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Can High-Density Housing Solve Our Regional Housing Crisis? The Answer: It’s Complicated

Southern California Public Radio affiliate KPCC, in partnership with the Milken Institute, assembled a panel of experts Wednesday night to answer the question: can high-density housing solve the housing crisis currently facing L.A. County and California?

Back in 2008, Streetsblog looked at the Solair Development along the Red Line in Koreatown.  ## Solair Transit Oriented?##  Our review was mixed.

Solair at Wilshire/Western in 2007. Photo: Damien Newton

For those who have been following news about the crippling housing supply crisis in our region, it may not come as a surprise that there were no straight-forward answers to this question offered up over the course of the 90-minute discussion (available to watch here in its entirety), moderated by KPCC senior reporter covering housing, Josie Huang.

The five-person panel did, however, generate some interesting possibilities for the future of our region and how to address the skyrocketing rents and home prices that are driving middle- and low-income people out of Southern California and even the state.

Or, in the words of panelist, Larry Gross, the executive director Coalition for Economic Survival, how do we prevent “the people who run Los Angeles [from] being run out of Los Angeles”?

“I don’t think density in itself is neither the solution for affordable housing, nor is it the great evil that will destroy neighborhoods forever. It has to be done well, it has to be located right, designed right, planned out right,” said William Huang, director of housing for the city of Pasadena.

Southern California’s historic aversion to density is clearly part of the problem, according to Professor of Architecture/Urban Design and Urban Planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Dana Cuff, who was also on the panel.

“One of the reasons housing prices have gone up so much recently has to do with the fact that we can’t sprawl out any further,” said Cuff.

“It used to be that people went out of the city to look for cheaper and cheaper housing,” Cuff said, which has resulted in Southern California having the nation’s highest rates of “extreme commutes,” which means a commute of at least 90 minutes each way.

But as the region densifies, especially along our growing transit system, how can communities make sure that homes are homes built not just for the wealthy, but also for middle- and low-income households, who are more likely to ride transit on a day-to-day basis?

If we develop our transit system in the wrong way, we’ll have higher-income people moving along those transit corridors, who may use transit to commute to work, but not for their regular trips, and you [will] actually see a decline in ridership on the transit system,” said panelist Jeff Schaffer, vice president of Enterprise Community Partners.

“Phil Washington, the new head of Metro, has said if low income people are forced to move further away from transit, then he’s going to be obligated to build transit to get out to them,” he said. A step in the right direction, however, is Metro’s plan to assure that at least 35 percent of all new housing developed on Metro property be affordable.

“We have a lot of ideas in terms of solutions [to the housing affordability problem],” said Schaffer, “whether it’s through design innovation, planning and zoning changes…, a mix of subsidies, incentives, requirements.”

“What we really need is some kind of comprehensive plan that ties all these together and fundamentally, we need a societal commitment that every person in our community deserves a decent, safe, and sanitary place to live,” he said.

If we just leave it to market forces, we’ll see a “dismal performance” in terms of housing production for low-income people, he said. Read more…


Fighting Climate Change Is Not Hurting CA Economy: It’s Contributing


Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

Despite predictions that California’s climate change policies would destroy its economy, recent data seems to show that the opposite is happening.

Derek Walker, writing for the Environmental Defense Fund, points out that recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) not only show strong job growth in California, but that clean energy jobs are growing even faster than other sectors.

California, according to the BLS, added almost half a million jobs in 2014. This happened at the same time that the state has put into effect a wide range of policies to fight climate change, including placing a legal cap on greenhouse gas emissions and making industries pay for the emissions they produce.

According to Walker,

The number one argument against policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has always been that these policies will hurt economic growth. And yet… and yet… California’s experiences, reinforced by these recent job growth numbers, demonstrate that the opposite may be the truth… Moreover, we looked at numerous indicators to see how the state’s economy was doing while cap-and-trade was taking off, and our conclusion? Good, and getting better. The state’s GDP grew by over 2% in 2013, and overall job growth outpaced the national numbers.

We are also seeing evidence that much of California’s robust job growth is happening because of – rather than despite – the state’s commitment to climate change. Between 2002 and 2012, California’s clean energy jobs grew ten times as quickly as jobs in the overall economic sector.

Unpacking the numbers is a big task, and there are a lot of factors at play. California’s economy has been growing for a while, and although its unemployment rate has been improving, it’s still one of the highest in the nation. Also, climate change policies, including cap-and-trade, are relatively recent. But these latest numbers do seem to show that those policies aren’t slowing down the California economy–which is larger by far than any other state in the US.

Job growth and growth in GDP are two indicators of economic health. “A third one, which has salience to political leaders,” said Walker, “is that California has received more investment in clean energy [industries] than any other state.” Make that more than all the other states combined, according to the CleanTech Group.

Not only that, but early indications are that the climate change policies are succeeding in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more…


California Says It Is Committed to Increasing Biking, Walking

CalSTA Deputy Secretary for Environmental Policy and Housing Kate White testifies to the CA legislature on the benefits of encouraging walking and bicycling

CalSTA Deputy Secretary for Environmental Policy and Housing Kate White testifies to the CA legislature on the benefits of encouraging walking and bicycling

CalSTA, the state agency that oversees all state transportation departments including Caltrans, is committed to improving conditions for transit, biking, and walking, according to its Deputy Secretary for Environmental Policy and Housing, Kate White.

“Thirty percent of all trips in California are less than a mile,” said White, testifying at a legislative hearing yesterday in Sacramento. “We want to make bicycling or walking the default for those short trips.”

White gave her testimony at a joint hearing of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing and the Assembly Committee for Environmental Quality, which was set to discuss the relationships between transportation and greenhouse gas emissions. Representatives from state agencies addressed questions about what changes need to happen for the state to reach its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.

CalSTA, according to White, recognizes the importance of clean vehicles and clean fuels. “However,” she said, “our focus at the transportation agency is on the infrastructure and behavioral side of the coin. And that means improving transit, walking, biking, and housing to reduce vehicles miles traveled.” She highlighted three strategies the agency is focusing on:

  • High speed rail, which White called “the cornerstone of electrifying transportation in California.” California expects high speed rail to replace “dirty” air trips between the Bay Area and the L.A. region. The project also includes electrifying Caltrain, which will have the added benefit of doubling the capacity of the popular Bay Area rail service.
  • Supporting local transit for trips between five and a hundred miles long. The state transit account this year, said White, was for $1 billion, and the state generally contributes several hundred million dollars every year for local and regional transit.
  • Active transportation. The Active Transportation Program (ATP) is investing in projects to make safe, inviting walking and biking trips an alternative to driving, especially for trips that are less than a mile. “These represent over 30 percent of all trips, and many are unfortunately still made by automobile,” said White. “A mode shift to walking and biking not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions but has many co-benefits for health, and for healthier life styles for children and families,” she added.

Read more…


CA Adopts Guidelines for Cap-and-Trade Affordable Housing Program

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Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 11.50.22 AM The Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program hopes to support projects that transform neglected, auto-dependent streets like the one on top into vibrant mixed-use transit corridors. Image: Strategic Growth Council

Yesterday the Strategic Growth Council adopted guidelines for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) program and scheduled workshops for early February to provide technical assistance to potential applicants.

California’s Strategic Growth Council is a state committee that coordinates a variety of activities by multiple state agencies, including efforts to improve air and water quality, increase affordable housing, improve transportation, and other issues related to quality of life in California. The Council was given the task of overseeing the AHSC program, created last year during negotiations on how to spend cap-and-trade revenue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The AHSC is tasked with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging the development of affordable housing near transit and by creating walkable, bikeable communities that encourage few car trips.

There is $130 million in AHSC’s first round, and staff estimate it will be able to provide partial support for between 15 and 25 projects. The second round of funding is slated to receive $200 million, pending how much revenue cap-and-trade raises this year as well as final budget decisions in June.

The AHSC is a new program, and the process of creating the guidelines has been on a fast pace. After a series of intensive public workshops held throughout the state, proposed guidelines were released in October. At yesterday’s hearing, speaker after speaker remarked that SGC staff succeeded in creating a remarkable, important program in an extremely short time.

And almost everyone agreed it still needs work. Read more…

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Transit and Intercity Rail Funding: Upcoming Workshops

Capitol Corridor train running through Oakland. Photo: Ale Sasso, Wikimedia

The Capitol Corridor train serves intercity travelers between San Jose and Sacramento; in this photo it’s passing through Oakland. Photo: Ale Sasso, Wikimedia

State agencies are seeking input on one more program that will receive funds from California’s cap-and-trade system. Guidelines for the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program [PDF] were released in December. Two public workshops will be held next week to gather feedback, one in Los Angeles and one in Sacramento.

The stated goals of the program are to fund capital and operational improvements to transit and rail to reduce greenhouse gas emission, increase ridership, integrate the various existing rail services, and improve safety.

The first round of funding will allocate $25 million. Discussions at earlier workshops touched on whether there is enough money to make it worth rail agencies’ time and effort to apply. However,  future funding cycles are likely to get more funding as the cap-and-trade program is expected to bring in more money in the next five years.

The guidelines currently cover eligibility criteria, the application and evaluation processes, and the selection process.

The workshops will be held:

  • Tuesday, January 20, 10 am, at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board Room, One Gateway Plaza, third floor, Los Angeles. [Agenda PDF]
  • Wednesday, January 21, 10 am, at the California State Capitol, Room 447 (historic building), Sacramento [Agenda PDF]

Comments may also be submitted here.

The draft guidelines are scheduled to be presented to the California Transportation Commission for approval at its January 22 meeting.

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Report: CA Cap-and-Trade Program Is Up to Snuff

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The Environmental Defense Fund’s new report says California’s cap-and-trade system is succeeding

Note: The original post has been edited slightly to clear up a misconception. Companies subject to the emissions cap cannot pay for the right to exceed the cap.

The Environmental Defense Fund released a report this morning that says the second year of California’s cap-and-trade program is a success on several fronts.

The report, “Carbon Market California Year Two” [PDF], follows up on its first-year report by analyzing results from the 2013-14 cap-and-trade program.

Cap-and-trade is the part of California’s climate change law that puts teeth into the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It works by defining an upper limit, or “cap,” on emissions for different industry sectors, and creating credits per ton of carbon pollution.

Companies are allowed a certain number of “free” emission credits, and a limited number are also made available for auction — thus the “trade” part, wherein companies buy and sell credits amongst themselves. The total number of available credits, free and auctioned, equals the industry-wide emissions cap.

The cap is set to shrink over time as the state moves towards its carbon emission reduction goals, thus requiring companies to further reduce  emissions. At the same time, the price of emission allowances will rise as competition for them becomes hotter, and the more a company can reduce its emissions the fewer credits it will need.

Revenues from the auctions are to be used for projects that can help the state further reduce emissions, for example by building affordable housing near transit, although raising money is not one of the goals of the program.

According to the report, California is succeeding in limiting, pricing, and reducing emissions by getting industries to pay for the pollution they produce.

Key conclusions from the report after the jump: Read more…


2015 CA State Budget: for Transportation, More of the Same

California Governor Jerry Brown explains the need for fiscal restraint as he presents the preliminary 2015 state budget

California Governor Jerry Brown explains the need for fiscal restraint as he presents the preliminary 2015 state budget

Governor Jerry Brown released his preliminary budget proposal [PDF] today in Sacramento, missing the opportunity to articulate the connection between spending on roads and meeting the climate change goals he proposed Monday in his inaugural speech.

The draft budget holds no huge surprises for sustainable transportation advocates. It mostly follows last year’s budget for transportation spending. Brown made no move to change the allocations of cap-and-trade funds, which include a 25 percent for high-speed rail, with the rest of the expected $1 billion going to other projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The budget mentions the $350 million for last year’s Active Transportation Program, but makes no mention of increasing that amount.

At the press conference, Brown highlighted funding for road maintenance and repair, but failed to connect spending on roads with his stated goal of reducing fuel consumption by 50 percent over the next fifteen years. That goal won’t be easy to reach, and will take more than high-speed rail and electric cars.

“Getting people biking and walking is a critical part of that effort,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller of the National Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership. “Yet the Active Transportation Program is only one percent of the budget—less if you include cap-and-trade money,” which the governor’s office expects to add another $1 billion to next year’s budget.

“Yes, we have unfunded highway maintenance needs,” she added, “but as long as we keep building highways, we always will. We need to focus on shifting people to other modes.”

Instead Brown emphasizes high-speed rail as his main solution for reducing fuel consumption. His budget lists HSR among “healthy transportation alternatives,” alongside transit and walkable and bikable communities, that will receive half of cap-and-trade revenue.

But high-speed rail won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions any time soon, and the amount of money allocated to it dwarfs the Active Transportation Program, which has the potential to increase the number of people who choose bikes and walking.

Read more…


CA Legislature’s New Session: Hit-and-Run, Cap-and-Trade, No Tolls for Bikes

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 4.34.24 PMA new California legislative session started last week with the swearing-in of ten new Senators and 27 new Assemblymembers, the introduction of a hundred new bills between the two houses, and adjournment until January 5.

These first-out-of-the-gate bills can be discussed in hearings as soon as the legislature reconvenes, since by then they will have been “in print” for 30 days. Bills introduced in January will have to wait a bit longer.

Some of the new bills are placeholders that are likely to be further developed as the session moves forward, but some are identical to bills from last year’s session.


A case in point is A.B. 8, from Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), which would create a statewide Yellow Alert system to inform law enforcement and the public about vehicles involved in hit-and-run crimes. It is exactly the same bill as last year’s A.B. 47.

A.B. 47 sailed through both houses, then was vetoed by Governor Brown.

Earlier in the session, the Governor had already signed a law similar to Gatto’s bill that allowed the existing Amber Alert system to expand from childhood abductions to include lost or missing seniors and disabled people. The governor said in his veto message that he didn’t want to overload the statewide alert system before the newly added pieces were tested.

Gatto considered this an invitation to try again, and so he has. His staff says they are confident the bill will pass easily again–and that by the time it does the governor will have seen that the system is not overloaded.

Other early bills in the 2015-16 session are listed after the jump. Read more…


Exposed: Oil Industry’s Astroturf Tactics Against CA Cap-and-Trade

The Western States Petroleum Association extols its campaigns against cap-and-trade purporting to represent “consumer concerns.” Source: WSPA

It’s no surprise that the oil industry is fighting California’s cap-and-trade program. But it is enlightening to see the strategy laid out in a leaked PowerPoint presentation [PDF].

Last week, Brad Wieners at Bloomberg Businessweek leaked a presentation put together by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), an oil industry lobby firm that operates in California. In the presentation slides, WSPA details its strategy to oppose regulatory efforts in California, Oregon, and Washington to combat climate change, including California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (A.B. 32), low carbon fuel standards, and the cap-and-trade system.

Examples of oil industry astroturf campaigns in the states of Washington, Oregon, and California. Images via WSPA powerpoint [PDF]

Examples of oil industry astroturf campaigns in the states of Washington, Oregon, and California. Images via WSPA powerpoint [PDF]

The main strategy is what Wieners calls an “astroturf campaign”:

Groups with names such as Oregon Climate Change Campaign, Washington Consumers for Sound Fuel Policy, and AB 32 Implementation Group are made to look and sound like grassroots citizen-activists while promoting oil industry priorities and actually working against the implementation of AB 32.

One of those groups put together the “Stop the Hidden Gas Tax!” campaign, which tried to convince California consumers to protest against rising gas prices that will supposedly result from the fuel industry coming under cap-and-trade regulation in January. The campaign didn’t get much traction, perhaps because gas prices are falling, or perhaps because, as Tim O’Connor of the Environmental Defense Fund points out, California voters have support clean energy alternatives.

O’Connor told Business Week:

It’s eye-opening to see the lengths [the WSPA] has gone to push back rather than move forward. I don’t think anybody knew how cross-jurisdictional, cross-border, and extensive their investment is in creating a false consumer backlash against [climate legislation].

WSPA spokesperson Tupper Hull responded in the article:

We did not oppose AB 32 when it passed. We believe it’s good to have the reduction of greenhouse gases as a goal. We support that goal. [But] hundreds of pages of regulations have been added to what had been a page-and-a-half document, and we do object to many of the additions.”

However, WSPA took part in the formulation of those regulations.

A.B. 32, and its cap-and-trade regulations that charges industries money for the pollution they emit, is groundbreaking and frightening to big oil, as evidenced by WSPA’s presentation. It is just beginning to produce major funding streams for all kinds of sustainable programs, from affordable housing to transit to high speed rail, and the rest of the nation, and the world, are watching to see how well it succeeds. A.B. 32 could spawn climate change legislation elsewhere, equally noxious to the oil companies’ polluting habits, so no wonder they are attacking it every way they can.

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Garcetti Motion Encourages Affordable Housing At Metro Stations

California's Strategic Growth Council has awarded the city of Los Angeles a half-million dollar grant for a study that will make it easier to build infill housing in Transit Priority Areas, similar to this transit-oriented development above the Metro Red Line Wilshire/Vermont Station. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

A Metro motion passed today should help the agency play a significant role in joint development of affordable housing at Metro stations, similar to this housing at the Wilshire-Vermont subway station. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Earlier today, the Metro board of directors passed a motion [PDF] encouraging Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) and affordable housing.

The motion may give some indication of where the board’s newest chair, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, hopes to take the agency. Garcetti has been a vocal proponent of siting affordable housing along transit lines. Garcetti authored the motion and shepherded its passage in the face of concerns expressed by other Metro boardmembers.

The motion helps Metro to play a greater role in fostering affordable housing at its rail stations and along its transit corridors. There are six components to the motion; the agency will: (full text in this PDF)

  1. Inventory current and potential future joint development sites along Metro’s Gold, Expo, Crenshaw/LAX, Regional Connector, and Purple Lines.
  2. Partner with local cities and L.A. County to work together to invest in transit corridor sites, potentially leveraging municipal housing funding.
  3. Set a goal that a minimum 30 percent of Metro’s jointly-developed housing will be affordable housing.
  4. Allow property value discounts to incentivize affordability.
  5. Collaborate on the creation of a Countywide Transit Oriented Affordable Housing (TOAH) loan fund.
  6. Establish a TAP purchase program for residents of joint development housing.

The motion directs Metro CEO Art Leahy to report to the board in February 2015 with a preliminary assessment of the above. From its preamble, the motion readies Metro to support the region in taking advantage of new State of California programs that will grant cap-and-trade funds to promote Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC.)

The motion was approved at last week’s executive committee meeting, so it could have sailed through this morning without debate. Boardmember Diane DuBois removed the item from the meeting’s consent calendar. Though DuBois ultimately voted in favor of the motion, she offered a long list of concerns, including: Metro shouldn’t “dictate” affordable housing goals, Metro doesn’t have authority over land use, affordability targets will discourage development, existing TAP outlets are sufficient, and affordable joint development is “diverting transit dollars.”

Overall, Dubois’ comments encouraged Metro to tightly focus on its mission to provide transit, hence joint development would merely “generate value” that the agency can use to fund transit.

The motion was then defended by its co-authors, Garcetti, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and Garcetti-appointees Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker and Mike Bonin. Garcetti cited a recent report showed that L.A. City has the least affordable rental housing market in the nation.

Councilmember Bonin stressed that Metro does have significant influence over development, and that it was a “moral imperative” to play a role in addressing the great need for affordable housing. Overall, Garcetti and these co-authors affirmed that Metro’s mission does extend beyond the strict boundaries of its stations, and that the agency plays a big role in the quality of life in transit-adjacent communities.  Read more…