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Opinion – Hollywood’s Biggest Eyesore: Blame Developers? No, Blame NIMBYs

Unfinished Target construction site at Sunset and Western, as of this morning. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Unfinished Target construction site at Sunset and Western, as of this morning. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Once upon a time, Target had an ambitious plan to build a new shopping center at the southwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue.

Rendering of what the completed Target would look like. Image via XXXXXX

Rendering of what the completed Target would look like. Image via Larchmont Buzz

The complex would offer a modern, pedestrian-oriented design, with ground-level retail, a plaza and outdoor dining, as well as wide sidewalks and landscaping. Target center would also transform the blighted corner into a vibrant, safe, family-friendly community. While the project was met with some opposition, as such developments typically do, most residents supported it.

The only issue is the overall project height, being slightly above the area’s zoning ordinance. Nevertheless, it was well worth it: the project would bring hundreds of jobs and a major improvement to the area. So, the city council approved it, and the construction commenced shortly thereafter.

But…

The eastern Hollywood area unfortunately also has NIMBYs, including a local group “Citizens Coalition Los Angeles” (CCLA). NIMBYs are infamous for rejecting any & all developments – even if it means improvement – as long as it would be “in their backyard”. So, the lawsuit soon followed – in an attempt to block the project under any pretense. The NIMBYs did succeed, and the judge – as ridiculous as it sounds – blocked the construction that was already well under way.

Well, congratulations, NIMBYs! You won, but you have also created major problems for yourselves. There will be no convenient shopping, dining, or entertainment near you. The area now looks even uglier then before. So, may you enjoy the scenery of unfinished building, naked framework, and dull fences for years to come! May you also enjoy intrusive concrete & cement, with a side order of graffiti! You wanted to stop the project, so you got what you deserve. Nevertheless, I do feel sorry for the developers and everyone else – who did support the project.

Truly, the NIMBYs have dropped to a new low… And because of just a handful of opponents, everybody else will now have to endure an eyesore at Sunset and Western, not mentioning the loss of all the good things that the project would bring. Of course, the local media got into its ultra-liberal frenzy, and published very nearsighted articles blaming the developers and mayor Eric Garcetti. The media didn’t bother researching who was the real culprit behind this sudden work stoppage!  Read more…

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ULI FutureBuild2015 Recap: Peeks at Future Transportation and Parking

Streetsblog L.A. was a media sponsor of yesterday’s Future Build Los Angeles 2015 conference which showcased “trends, people and forces remaking the built environment.” The event was hosted by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) L.A. in partnership with VerdeXchange.

Many individual speakers and panelists touched on topics pertinent to Streetsblog. City of Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Rick Cole (currently tied for second in SBLA’s reader poll to pick Art Leahy’s successor - voting ends January 31) touched on the city of Los Angeles’ efforts to become a more “livable, walkable” place, and touted Metro’s ambitious five new rail projects under construction. Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia touched on complete streets’ ability to accomplish multiple city goals.

Most streetsbloggy, though were panel discussions on transportation and parking.

ULI FutureBuild 2015 panel on transportation. Left to right: Carter Rubin, Seleta Reynolds, Gabe Klein, and Gail Goldberg. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

ULI FutureBuild 2015 panel on transportation. Left to right: Carter Rubin, Seleta Reynolds, Gabe Klein, and Gail Goldberg. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The Transformation of Ground Transportation and Streets: Trends Driving Tomorrow’s Cities 

This panel featured:

  • Gail Goldberg – head of ULI L.A., and former head of L.A. Department of City Planning (DCP)
  • Gabe Klein - entrepreneurial livability rock star, ULI fellow, currently with Bridj
  • Seleta Reynolds – General Manager, L.A. City Transportation Department (LADOT)
  • Carter Rubin, moderator – L.A. mayoral Great Streets program manager and former Streetsblog L.A. intern

Seleta Reynolds prescribed three important tasks to move cities toward more streets as great public spaces:

  1. Get a “new cookbook.” U.S., CA, and L.A. all currently design streets based on what Reynolds called “insane” standards from American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO.) Reynolds urged cities not to use a cookie-cutter approach, and to put more credence in forward-thinking design guidance, including National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO.)
  2. Measure the outcomes that count. Reynolds decried the past decades when pretty much the only metric that mattered was car capacity. She’s happy that car-centric Level of Service (LOS) is on its way out, but urged that we need to count all people using our streets, and to measure outcomes related to economics, health, and the environment. Reynolds told the story of how L.A.’s CicLAvia events were studied and showed to not only dramatically improve air quality on the CicLAvia route streets, but also overall, including nearby streets not on the route.
  3. Become better storytellers. Reynolds spoke about how the public quickly gets lost in the jargon of transportation discussions, mentioning that even seemingly simple concepts like a “left-turn pocket” will often be misunderstood. She stated that lots of transportation professionals have “totally lost the plot” and need to develop skills in communicating with the general public

Gabe Klein focused on how smart technologies are disrupting transportation’s “legacy assets.” Klein told how Uber has exploited the inefficiencies of old-school taxi systems, but that ultimately “the disruptors will quickly be disrupted” with proprietary “sharing” ultimately giving way to peer-to-peer sharing. Klein envisions a future where driverless cars in shared fleets could be active 95 percent of the time, instead of parked 95 percent of the time like current private cars. Klein stressed that Google’s driverless car is a “25 mph urban vehicle” expected to be deployed primarily in shared-use fleets, not individually-owned. Klein speculates that it could result in 85 percent fewer cars on our streets, and could dramatically decrease the need for parking.

During question and answer, both Klein and Reynolds expressed caution in giving too much private sector control of public space. Instead, they stressed that the public needs to incentivize outcomes that improve the quality of life for inhabitants. Partnerships should serve public good, with bike share systems as a worthwhile example of a successful public-private partnership.

Goldberg professed that she loves L.A.’s residential streets, but finds commercial corridors “embarassing.” She announced an exciting new national ULI initiative that will re-think a key street in L.A., though the formal announcement will be coming soon.  Read more…

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New Urbanism Film Fest Preview: American Makeover

L.A.’s New Urbanism Film Festival kicks off tomorrow with an opening reception starting at 7 pm at the ACME Theater in Hollywood. From Thursday through Sunday, #NUFF2014 attendees will enjoy feature-length films and shorts on architecture, urban farming, bicycling, street art, and more. The list of programs are at the NUFF website; select “buy tickets” to view the entire schedule of films. In addition to the film program, there are more events: cycling and walking tours, receptions, awards, etc.

The 2014 New Urbanist Film Festival runs tomorrow through Sunday

The 2014 New Urbanist Film Festival runs tomorrow through Sunday. Image via NUFF

The opening night feature film will be American Makeover. It was made by the same folks who did the teaser trailer video above, and uses some similar graphically appealing storytelling style. The film features lots of livability leaders with which Streetsblog readers may be familiar, including Stefanos Polyzoides, Ellen Dunham-Jones, Robert Bullard, and others.

American Makeover traces four different 10- to 20-minute urbanist success stories:

  • Atlanta, Georgia: Glenwood mixed-use infill development
  • Seaside, Florida: New construction resort community
  • Fresno, California: Downtown revitalization community planning
  • Buffalo, New York: Historic core redevelopment

None of these stories present a precise analogy for Los Angeles, but they’re all interesting and all include some lesson applicable to Southern California. Closest to home is California’s fifth largest city: Fresno. American Makeover presents Fresno’s story as sprawl versus the most valuable farmland in the world. (Los Angeles had that same conflict from the mid-1800s through mid-1900s, too, but our farmland preservation train already left the proverbial station. See also NUFF’s Sunday urban farming programs, though!) The film focuses mostly on Fresno’s successful update of its downtown neighborhoods community plan. This multi-year stakeholder process included multilingual, multigenerational outreach and community meetings, and ultimately resulted in a plan that returns the city’s focus to its neglected core.  Read more…

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Interview with Josh Paget, Director of the New Urbanism Film Festival

Joshua Paget, co-founder and Festival Director for the New Urbanism Film Festival

Josh Paget, co-founder and Festival Director for the New Urbanism Film Festival. Photo by John Paget, taken at the Congress for the New Urbanism, Buffalo NY

On Park(ing) Day, I pedaled out to a park(ing) space on La Brea where I met Josh Paget. He is one of the co-founders of and the current Festival Director for the New Urbanism Film Festival. The festival, now in its second year, is coming up November 6-9 at the Acme Theater in Hollywood. Festival details here. Note that, in addition to plenty of great films, it also boasts speakers, walks, rides, etc. Keep up with #NUFF and #NUFF2014 via Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook, too. We conducted the following interview via email.  

SBLA: Tell us about yourself. What’s your background? How did you get interested in livability and new urbanism?

Paget: I moved to L.A. to be a stand up comedian. Which is a great way to see the city because you are constantly roaming around town from club to club. And I began asking why some of the places were better than others.

Someone recommended that I read the The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler. I got hooked on urbanism from that angle: How does this affect me? I started a book group with my friend Joel Karahadian, and out of that we started the film festival. People always say the book is better than the movie, but we think film festivals are better than book groups, as far as generating conversation.

At Park(ing) Day, we met up at the Mid City West Community Council park(ing) space. Some Neighborhood Councils have been progressive on livability, others not so much. What’s MidCityWest NC like? What initiatives are you excited about there?

I think that everyone on the council recognizes that our neighborhood is very “walkable.” The transportation committee also has a history of being progressive on transportation issues and it still is. We did the park(ing0 day installation. We are pushing a Bicycle Friendly Streets proposal. In fact, during the festival, one of the events is “The Friendly Ride” a group bike ride through MidCityWest showing off their Bicycle Friendly Streets/Neighborhood Greenways proposal.

How do you get around Los Angeles?

I ride a three speed Linus roadster. Or I take the bus. I also have a car but I rarely use it because there’s too much traffic.

Tell us about the New Urbanism Film Festival.

The New Urbanism Film Festival is a four-day festival in Los Angeles that hosts screenings, workshops, and panel discussions on Urbanism. We focus on themes of architecture, bicycling, transportation, and urban design. Our slogan is “better streets, better living.” The hope is that it will be a new way to engage the public in topics of urbanism. We have lots of issues facing us as a city, and we want these conversations to have a baseline and a focus. There’s lots of books on it, there’s festivals, or podcasts, we’re showing films.

What’s your favorite New Urbanism film ever? Why?  Read more…

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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…