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Weekend Update: Lawsuit and Rally to Save Riverside-Figueroa Landbridge

Tomorrow is a crucial decision point for the Riverside-Figueroa Bridge. LandBRIDGE proponents rally at the bridge at 8am.

Tomorrow is a crucial decision point for the Riverside-Figueroa Bridge. Landbridge proponents rally at the bridge at 8am.

Last Wednesday, proponents of preserving the historic Riverside-Figueroa Bridge lost an appeal before the L.A. City Public Works Commission. EnrichLA, RAC Design Build, and others, have pressed for converting the bridge into a “Landbridge” – an elevated park, similar to New York City’s Highline, accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.

Last Thursday, the new parallel bridge opened to traffic; car traffic that is, bicyclists and pedestrians are still awaiting the opening of their facilities. Late Friday, Landbridge leaders filed a lawsuit to prevent demolition. Landbridge proponents are seeking a legal injunction against demolition. The case is scheduled to be heard at 8:30am tomorrow morning at Department 85 or 86 in Los Angeles Superior Court, 111 N. Hill Street in Downtown Los Angeles.

Just before the court hearing tomorrow, Monday June 2nd, 2014, at 8am, there’s also a rally at the bridge itself. Event details at Facebook.

At a time when the city is announcing a billion dollar investment in this stretch of the Los Angeles River, it would be unfortunate for them not to preserve existing structures that contribute the historic character of river.

 

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The Other Lesson of Our #LA2050 Listens Events. We Need to Get Younger People More Involved.

Scarlet models her favorite childhood memory, which inspired her complete street view program for North Figueroa.

Scarlet models her favorite childhood memory, which inspired her complete street view program for North Figueroa.

Wider sidewalks, bike paths, fewer car lanes, park space.

These were some of the ideas that Scarlet, a participant in James Rojas’ interactive workshop focused on thinking of a new design for North Figueroa Street, presented to the group. The eight-year-old was the team leader for one of two tables set up for the workshop, which happened to include me and local bike-celebrity, Josef Bray-Ali. By the time we were done, we had designed a street for 2050 that was much smaller than the current five-lane mini-freeway that exists today.

At the same time advocates and residents were engaging with Rojas and Scarlet, Councilmember Gil Cedillo was working away at an alternative to the LADOT’s previously-approved proposal to both put North Figueroa on a road diet and add more road diets. Cedillo’s plan calls for Sharrows to be placed on side streets and minor improvements to the crosswalk design on North Figueroa.

The contrast between what we’ll call the Cedillo Plan and the Scarlet Plan couldn’t be more stark.

Students at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights placed as much space on the side of the traffic lanes as in the traffic lanes on Soto Street.

Students at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights placed as much space on the side of the traffic lanes as in the traffic lanes on Soto Street.

This is an ongoing theme of Rojas’ workshops when the participants are high-school aged or younger. They want to see a transportation network that provides safe and attractive options for all road users. When politicians think of transportation planning, too often they still think of how to best move the most cars as quickly as possible.

The April 26 “Fig4All Interactive Planning Workshop” was the last of ten workshops conducted by the Southern California Streets Initiative and Place It! throughout the month. The other events, held at Roosevelt High School and in Pacoima with super-group Pacoima Beautiful, were designed to help the Goldhirsh Foundation get feedback for on its Goals for #LA2050.

These goals include:

  • LA is the Best Place to Learn
  • LA is the Best Place to Create
  • LA is the Best Place to Play
  • LA is the Best Place to Connect
  • LA is the Healthiest Place to Live

There was a lot of enthusiasm from all participants for a plan that includes placing more emphasis on after-school programs, clean air, safer streets, more open space, and more transportation options. The workshops focused on the street designs, so we received the most feedback related to complete streets, open space and public safety.

Not one person of any age argued that Los Angeles needed more space for cars, wider streets, or faster car commute times. Not. One.

Of course, these are near-universal truths. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who is not a member of the Los Angeles City Council who thinks we need fewer transit options, and even then it’s hard to imagine someone opposing after-school programs.

So, the lesson learned wasn’t just that young people want better, safer, streets that support the environment, mobility, and having places to come together…but that there’s a strong disconnect between young people and these goals and some of our decision makers.

In Pacoima, the workshops were open to anyone attending the Bradley Street Plaza festival...but it was younger attendees that  mostly took part.

In Pacoima, the workshops were open to anyone attending the Bradley Street Plaza festival…but it was younger attendees that mostly took part.

I’m not saying that we need to hand over planning decisions to our children, but there’s clearly a major gap between what future generations want and what we’re planning to leave them. Building the city of the future necessitates inclusion of the voices of today’s younger residents, tomorrow’s city dwellers.

How to best do that is the million dollar question.

In Boyle Heights, City Planning’s David Somers attended a second set of workshops on April 25. After the workshop, Somers and teacher Gene Dean discussed the possibility of having both he and two of his students participate in the city-sponsored roundtable regarding the future of Soto Street. Sahra Sulaiman will have more on the second set of workshops later this week.

If you can think of a better plan, leave it in the comments section.

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Caltrans on the Hot Seat: Assembly Looks at State, Local Planning Tensions

It was the California State Assembly’s turn to review the recent State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI) report on Caltrans at a Transportation Committee hearing Monday.

Chair Bonnie Lowenthal addresses the Transportation Committee (find a video of the hearing here)

The discussion played out along the same lines as the Senate Transportation Committee hearing last month, where Professor Joel Rogers, who led the team that produced the report for the California Transportation Agency (CalSTA), presented his findings on the dysfunction at Caltrans.

Rogers drew questions from committee members when he cited the lack of coordination between local transportation planning agencies and Caltrans. 

Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo) was defensive of local planning. “Locals need a strong voice in the planning process,” she said. “I don’t see how the state has the resources or ability to do that kind of planning on the local level.”

Rogers was compelled to clarify himself several times. “I do not mean to imply that local control is a bad thing,” he said, but the report was “quite critical that the self-help counties build projects and then push all the maintenance onto Caltrans without doing anything like a lifecycle accounting on the actual costs.”

Professor Joel Rogers emphasizes a point to the Assembly Transportation Committee

Professor Joel Rogers emphasizes a point to the Assembly Transportation Committee

“We just don’t think local control has been well managed,” he said. “Caltrans needs to give locals the flexibility they need. What we heard over and over in our interviews was, ‘It’s such a drag dealing with Caltrans, we just try to go around them.’ As a state agency you don’t want a system that is deliberately at war with itself.”

Rogers skewered both Caltrans and the legislature in much the same words he used in the recent Senate hearing, where he criticized Caltrans for its “hypertrophic aversion to risk” that prevents it from being an effective partner. This time he evoked an appreciative, if sheepish, laugh from the committee members when he remarked that they had a hand in making Caltrans the dysfunctional organization it is today.

Two committee members, Assemblymembers Tom Daly (D-Anaheim) and Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo), seemed eager to move reforms along. ”What’s our plan of action? How can we be involved?” asked Daly.

“This needs to be taken care of on a much higher level than the local level,” Achadjian said. “Let’s not let this end up on a shelf. We need a follow up.” Read more…

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Connecting the Dots: VerdeXchange/FutureBuild Conference Looks at the Sustainable Los Angeles of Tomorrow

Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke during a lunchtime plenary at the VerdeXchange/FutureBuild, a conference on sustainability, business and public policy, on Tuesday at the L.A. Hotel Downtown on Figueroa. He urged all departments in the city to look at everything through a lens of environmentalism.

Photo: John Dlugolecki

Photo: John Dlugolecki

“Los Angeles had a sustainable past, going all the way back to the original adobe structures that started the city,” he said to the 375 people in the audience. “We paved that over. We need to get back to our roots by, for example, turning our faces towards the river instead of turning our backs on it.” The mayor was just one of roughly 80 speakers at the two-day conference, which started Monday morning.

“Plant kale and they will eat kale,” said Ron Finley, Co-Founder of LA Green Grounds, during a morning breakout session called: “Space Changers: Guerrilla Planning and Urban Acupuncture.” It dealt with grass-roots advocacy.

Finley spoke about health and gardening in urban areas. Daveed Kapoor, director of Utopiad, said the city needs more fully separated bike lanes such as those planned for the My Figueroa project. And until then, “People aren’t going to drive safely around bikes until the police start giving drivers citations,” he said. “That’s how people learn.”

Other speakers talked about alternative fuel sources, high speed rail and construction. “The most sustainable building is the one you don’t have to build,” said Reuben Lombardo, a project manager with Spectra, a Pomona-based firm that restores old buildings. Read more…

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Long Beach Development Could Redefine Mixed-Income, Senior Living

The Annex by Studio 111 / Photography by Tom Bonner

The Annex by Studio 111 / Photography by Tom Bonner

Contemporary. Hip. Accessible. Vibrant. Artistic.

These are usually not the words associated with affordable housing, let alone senior affordable housing. But that is precisely what Studio One Eleven aimed for when it was handed the development key to a collection of land parcels sitting at Anaheim and Long Beach Boulevard. And it just might be the future of not just affordable housing, but housing development in urban spaces as a whole.

Let’s go into what is simple about the Long Beach Senior Arts Colony and its attached two buildings, one another affordable housing complex and the other a soon-to-be built 12-story market rate apartment complex.

Originally a redevelopment project, the parcels were then sold to Meta Housing Corporation following redevelopment’s dissolution. Originally, Studio One Eleven was just on board for consulting—until it was discovered that the developer that was heading the project knew little about housing.

“We didn’t initially get the job,” said principal Michael Bohn, laughing. “We weren’t even invited; just hired by the City to do the peer review.”

Senior Arts Complex in Long Beach CA.  by Studio 111 / Photography by Tom Bonner

Senior Arts Complex in Long Beach CA. by Studio 111 / Photography by Tom Bonner

Thankfully, the inexperience of the former developer led to One Eleven scoring the job and creating what is its most simple aspect: intelligently uses cheaper materials to make a beautifully well-made product.

Take, for example, its use of concrete blocks to simulate wood, even down to the reflection and varnish. Or, how the six-story building towers over the central, south facing courtyard. A developer building for market rate would typically set the top story or two back, providing dimension that would make the courtyard feel more open and less encapsulated. However, Studio One Eleven opted for a much more nimble approach by simply painting the top floor a differing coloring, giving the illusion that the sixth floor is actually set back. Read more…

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Make Older Concrete Buildings Safer by Allowing Better Uses

The Times’ reporting on the vulnerability of pre-1976 concrete buildings to future earthquakes has exposed pockets of risk scattered throughout Los Angeles. Proponents of requiring retrofits of vulnerable buildings in the 1990s were right. Human life is more valuable than the money of building owners. These older buildings should be strengthened one way or the other. But simply requiring owners to upgrade or demolish one thousand medium to large structures could lead to litigation, to wasted materials and energy, and to piles of rubble and vacant lots that would disrupt and diminish neighborhoods throughout the city.

Capitol Records Lofts doesn't sound THAT bad to me - DN. Photo:wikimedia

Local officials are considering financial assistance to owners, but will there be the resources to pay for private building upgrades when public assets such as sidewalks also need billions for repairs? One way forward is suggested by considering why some buildings have been retrofitted. All of the older concrete building converted from office or industrial uses to residences and live-work lofts in downtown and other parts of the city under L.A.’s adaptive reuse ordinance have been retrofitted for earthquake safety.

The Department of Building & Safety created a new chapter in the City’s Building Code with standards and procedures to make converted buildings safe for residents. These rules added to the costs of converting a building. The benefit of being able to switch to residential use gave owners an incentive to spend money to make the safety upgrades.

Not every older concrete building in the city can – or should- be changed to residences- Capital Records Lofts, anyone? And some older buildings are already apartments. L.A. can expand this approach to encourage more retrofits. To incentivize safety, allow new uses (and better regulations) for old buildings. A package of land use changes for pre-1976 concrete buildings could simultaneously encourage seismic upgrades and also model the kind of zoning rules that the city should be moving towards citywide.

First, allow mixed uses in these older buildings. Office buildings could include condos or apartments. Apartment towers could add ground level shops or mix office suites in with residences. Second, reduce parking requirements so that building owners may, if they wish, make back some of the costs of seismic improvements by converting some lots or garages into leasable space. Third, allow bigger buildings by increasing size and height limits (requiring, of course, that a building be engineered to be seismically safe at increased size). And finally, speed up building permits for structures being strengthened. Read more…

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The Looming Disaster of the Hyperion-Glendale Bridges Re-Design

The Glendale Hyperion Bridge, circa 1928. Image via WikiMedia

Earlier this week, Streetsblog published an article about how the Hyperion-Glendale Complex of Bridges Rehabilitation Project was giving short shrift to bicyclists and pedestrians and everyone that lived in the area. At the time, based on information provided to us by the Bureau of Engineering, I assumed that the issue could be resolved by arguing for a complete streets approach to the right people.

L.A. Eastsider has a full rundown on all of the proposed changes in the redesign. After reading the article, and hearing from people that attended Wednesday’s meeting, I’m a lot more concerned about the bridge project than I was on Tuesday.

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition explains what makes the new design for one of L.A.’s most iconic structures so scary:

Caltrans and BOE are designing Hyperion Ave. to freeway standards with a design speed of 55 miles per hour. Based on that design speed, they are pursuing a median crash barrier, banked turns, and supersized car lanes. Those decisions leave no room for bike lanes and just a narrow sidewalk on only one side of the street.  Simply designing the street to normal city street standards would leave enough room for everyone.

Why in the world would anyone design a bridge that connects two smaller communities in Los Angeles to be a freeway in today’s world is beyond me. Fortunately, Streetsblog contributor Don “Roadblock” Ward was at this week’s community meeting on the bridge and he left the answer in the Streetsblog comments section: Read more…

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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…

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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…

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New Report Outlines How CA Can Kick Its Addiction to Oil, Foreign and Domestic

If you want to reduce oil dependency, go after the big dark green area first.

The government is encouraging you to drive a car, and if California is truly serious about reducing its oil dependency that needs to change. This is the unequivocal conclusion of Unraveling Ties to Petroleum  a new report commissioned by Next 10 California and written by UCLA researchers  Juan Matute, Director of the UCLA Local Climate Initiative, and  Stephanie Pincetl, Adjunct Professor and Director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA.

“State and local policies that promote autos over other modes make it hard to drive less, even when someone is determined to do so,” writes Matute.

In addition to compiling mountains of statistics about car use, energy use, and gasoline dependence, the authors looked at fifteen policies that change incentives for driving or land use, and evaluated their total effects on statewide petroleum use.  Most of the time, the incentives were not transparent.  Together, the policy choices made at the state and local level impact statewide petroleum use by as much as 50 percent.

It used to be that CA got almost none of its oil from other countries. That has changed.

The biggest change governments can make? Change the non-residential parking policy by changing or removing parking minimums, encouraging different land use through zoning and creating a more attractive urban form. The researchers estimate these changes could reduce gasoline demand in the transportation industry by nearly 25% under the best circumstances. Other potential areas for reform include encouraging insurance companies to offer per-mile rates (an estimated 8% drop), an affordable rideshare and taxi program (up to an 18.35% drop) and even allowing jitney and dollar van services to operate (a whopping .1% drop.)

Sadly, the buffet of options for reducing oil usage also points back to one of the reports’ other main points. The government is encouraging car usage, and has a variety of ways to soak the car-free and car-lite. These include: Read more…
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