SGV Connect Interview : Chris Greenspon interviews James Drevno

Chris Greenspon (CG) : James Drevno, welcome to SGV Connect. So what is the east San Gabriel Valley Area Plan and when might it be formally adopted?

James Drevno (JD) : The East San Gabriel Valley Area Plan is a long range planning and policy document for the unincorporated areas of the San Gabriel Valley. So, how we define the San Gabriel Valley is really through our LA County General plans planning areas framework. Which because LA County is so large, there was a need to break up the county into sub regions for planning purposes. The East San Gabriel Valley is one of those 11 planning areas adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 2015. And this is one of the first area plans that has been developed under that planning area’s framework. Generally, the borders of the San Gabriel Valley as we define them are areas east of the I-605. Freeway, south of Los Angeles National Forest, west of the San Bernardino County line, and north of the Orange County line that includes planted hills and the communities of Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights.
We’ve been working on this project for several years now. And our goal is to have this plan adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 2023.

(CG) : So this plan is it’s all prescriptive. It’s all suggestive, Correct?

(JD) : Yeah. So this really is a land use and policy planning document to guide growth and development and really community change for the unincorporated communities over the next several decades. So it’s really though. wWe work with existing constituent constituents and stakeholders in the area. It really is a plan intended for our children and our children’s children and folks that will grow up in these communities.

(CG) : Now, we want to look specifically at the mobility action plan within the east San Gabriel Valley Area Plan. Tell us more about that.

(JD) : Like any general plan or one of our area plans, there’s a several topic related sections that go into those plans and we like to refer to them as elements. So, in a typical plan, you have like a land use element, and economic development Element, something related to public facilities, community character design, those sorts of topics. One of the major topics is mobility. And we wanted to make sure that because a lot of the feedback that we received early on in our area planning process was related to transportation and mobility related challenges, especially in the unincorporated areas; We wanted to make sure that we had a project that in the area plan that was really responsive to those challenges.

That required, really seeking out that level of expertise with a technical project team and the resources to do it right. And so, how it all came together is the we wanted to seek grant funding to procure a consultant team to to work on this project and so we actually approached the Southern California Association of Governments or SCAG to partner in in what’s called a strategic partnerships grant. The official name is an SD1 strategic partnerships grant that’s administered by Caltrans at the state level. B y partnering with an NPO under this strategic partnerships grant, we were able to receive funding to fund this East San Gabriel Valley Mobility Action Plan, which will ultimately be the a sub project of the area plan adopted at the same time, in line with the area plan in 2023. And we’ll serve as the area plan’s, mobility elements.

(CG) : So one thing I’m curious about is how much authority would this plan have under the umbrella of being part of the general plan?

(JD) : The general plan’s planning areas framework establishes a need for additional area plans. While the general plan sets up, the planning areas and the area plans are related to and really work to build off of the conditions set and policies in the general plan. These area plans really can approach a planning issues in a diversity of ways depending on the needs of the planning area. So in this case, the San Gabriel Valley planning area plan is responsive to the needs that are specific and unique in the San Gabriel Valley.

So, like any long range planning document that our department produces, we have general, land use authority for the unincorporated areas, and that really extends really to private property. Though we do have a lot of policies that are related to the public realm and we work with our county family and other departments and agencies to implement that. Our department is a little limited in what we can do to directly influence the public realm.

But that being said, that’s certainly not to say that there’s a huge interaction at the public realm and private property and other types of land use having. The next to to best implement the mobility action plan involves coordination between other county departments and other public agencies, and other community groups to really use the mobility action plan as sort of a handbook or a toolkit to apply for future grants or to seek political action to implement the actions and policies and the mobility action plan. So it’s a sort of a long answer to say that, like other policy documents, the next steps include seeking grant funding and other resources to best implement it, but this isn’t necessarily a capital improvement plan. So it doesn’t physically program those those improvement projects.

(CG) : So shifting into the specifics of the mobility action plan, I’ll just provide listeners a little bit of extra context of the jurisdiction for implementation of this plan is the unincorporated island communities only of the San Gabriel Valley, which are home to about a quarter million people. In which communities that you studied did you see the highest need for transit and bike infrastructure?

(JD) : Just building off of your point on the unincorporated areas? I think it’s also really important to remember, like you mentioned, that there’s about a quarter of the land area and a quarter of the population of the unincorporated San Gabriel Valley, that are unincorporated, and that’s a really big proportion of these East San Gabriel Valley that’s really not under the jurisdiction of the city.

And so when going about looking at the mobility needs of the unincorporated areas, it was really important to also take into account the neighboring 13 cities in the plan area to make sure that what they have drafted and their mobility plans for their mobility initiatives harmonizes with what our plan has in the unincorporated side. So with that, it involves the review of wide variety of indicators at a regional level. The indicators weren’t just focused on the unincorporated areas; we were able to see what these indicators were saying in the neighboring cities to see, comprehensively where is the greatest need for transportation infrastructure and additional transit infrastructure?

Generally, the southwest portion of our planning area is generally the area where indicators show that there’s a greater need or disproportionate need for active transportation infrastructure, transit infrastructure. So these areas include the unincorporated areas of Avocado Heights, City of La Puente and West in the unincorporated, a neighboring West San Gabriel Valley east of Melinda. So it’s a really the south-southwest of the the planning area. There’s also a variety of other pockets where there’s there’s needs to certainly in the eastern part in the city of Pomona, however, because this plan focuses the unincorporated areas. We saw a lot of that jurisdictional fragmentation in the southwest part of the planning area and that’s where a lot of these indicators of pedestrian and bicycle collisions, equity and equity related indicators, environmental justice related indicators, missions, that’s where a lot of that data was pointing to was in the southwest of planning area.

(CG) : Is there any other general conclusion you can draw about why those needs are focused in that area?

(JD) : I’d say based off of just sort of the findings, I think there’s a wide, wide variety of inputs that created the conditions of have a need for more active transportation and transit infrastructure in that area. It’s not to say that there aren’t already existing active transportation infrastructure or folks in those areas that use transit. But primarily, the use of data indicators that the project team use were related to areas where there were higher levels of youth and older adults, we know that these are populations that are disproportionately reliant on transit, as well as active transportation infrastructure.

I think a lot of times we don’t focus enough on the fact that because a lot of Southern California and California in general, so focused on and designed around car infrastructure, that there are a lot of costs to that. Cars are expensive. There’s a lot of skill and and risks associated with driving there’s a lot of populations that because of how expensive it is to maintain or purchase a car because of the level of, you know, technique that takes to to operate a vehicle and the amount of you know, the health requirements to do so that there’s a lot of people that are excluded in that. So what we found is that because high populations of youth and older adults, in those areas, along with this high preponderance of collision data there that really pointed to really prioritizing those areas. For the for the recommended improvements in the plan.

(CG) : What are some example policy recommendations that you all thought of for Avocado Heights or West Puente Valley?

(JD) : It’s really important in the context of this in the context of this plan to really connect land use, which is really our primary role as a planning department, with these topics like mobility and the public realm, and connecting land uses through the public realm to other places really that that folks need to go.

One example of a policy in the middle of the action plan is the need to prioritize connections to food systems, health care facilities, parks and other locations that support public well being. And just to give a little background of the unincorporated areas in this area this quarter of the population quarter the land area of the Sierra Valley is unincorporated. And these areas are largely residential pockets or bedroom communities that are surrounded by cities with a wide variety of destinations and important needs that that folks need to go to. So oftentimes, focusing on incorporated areas really have no choice but to leave the unincorporated areas to go shopping or to visit a health care facility, or to you know, go to a grocery store or even visit a park depending on the size of these fragmented islands. And so it was really important, you know, and I think this policy points to it, to identify where those attractors, those mobility attractors are and to make sure that there are connections and policies that support increased connections to those to those destinations.

(CG) : So I’m curious, what insights did you get out of the engagement process for this?

(JD) : It was really interesting to engage the communities in mobility issues. From a planning perspective, you come in with preconceived notions on what what may work best on this specific type typology of an area. So thinking about, okay, how can legacy suburban communities adapt in a changing environment and what we found going out to the community is that there were some issues that I mean, truly at the beginning of the project, that I at least didn’t fully realize.

And one of those is really related to typography. It is something simple enough to overlook but really going out in the community and meeting people face to face and touring these communities was a really good experience and really understanding the conditions in the San Gabriel Valley. So one common piece of feedback that we’ve received is well this active transportation is great. These active transportation degrees of ideas are great. We definitely need addition additional supplemental transit service.

However, we have a lot of older adults that live in these hillside communities. This really presents that first last mile problem. How can older adults reach the bottom of the hill where the bus can pick them up? And if they can’t do that, how do they walk back up the hill back to their homes. Like I mentioned before, a lot of these communities are bedroom communities that are predominantly single family residential, that creates challenges with the subdivision street designs and making sure that you know, yes, transit can get to your community, but can you get to your house from the transit stop?

That really presented some interesting kind of conclusions in our plan about the need to enhance transit service not just along, you know, trunk lines when it’s feasible or necessary and even beyond, you know, adding new transit lines or recommending transit lines when it’s feasible to do so. But how can we connect the people who live in these communities with those transit lines or how can we connect people who live on the top of the hill to useful active transportation infrastructure or public realm areas in their communities where they they could get to and then just sort of walk or bike around safely? In that environment. So I think that the biggest you know, kind of unfortunate feedback is that we receive is really related to sort of the service population. How is this going to work for older adults, youths, people who are linguistically isolated people who may not have the technology or, you know, smartphone to, you know, hail a micro transit service? What are the needs for those groups? So there was a lot of considerations that the project team had to go through based on that feedback.

(CG) : And how can residents use this plan to advocate for themselves?

(JD) : I think the that’s a good question. I think this is a really powerful tool for community groups, stakeholders, residents, business owners to advocate for more of this type of infrastructure and actions and policies in their neighborhood. So this action plan for county organizations that are county entities, and even for other public agencies, this is a wonderful tool to see grant funding, getting into like the nitty gritty details and creating capital improvement plans and and even starting preliminary design work.

However, for the community, it’s just as powerful in that they could go to community meetings and speak with their community groups and say, “This is what has been analyzed by subject matter experts.” This is a project that takes into account community feedback across a wide variety of mediums, in person meetings, social media. We really tried to have a wide breadth of input on this plan. So, community groups can really hold this up saying, “this is the work that’s been analyzed.” Their next step is to implement it. So really working with, you know, local elected officials and, and other you know, nonprofit activist organizations. This took this action plan can really be a tool to bring these different groups together and focus on these actions collectively.
What would be your dream projects to come out of this?

Well, I think what’s important to remember with a mobility action plan is that it really is a plan for the communities there you know, as seeking as a planner for the Central Valley you know, it’s certainly an area that’s that’s hard not to fall in love with, with just the these little intricacies and kind of hidden neighborhoods and really amazing open space areas and vibrant commercial areas. Even though it’s tempting to place maybe my preconceived notions on the San Gabriel Valley as to what it needs, it’s really the work done in the mobility action plan and the community feedback that creates that sets that prioritization of what to see in the in the planning area. That being said, I think that there’s a really, and this really what’s laid out in the recommendations in the action plan; I think that there’s a really big opportunity to enhance transit usage and active transportation usage in the San Gabriel Valley.

Even though currently a lot of the street design and land uses point to auto related uses; I think there’s that this standard probably has a lot going for it and as far as to you know, there’s some very flat and bikeable communities, there’s a lot of communities with existing shade trees that can be further enhanced. There’s also a lot of really great regional destinations in the San Gabriel Valley, and East San Gabriel Valley. And this planning area really sits right in between two huge regional hubs and the Inland Empire in the San Bernardino area, as well as LA City and the rest of LA County. So by providing better connections and infrastructure within this, both within this area and to other regional destinations, and that’s done through connect improving connections to existing transit hubs and other big regional destinations, such as like a Fairplex, or large malls in adjacent cities that are now operating as transit hubs. There’s a huge opportunity to improve transit ridership with even just small levels, small targeted levels, of investment in some of these veteran communities

(CG) : Refresh our memory before we go, when might this be formally adopted by the county?

(JD) : Right now are with the area planning and mobility action plan, we’re working on edits and additional community outreach. And our hope is to have present these projects to the Regional Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors in early 2023.

(CG) : James, thanks so much for coming on. SGV Connect.

(JD) : Thank you so much for having me.