately surrounding the Monrovia Gold Line station currently under construction. The Station Square intends to transform a largely-forgotten commercial/industrial neighborhood into a thriving and bustling town square. The development will adaptively re-use Monrovia’s now-abandoned Santa Fe Railway station, transforming it into a new retail establishment. The city official we spoke with hopes it will become an artisan pizza shop. The current pothole-ridden park-and-ride lot will become a park, filled with green space, playgrounds, water features, and public art.

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The abandoned Santa Fe Railway depot will soon become a trendy retail space in the proposed Monrovia Station Square. All photos Aviv Kleinman/Streetsblog L.A., except where otherwise specified.

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Built in 1926, the Monrovia Depot used to be a bustling transit station. Hopefully soon, the future Gold Line station just a few hundred feet west of it will be just as bustling.

Read more…

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Editorial: Why Raise Fares When Metro’s Building Even More Free Parking?

Foothill Gold Line's Azusa-Alameda Station not-so-innovative site plan - 200 more parking spaces coming on line next year. Source: Gold Line Construction Authority website

Foothill Gold Line’s Azusa-Alameda Station site plan means 200 more surface parking spaces due to open in 2015. Source: Gold Line Construction Authority website

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an editorial asking Why Raise Metro Fares While Giving Away Metro Parking? At the time, I totaled parking for Metro’s BRT and rail lines at 19,450 parking spaces. Despite Metro’s plan to increase transit fares, the agency has no plan to increase parking charges. Metro gives more than 9 out of 10 spaces away for free. I did a conservative estimate of Metro’s parking revenue potential to be at least $3.5 million per year.

Turns out that it gets worse. Or better, depending on your point of view.

Metro’s building lots and lots of lots.

There are 2,435 more Metro parking spaces under construction. When the Gold Line Foothill extension opens in 2015, Metro will break the 20,000 mark with 1,525 new parking spaces. Also in 2015, Expo phase 2 will add 580 new parking spaces. In 2019, the Crenshaw Line will add 330 new parking spaces.

Metro’s overall total rail/BRT parking spaces will climb to 21,885. Using the same very conservative assumptions, I estimate that, with the additional spaces, Metro’s parking revenue potential will be at least $4.3 million per year.

After the earlier article, via Twitter and via the Source, Metro responded with the “doesn’t go far enough” argument:

Of course, $3.5 million doesn’t cover the projected budget shortfalls that Metro is projecting and using to justify the fare increases (the shortfalls begin at $36 million in FY 2016 and then rise).

I’ve always found this sort of assertion to be disingenuous. It’s sort of like being in a boat that’s leaking in five places, and refusing to fix one hole, because it doesn’t fix all of them at once.

Read more…

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Updated Report Shows CAHSR’s GHG Reductions Less Costly Than Thought

UCLA’s Lewis Center revised some of the estimates in its recent report comparing the costs of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions using California high-speed rail to those of bike, pedestrian, and local transit projects. The report’s authors found that high-speed rail is not as expensive as an emission reduction as they first thought.

Lewis_yellow_box_REVISED_copyThe update makes several adjustments to the analysis, which compared CAHSR to Los Angeles Metro’s Gold Line light rail and the Orange Line bus rapid transit route, as well as the bikeway that runs parallel to it. Originally, the report found high-speed rail to be a much less cost-effective way to reduce GHGs than any of the three urban transit options. While the new cost-benefit analysis for high-speed rail looks much better, it’s still not quite on par with local transit investments.

The new comparison of costs among high-speed rail, light rail, bus rapid transit, and the bikeway is shown in the table below. As discussed in our previous story on this report, the authors consider anything less than the current price of a metric tonne of emissions under the cap-and-trade system (about $11) a cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The lower the cost, the greater the cost-effectiveness.

The UCLA authors’ new cost/benefit estimates.

The new estimate for CAHSR is -$335 per metric tonne, compared to the previous $361. Those estimates are the full public cost plus user savings (in the case of high-speed rail, that’s the price of a ticket compared to the cost of driving or flying). However, the bus rapid transit, light-rail, and bikeway are still more cost-effective at -$676, $1,233, and $3,569, respectively.

Here’s why the numbers changed: Read more…

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Report: In Cutting Emissions, CAHSR Expensive Compared to Local Upgrades

Streetfilms featured Los Angeles’ Orange Line BRT and bike path in 2009. A new UCLA report says infrastructure projects like the Orange Line are a better way to invest cap-and-trade funds than CA High-Speed Rail.

UCLA’s Lewis Center published a report yesterday finding that California’s High-Speed Rail project is a relatively expensive way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the near-term, compared to upgrading local transit and bicycle infrastructure.

Comparing CAHSR to Los Angeles Metro’s Gold Line light-rail and Orange Line bus rapid transit route and bikeway, the report finds high-speed rail to be the least cost-efficient investment the state could make.

The high-speed rail project costs more per metric tonne of GHG emissions than the current cost of allowances under cap-and-trade, the report says. If the savings costs to users are included in the calculations, then the light-rail, busway, and bikeway projects cost far less than the cap-and-trade auction price, which makes them more cost-effective ways to meet the emission reduction goals set out in California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, A.B. 32.

“There are a lot of projects that can reduce GHG emissions,” said Juan Matute, one of the report’s authors. “And differentiating between them will become more important in the future. One way is to look at the cost-effectiveness of the reductions.”

Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed cap-and-trade expenditure plan includes $250 million for high-speed rail to be spent in the next year alone, but very little for other transit or bicycle and pedestrian projects. High-speed rail isn’t scheduled to be online until 2022, so the savings it yields won’t help meet the state’s 2020 emission reductions goals. Meanwhile, the funds could be used for more local investments such as transit services or bicycle and pedestrian connections that would reduce GHG emissions more quickly. Read more…

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Second Time is Not a Charm: Community Still Vociferously Opposed to Plans for Lorena Plaza in Boyle Heights

The proposed Lorena Plaza apartments would sit at the corner of 1st and Lorena, next to el Mercado de Los Angeles. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The proposed Lorena Plaza apartments would sit at the corner of 1st and Lorena, next to el Mercado de Los Angeles and across the street from the Everbrown, er, Evergreen Cemetery. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

What had ever happened to the plans to turn the space on the corner of Lorena and 1st St. into a fitness parklet?

Many of those gathered this past Wednesday evening at the second informational meeting regarding the plans for the site were still feeling burned by the promise they believed Metro had reneged on to put a park there.

At another meeting on the subject back in December of 2012, Metro had essentially told the community it had chosen a mixed-use development project because it was working toward enhancing transit quality and was not in the business of building parks. Last week’s informational meeting on the plans for the site had only reaffirmed that the park plans were out of the question.

Still, it wasn’t a dream people were willing to give up on just yet.

A mini fitness park would have been a wonderful addition to the jogging path that runs around the (not so) Evergreen cemetery across the street, lamented Rita Govea Rodriguez, a long-time Boyle Heights community stakeholder. Citing other examples of well-used fitness zones from around the city, she said it was something that her community would really have benefited from.

We were discussing the progress of A Community of Friends’ (ACOF) plans to build a four-story building containing 49 affordable housing units — half of which would be reserved for people with special needs (e.g. the homeless or mentally ill) — and approximately 7000 sq. ft. of retail space at the Lorena site.

The $23.1 million project cleared its last hurdle last March, when the Metro Board voted 10 – 1 to begin negotiations with ACOF regarding the development.

Jose Huizar, Councilmember for the 14th District and (now a former) Metro Board member, was the lone dissenting vote at the time. He was concerned that the drastic reduction in retail and parking space from the original 2006 proposal would heavily curtail the boost in economic activity the project was expected to have generated in the surrounding areas. Read more…