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More Housing, Less Sprawl: Tackling Los Angeles’ Affordable Housing Crisis through Smart Growth

It is no secret that Southern California is currently facing one of the worst housing crises it has faced in more than half a century.

Eric Garcetti is a long-time believer in density built around transit. Photo:## Against Gridlock##

Eric Garcetti is a long-time believer in density built around transit. Photo:Angelenos Against Gridlock

That’s the point Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti drove home Wednesday at the Los Angeles Business Council’s annual Mayoral Housing, Transportation, and Jobs summit.

While it isn’t a revelation to most that it’s getting harder and harder to be poor or even middle class and afford to live in Los Angeles County – especially in westside cities like Santa Monica – it was refreshing to hear Garcetti address the root cause of this crisis: a lack of new housing being built.

But even more refreshing was to hear Garcetti, who currently chairs Metro’s Board of Directors, talk about making sure new housing – especially units affordable to low and middle-income residents – gets built next to the region’s expanding transit system.

At the summit, Garcetti announced his plan to increase L.A.’s housing stock by 100,000 new units by 2021. At the same time, he announced his intention to bring a motion before the Metro board to “analyze affordable housing preservation and construction around our transit system, from using MTA-owned land and targeting transit-pass programs.”

Does that mean we may see some of those sprawling surface parking lots redeveloped into places where middle- and low-income residents – many of whom rely on public transit for their daily commute – can live?

Studies have shown that lower-income residents will leave their cars at home 50 percent more often if they live within a quarter mile of reliable public transit.

Placing affordable housing near transit is a major tool in combating these issues, which is one reason why State Senator Darryl Steinberg fought for a generous portion of the California’s cap-and-trade money to be used to subsidize transit-oriented development.

The reality is, Garcetti said, that without growth, especially near transit, the region’s problems will only get worse. While the housing crisis may be evocative of the post-war era, regional leaders seem to realize that sprawl – the answer to our mid-century housing crisis – is not the answer today. (In case you didn’t already realize it, sprawl is really bad for people, the environment, and the economy.) Read more…


Guest Editorial: Dreaming Big About Rail Lines, Grand Boulevards, Bus Rapid Transit and Measure R2

The proposed Lorena Plaza development. Source:

The proposed Lorena Plaza development. Source:

(Move LA’s mission is to build a broad constituency that will advocate for the development of a comprehensive, diverse, robust, clean and financially sound public transportation system for Los Angeles County. Denny Zane is the executive director. Gloria Ohland is the policy and communications director.)

More and more people — from elected officials to bike and pedestrian advocates — are talking about projects that could be funded if a transportation sales tax measure is put on the November 2016 ballot.

Most recently, for example, Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian stood in front of the TV cameras with a host of heavy-hitting transportation leaders from San Fernando Valley to advocate conversion of the super-successful Orange Line to light rail, and an extension to Bob Hope Airport, then Glendale, then Pasadena.

Other cities and their councils of government are dreaming big as well.

It’s all possible if voters have the opportunity to approve the right measure. Move LA is using a “strawman” proposal of funding ideas to gin up a “let’s dream big” conversation about the sales tax, which some are fondly calling “Measure R2” in acknowledgment of its predecessor — the Measure R half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2008 that is building the five new rail lines underway now.

The proposed 45-year half-cent sales tax “strawman” could generate $90 billion for transportation. The centerpiece is, as it was in Measure R1, significant expansion of the rail system. But we have another favorite in our strawman proposal — a transformational “Grand Boulevards” program. We propose taking 5-10 percent of the $90 billion for cities and councils of governments to invest in reviving and reinventing several-mile, multi-community-long stretches of maybe 15-20 arterials around L.A. County as transit-oriented boulevards that promote economic development as they pass through more than one community.

This money could fund both conventional and sustainable transportation improvements, from repaving and signal synchronization to clean, green, cool, and complete streets with more bus service,  better bus stops with real time arrival info, and wider sidewalks and bike lanes. It could fund landscaping and other community improvements that would make the boulevards appealing places on which to live and shop, and there would be incentives for transit-supportive mixed-use community development. Funding it could help leverage and implement L.A. Mayor Garcetti’s Great Streets program!

It’s important to remember that this is a transportation sales tax and must be used for transportation purposes. But what if 30 percent, a significant share of the funding in the Grand Boulevards program, were set aside in a competitive pot for cities willing to promote transit ridership by permitting moderate-density mixed-use transit-oriented development (TOD) along these grand boulevards?

This extra funding for transportation projects could be made available to those cities willing to permit apartments over shops and other housing that’s affordable and appealing for young people, aging Baby Boomers and others who want to be able to live without a car — and who can do that because it’s easy to walk and bike and take transit instead. Read more…


Steinberg: CA Cap-and-Trade Must Fund Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing

Negotiations over the California state budget are producing dueling proposals on how best to spend revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program.


Senator Steinberg proposes affordable housing as a greenhouse gas reduction strategy. Photo courtesy TransForm.

While Governor Jerry Brown continues to call for a third of the cap-and-trade funds to go to CA high-speed rail, Senate President ProTem Darrell Steinberg last week expanded upon his alternative proposal to spend a larger share of the revenue on affordable housing and transit at the local and regional level.

State cap-and-trade funds are collected under the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, A.B. 32. The law provides a way for companies to meet a state-mandated cap on greenhouse gas emissions by buying “pollution credits” produced when others exceed emissions reductions. Estimates vary on how much revenue the program will generate, but it could produce billions each year between now and 2020.

Standing in front of an active construction site for new housing units near Oakland’s MacArthur BART station last Thursday, Steinberg called for permanent sources of funding for affordable housing, mass transit, and sustainable communities development. The Senator argued that  California is facing a “catastrophic funding crisis” as affordable housing bonds run out, and noted that the transportation sector is the state’s biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

“Californians are logging more vehicle miles annually than ever before,” Steinberg said.

Behind him, a forklift raised a load of lumber high up in the air, with an attached sign reading, “At least 972 lbs of CO2 emissions reduced every day.” That’s the amount by which  the housing project, which will provide 624 housing units next to the BART station, is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to other housing developments. Of those apartments, 108 will be leased at below-market rates. Read more…


CA Transportation Choices Summit Tackles Policy Issues

The California Transportation Choices Summit, held in Sacramento this week, was an opportunity for sustainable transportation and public health advocates to spend the day learning about current state policies and legislation in the works to change them.

Christopher Cabaldon, Mayor of West Sacramento, discusses bike infrastructure on a pre-summit bike tour along the Sacramento River. Photos: Melanie Curry

This year’s summit was titled “2014: A Year of Opportunity.” The “opportunity” comes in the form of new funds from cap-and-trade and current discussions in the legislature about how to spend that money. As Streetsblog has reported, these funds are required to be spent on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which could include projects that encourage walking, bicycling, and transit.

The annual summit is hosted by TransForm and a long list of partners across the state including ClimatePlan, MoveLA, Circulate San Diego, the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, National Resources Defense Council, and the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. In addition to discussing current policies, the learning day prepared attendees for TransForm’s “Advocacy Day,” in which participants meet with State Assembly members and their staff to talk about the issues that matter most to them and push for legislation.

Summit speakers laid out facts about funding, discussed trade-offs between spending on different programs, and urged everyone to share their personal stories about why their issue is important. “Let’s pull those heart strings,” said Elyse Lowe of Circulate San Diego, “so we can do a better job advocating for good transportation policies.”

Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, created an “applause-o-meter” to gauge summit attendees’ views on trade-offs between funding categories. He asked participants to applaud for the categories of activities they thought were most important: planning; bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure; transportation demand management programs like shuttles, carpool programs, and guaranteed ride home programs; affordable homes near transit; and transit capital and operating costs.

The audience, mostly comprised of savvy transportation advocates, applauded for all of these categories, although there two clear “winners”: affordable homes near transit and transit capital and operating costs. These also were the most expensive categories, according to Cohen’s estimate of how much it would cost to fully fund needs in these areas: $6 billion for transit and $1 to $1.5 billion for housing. Read more…

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Los Angeles Revisits Its Zoning Code via “re:code LA” Process

The city of Los Angeles Department of City Planning is hosting a series of seven community planning forums running now through April 12th. Tonight’s forum is at Metro HQ in Downtown L.A. from 5-8pm. The forums are for public feedback on three citywide planning processes: re:code L.A.Mobility Plan 2035, and Plan for a Healthy Los Angeles. Streetsblog is previewing the citywide initiatives; today it’s the city’s zoning code update. See earlier SBLA coverage of the Health Plan and Transportation Plan.

From re:code LA website - the original zoning code pamphlet from 1946, next to the 1978 and 2013 versions

From re:code LA website – the original zoning code pamphlet from 1946, next to the 1978 and 2013 versions

L.A.’s Department of City Planning (DCP) has been busy with three initiatives that have the potential to shape livability for many years to come. The three plans are for health, transportation, and, well, something that just doesn’t lend itself to a jargon-free soundbite: modernizing the zoning code.

Zoning code is the city’s set of rules that mostly determine what can be built, where it can be built, and how it’s used. It specifies various aspects of development from how tall a building can be, how much signage is allowed, what industries are allowed in what areas, and how much off-street parking is required.

Here is a sample from the current zoning code:

Off-Street Automobile Parking Requirements. A garage or an off-street automobile parking area shall be provided in connection with and at the time of the erection of each of the buildings or structures hereinafter specified, or at the time such buildings or structures are altered, enlarged, converted or increased in capacity by the addition of dwelling units, guest rooms, beds for institutions, floor area or seating capacity.  The parking space capacity required in said garage or parking area shall be determined by the amount of dwelling units, guest rooms, beds for institutions, floor area or seats so provided, and said garage or parking area shall be maintained thereafter in connection with such buildings or structures.

The new zoning code effort goes by its nickname re:code LA, billed as “A New Zoning Code for a 21st Century Los Angeles.” Of the three citywide initiatives, re:code arguably the least comprehensible to the general public and the least far along. The re:code project started in 2013 and is expected to be completed in 2017. 

From this early in the process, the final results aren’t entirely clear, but a lot of re-code work appears to be neutral; it’s mostly re-writing and re-organizing rules that are already in place. Generally, the re-write doesn’t change policy. If you work in an commercial area, re:code won’t change it into a residential area. Zoning has been established for every part of Los Angeles, and re:code generally won’t be changing what’s approved. It will add new options that can take effect later. The format will change, too. Instead of a paper pamphlet, it will be a whizbang contemporary user-friendly web-based document.

For example, if a neighborhood has too many liquor stores, the new code won’t change the number of liquor stores allowed, but may provide streamlined rules that could help limit future liquor stores. Generally, that streamlined rule wouldn’t go into effect when re:code is adopted in 2017, but would become available to be later added to local planning documents – community plans, specific plans, etc. So, don’t expect to see any re:code changes affecting your street any time soon.

Read more…


Is CEQA Reform Truly on Its Way? If It Is, Should We Be Happy or Worried?

California Forward released this video last November making the case for CEQA reform on transportation issues.

There are nine days left in the legislative session in Sacramento, and there is still no vote scheduled in the Assembly on SB 731, Senator Darrell Steinberg’s efforts to “reform” California’s landmark environmental protection law, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). SB 731 passed the Senate earlier this year.

Followers of the statehouse seem unsure whether the legislation will pass in the last days. Those that believe the effort is doomed point to Steinberg’s recent introduction of legislation that would exempt the construction of a basketball arena in Sacramento from CEQA as proof the Senator doesn’t believe SB 731 will pass. Others note that the Senator is still shopping amendments to 731, something a powerful senior senator wouldn’t do at this stage unless there was a clear endgame.

Further complicating issues, Governor Jerry Brown has hinted he may veto 731 even if it does pass. The governor that once proudly declared he “never met a CEQA exemption he didn’t like,” is worried that if 731 becomes law, stronger legislation won’t pass in future sessions.

So with nine days left for the legislature to make a move, the fate of CEQA reform is unclear. But for environmentalists and other supporters of Livable Streets, the question of whether reform of CEQA is something that should be avoided or applauded remains difficult. Most of the legislation deals with public review and other legal matters. But two significant issues, infill development and the measurement of transportation impacts are major issues to transportation advocates and environmentalists who have been involved in legislative negotiations.

Despite some high-profile examples of CEQA being used to stop or slow environmentally friendly projects, most notably the multi-year delay inflicted on San Francisco’s bike plan, NRDC Senior Attorney David Petit thinks the law “is working well now” but that improvements can be made to encourage more infill development in transit priority zones and encourage greater use of renewable energy.

At the NRDC’s Switchboard, Petit argues that CEQA is a valuable piece of law because it empowers citizens to enforce the law through legal challenges instead of vesting the power in a state agency. Less than 1% of projects that fall under CEQA review are ever brought to court, and most of the time the courts side with the developer over the citizen groups.

While stopping short of saying he supports SB 731, Petit states that portions of NRDC’s position on CEQA reform are included. Read more…


Welcome to “The Avenue Hollywood”, Another Anti-Pedestrian Project

Mixed-use developments are rising all over Los Angeles, particularly in Hollywood and West Hollywood. Some buildings look better than others, though sadly none show the classic architectural spark that once existed in the early 20th century. Nevertheless, most new projects aim for common goals: sustainability and improved pedestrian infrastructure.

But not all mixed-use projects follow guidelines on creating pedestrian environment. Some developers continue constructing 1980’s-style automobile-oriented buildings, without adequate streetscape or aesthetics. A classical example of an anti-pedestrian development is The Avenue Hollywood, located in the heart of Hollywood, on La Brea Avenue just south of Hollywood Blvd.

From a distance, we see an attractive, modern midrise building, designed with good contemporary standards. And unlike most other low-to-midrise buildings, The Avenue Hollywood building is based on concrete and steel – not wood. Therefore the building is much more durable and offers better fireproofing and soundproofing.

All pictures by Alexander Friedman

The new complex certainly enhances the appearance of otherwise dull La Brea Avenue. But then one starts to wonder, why don’t you ever see pedestrians near the new development? Likewise, why is every single ground retail space still empty, with distinct “For Lease” signs?

Let’s find out what went wrong with The Avenue Hollywood, and why hasn’t a single ground-level space been occupied by any type of vendor.

The Avenue Hollywood offers a half-dozen spaces for ground-floor retail, and 5-6 levels of apartment renting. Location is very convenient: just next to the famous Hollywood Walk-of-Fame, Hollywood & Highland shopping mega-center, and a popular Red line subway station. Thus The Avenue Hollywood sits on a perfect transit-oriented development location.

But once you approach the complex, first good impressions dissipate. A grim reality of concrete & cement starts to unveil. Lack of pedestrian activity or amenities makes you want to walk away. The building surroundings indeed are cold and unwelcoming. Read more…


ELACC’s Design Charrette Illustrates that Affordable Housing Doesn’t Have to Be Depressing Housing

Attendees at ELACC's design charette for apartments to be built at 1st and Soto in Boyle Heights. (photo: Sharis Delgadillo)

How about a funeral parlor? deadpanned the older gentleman to my right in Spanish. You shouldn’t have to go so far to die.

And a florist, the older lady to my left added with a knowing smile. For the funeral parlor…

Touching my arm, she continued, And a sweets shop… before finally collapsing in giggles.

Yes, of course, I said, laughing, because if you’re going to die, you might as well have enjoyed yourself.

We were at a design charrette run by the East L.A. Community Corporation (ELACC). They had put the event together to inform Boyle Heights residents in need of affordable housing about their plans to convert an existing 7-unit structure at 1st and Soto to one that would hold about 50 units.

After the facilitators spoke about their affordable housing projects, selection criteria, and other logistical information, they broke the attendees up into 3 groups of 8-10 people. Each facilitator then led the group through an ice-breaker and a discussion of the kinds of amenities people might enhance the new, transit-oriented site. ELACC had already planned for the basics — now, they wanted to know more about the specific kinds of things people might like to grow in the (proposed) 4000 sq. ft. garden, activities or facilities that would be part of the community space, or businesses that could fill the commercial spaces below the apartments.

The suggestion of a “funeraria” came up as a potential business, I guessed, because of the gentleman’s earlier observation that most of the attendees at the event were well above the age of 50.

I wonder if it is only older people that need assistance with housing, he had said to me, looking around the room. You don’t see too many young people here.

It was an interesting observation. Read more…


MyFigueroa Unveils New Designs: Promises Cycletracks, Transit Lanes and More for South Fig, MLK, and 11th

The future of South Figueroa at 11th Street? Doesn't seem far fetched now. Click on the image for a high-res copy.

The MyFigueroa team will be presenting all their images and renderings at the Andrew Norman Hall Orthopaedic Hospital at 5:30 pm on April 9th. Get the event details at the MyFigueroa website. Of course, we’ll be Live Streaming at Streetsblog TV. Bookmark our event page now.

It seems like just yesterday a team of Los Angeles’ most progressive planners and international planning rock stars from Gehl Architects unveiled some planning images showing how the rather bleak South Figueroa Corridor could be transformed into a complete street. While the public was “mostly positive,” it seemed a stretch that such a project would ever take place in Los Angeles.

In truth, it wasn’t yesterday. It was over two years ago. But despite some major hurdles, such as the minor issue of the dissolution of the Community Redevelopment Agency responsible for the project, the $20 million project should be completed on-time before the end of 2014.

The newly released images don’t look quite as dramatic as the ones shown a in 2011, but still promise bus only lanes, new transit waiting areas, fixed sidewalks, zebra crosswalks and the minor issue of separated bike lanes, proudly marked as “cycletracks” in MyFigueroa’s promotional materials.

“While our design still includes cycletracks on Fig, as we have always shown, we have more to share about the design of the entire corridor, and the multimodal components serving pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders,” writes Melani Smith, the president and principal of Melendrez Design Partners, the firm who has teh lead on the project. “We think there’s something in our design for all kinds of people using the streets.  Ultimately, we’re planning a corridor that is a safer, more comfortable place for people to be.”

The project isn’t just about improving Figueroa Street between 7th Street (in Downtown Los Angeles) and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard  (in South Los Angeles) by offering a full buffet of safe and comfortable transportation options. It also includes new streetscapes on 11th Street between Figueroa Street and Broadway and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Figueroa Street and Vermont Avenue.

“I am thrilled that the pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders in Downtown and South Los Angeles are benefactors of the 2006 State of California bond measure that provides funding for the implementation of new infrastructure,” writes Deborah Murphy of Deborah Murphy Urban Design + Planning, another project partner. “The MyFigueroa! project supports the development of new housing, particularly affordable housing, in dense transit-oriented urban neighborhoods.” Read more…


Railvolution Kicks Off in L.A. with Calls for More Transit, Livable Communities

The Mayor Villaraigosa's image looms over hundreds of transit professionals and advocates at the start of Railvolution. Photo: Damien Newton

Just over a month ago, planners, advocates and political leaders from around the country descended on Long Beach for the annual “Pro Walk/Pro Bike Conference” to plan the next steps in the Livable Streets movement. This week, Los Angeles takes its turn on center stage as host of Railvolution, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was there to roll out the red carpet.

The tagline for this year’s Railvolution is “Building Livable Communities with Transit.” By holding the conference at the Loews Hollywood Hotel, across the street from the Hollywood/Highland Red Line subway stop, Los Angeles is able to showcase both the good and the bad of its Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) planning. On one hand, the stop allows for people to access many of Hollywood’s attractions and for tourists to access the rest of the city. On the other hand, the lack of advance planning before the subway was built led to expensive TOD developments that don’t always blend smoothly with the community.

Following short introductory pieces by Metro’s CEO Art Leahy and Board Chair Mike Antonovich, the mayor took the stage.

“Welcome to Railvolution,” he began, before launching into a laundry list of transit expansion projects and a call to support Measure J, the Los Angeles County sales tax extension on the fall ballot that would allow Metro to, in the mayor’s words, “build three decades of mass transit projects in one [decade].”

While Villaraigosa sounded upbeat about the ballot measure’s passage, and polls show it would pass narrowly, if a vote were held today, he also noted that there is significant opposition to overcome. Read more…