May 30, 1989 - From the May, 1989 issue

TPR May 1989 - Full Issue

As part of TPR Archive series, TPR proudly presents the May 1989 edition. The edition includes an interview with then 13th District Councilman Michael Woo on changes in city planning process, Robert Harris spoke on the fears and potential solutions that mixed-use planning could bring to a city, and a piece by Councilperson Candidate for the 7th District Lyle Hall on the politics of land use planning. 

The Trip Equity Plan: A New Model Linking Planning & Transportation

by Nick Brestoff, Pat Costinett, and Dolly Wageman

Flash. Volunteer citizens, working with Los Angeles planning and transportation professionals, have discovered a new approach to managing future urban growth. While lip service has often been paid towards the notion of linking new development with the traffic congestion it causes, this breakthrough--called the Trip Equity Plan--creates a simple mechanism that should do the job.

The Trip Equity Plan is the brainchild of the Ventura-Cahuenga Boulevard Specific Plan Citizen Advisory Committee (the "Ventura Blvd. CAC"), a volunteer group appointed by six members of the Los Angeles City Council (Marvin Braude, John Ferraro, Joy Picus, Joel Wachs, Michael Woo, and Zev Yaroslavsky). They have painstakingly reviewed land use and transportation conditions on Ventura Boulevard, the 17 mile long commercial backbone of the San Fernando Valley. A draft ordinance of the plan is due to be announced sometime in May, 1989. The Trip Equity Plan is the conceptual centerpiece of this plan.

What is the Trip Equity Plan? It begins with a simple formula: the number of (T)rips per 1,000 sq. ft. of land area equals an allowed (U)se multiplied by the gross building (S)ize (i.e., T = U x S). This is the Trip Equation.

Suppose that we are dealing with a parcel of land 100 feet wide and 150 feet deep, or 15,000 sq. ft. in area. If, under the plan, a hypothetical 3 .0 Trips were allowed per 1,000sq. ft of land area in that community, then the trip rights associated with that parcel would equal 45 (15,000 sq. ft. x 3.0 Trips per 1,000 sq. ft of area).

That is clear enough. Anyone considering development of any given parcel in a community will know what trip rights are involved. Because each parcel has such rights, there is no penalty for a delay in development. The first-come, first-served rush to develop before some ceiling is reached simply vanishes.

Thus, when it comes to the Trip side of the equation, both developers and regulators get something they like: certainty.

To establish the number of trips per 1000 square feet, the land in any given community is surveyed. Then, the allowed number of community Trips is set, in part, by comparing the existing traffic counts with the level of service at nearby major intersections. These are the places where an owner's right to develop meets head-on with the public's desire to reduce congestion. The test is this: the "carrying capacity" of the streets must be able to handle the rush hour Trips.

The number of community Trips, when divided by the land area, gives the number of trips per 1,000 sq. ft for any given parcel of land, no matter when the development takes place.

The Trip Equation then allows the marketplace to function, although within certain broadly stated constraints. After calculating the number of Trips, the developer is free to select the Uses for a site which will be economically viable, provided the Use is not barred by the plan. That Use selection immediately brings into play the proposed ordinance's schedule of Trip Generation Rates or TGRs for rush hour traffic. Each Use will have an associate TGR. For example, a small office building has a TGR of 2.91 trips per 1,000 gross sq. ft of building area. A convenience market, for the same 1,000 gross sq. ft. of building area. would generate 6.4 trips.

Once the Trip Generation Rate is determined by the Use selection, the developer can propose a project Size. The number of Trips is the result of multiplying the Use (i.e., TGR) by the project Size.

In our example of a 15,000 sq. ft parcel in a community allowing 3.0 Trips per 1,000 sq. ft. of land area, a developer could envision a 15,464 gross sq. ft small office building (45 divided by 2.901 times 1,000) or a 7,031 gross sq. ft. convenience market (45 divided by 6.4 times 1,000).

Thus, the Use and Size aspect of the Trip Equation is largely the domain of the marketplace. In most cases, almost any Use is acceptable and the choice is up to the developer. This approach is a slightly more relaxed, but familiar function of zoning laws. It is an entirely different Lack than regulation by way of floor-area ratios, which concern themselves with bulk and density, not trips.

Similarly, although Size is regulated, the developer would be able to operate within a certain "envelope." While there are height limits, set back requirements and other limitations, they are not as restrictive as the number of Trips that a parcel can generate.

For the developer then, the Use and Size aspects of the Trip Equation have a second message: flexibility.

When a project meets the Trips and urban design criteria, it can be built after the developer pays a Trip Fee so that certain traffic, parking and landscaping mitigation measures can be implemented. Over time, these mitigation measures are the key to a livable community. With them, the carrying capacity of the streets can be increased, which not only allows for a reasonable amount of new growth, but a decrease in congestion.

If the Trip Fee turns out to be $2,000 per Trip (the low end of the range being considered), then our hypothetical developer with the 15,000 sq. ft. parcel would have to pay $90,000 (45 trips x $2,000 per trip). In perspective, such a fee is equal to $6 per sq. ft of land area (compared to a value ranging from $100 to $150 per sq. ft), $5.82pergross sq. ft. of a small office building ($90,000 divided by 15,464 sq. ft.) or $12.80 per gross sq. ft. for the convenience market ($90,000 divided by $7,031 gross sq. ft).

Here's what the Trip Equity Plan means for Ventura Boulevard. On Ventura Boulevard today, there are approximately 19 million sq. ft. of commercial and retail space generating approximately 71,000 evening peak hour trips daily. There are now 8 major north-south intersections (out of 25) with levels of service graded E (poor) or F (jammed).

Yet the average development intensity (measured by floor-area ratios, the current approach to managing growth) is only about .5, one third of that allowed under Proposition U, which was intended to be a growth control measure, and which set the maximum floor-area ratio at 1.5. With this level development intensity, the total square footage could triple to nearly 60 million sq. ft. The resulting number of trips and congestion would dwarf the already intolerable conditions, and everyone would lose.

According to the best calculations using sophisticated computer models of the San Fernando Valley's demographics and traffic patterns, the Boulevard could accommodate another 8.6 million sq. ft. of development between 1985 and 2010, but only if the proposed mitigation measures (costing approximately $50 million) are implemented. That amount of new construction is expected to generate approximately 29,000 new rush hour trips. At $2,000/Trip, the plan contemplates raising over $58 million, which is enough to pay for the needed improvements.

What happens to the 25 major intersections with another 29,000 rush hour trips? Since Ventura Boulevard is already crowded, many of them get a little worse. However, given the traffic mitigation measures, the number of E (poor) and F (jammed) intersections is expected to actually go down.

How can this be? How can traffic flow stay the same or even get a little better with even more development? In a word, the answer is "redistribution." Redistribution strikes a better balance between street capacity (supply) and congestion (demand).

Now we come to the "Equity" part of the Trip Equity Plan. There are, today, certain communities of Ventura Boulevard that have more congestion than others. Still other communities have less congestion and more capacity. The Trip Equity Plan would limit the number of new trips allowed in each community, in recognition of the present circumstances. If a community's capacity is nearly used up already, it can accommodate less new development; if it has more room today and less congestion, it can accommodate more.

But just how is that done? One approach was to have each area absorb an equal increment of new trips. The second approach was to allow each parcel of land an equal opportunity to generate new trips. The compromise was to settle on the midpoint, which meant using the simple average of both equity notions, half of one and half of the other.

The effect of using both kinds of equities is to redirect growth away from the already heavily impacted areas without bringing growth there to a standstill. Subject to the other requirements of the plan, if adopted by the City Council, new development would be directed to areas with greater capacity and more development potential, in varying degrees.

Even with more growth in these communities over the next 20 years, however: their levels of commercial development then will be markedly less than that in the most impacted communities today. Compared to the development allowed under Prop. U, the reduction is dramatic.

The Trip Equity Plan, with its Trip Equation and two notions of equity, is far from perfect. The most obvious pitfall is that the marketplace may not respond as expected. The market may refuse to be redirected and head to major intersections that go north-south (as has been reported recently in the case of Sepulveda Boulevard) or go out of the Valley entirely. The mitigation measures, to be paid for with the Trip Fees, then might not be implemented. That’s the worst case.

Without the mitigation measures, even a zero growth policy on Ventura Boulevard leads to 19 intersections at levels E or F, more than double the number of such adverse conditions (8) today.

The Trip Equity Plan is a new way to address the joint problems of planning transportation. Aside from being novel, the approach has been termed “elegant” and “the best planning effort in 20 years” by the planning and transportation officials working with the Ventura Blvd. CAC. In addition, it seems to be a good model for many other communities. Of course, whether Trip Equity will stand the test of time still remains to be seen.

One thing is clear, however. For the first time, an easy to understand, flexible link between planning and transportation has been forged. We have moved beyond lip service.

Nick Brestoff is a Woodland Hills real estate attorney and a board member of the Valley Industry & Commerce Assn. Pat Costinet is a senior associate with Barton­Aschman Associates, Inc., the City's chief transportation consultant. Dolly Wageman is a management consultant in strategic planning and former officer of the Studio City Resident's Assn.



Insider Planning

By David Kramer, Editor

The Mayor's budget for the fiscal year 1989-1990 is now before the City Council. The Planning Department's budget was increased by 26%. (A planning deputy recently said, “They're just like the Police Department. They come; they ask; and they receive.”) $3 million is included to pay for transportation and environmental studies for the Community Plan Revisions. The budget also includes funds to staff Citizen Design Review Boards and develop an alternative Building Permit Allocation Plan. In total, the budget reflects an increase of 38 positions at the Planning Department.

Progress continues on changing the City Council's Standing Committees. The Community Redevelopment and Housing Committee would be responsible for preliminary budget review for the CRA, grants, housing subsidies, bonds, and tax increments. It would also review program and operational matters such as rent control, operation of housing projects, and the approval of plans and programs for redevelopment areas. It is this committee which will have greater oversight of the CRA in the future.

The most important recommendation to come from the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Committee on Affordable Housing was the creation of a Housing Commission to coordinate housing policy. The Mayor's budget proposal includes $400,000 for a new Housing Commission which would coordinate the work of all 11 agencies currently responsible for housing. It only gets confusing when you realize the restructured City Council Redevelopment and Housing Committee is also supposed to be responsible for coordinating housing policy.

One of the first recommendations acted upon after the release of the Blue Ribbon report was the sale of a $100 million general obligation bond for the purpose of seismic rehabilitation of brick buildings that did not meet seismic standards. Brick buildings are the city's largest single source of housing affordable to very low income families. However, 2/3 of the voters needed to agree, and the bond vote failed. With the recent case of the Central Library, they might try again. However, time is running out. Nearly 50,000 apart­ment units, over 80% of them affordable to low income households, are in buildings of unreinforced masonry construction which must be reinforced or demolished in 1989. Renovation costs exceed $10,000 per unit.

The City Council recently confirmed a new Planning Commissioner. USC Professor Fernando Torres-Gil, an associate professor of gerontology and public administration, replaces Carmen Estrada who served almost six months on the Commission.

Larry Kaplan, the chief deputy of Councilman Michael Woo, was recently selected and has accepted the position of President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. The selection is a terrific opportunity for Larry and bodes well for the redevelopment of Hollywood.

The long-awaited site plan ordinance was held in committee at Planning and Environment on April 25. Councilman Bernson wants to add commercial and industrial expanded uses under 40,000 square feet to the site plan review process. One rumor is that this ordinance will be held until the parking requirements are resolved.

Coming soon to a Commission near you... The Pedestrian Overlay District and the Open Space Zoning Ordinance will be introduced at the Planning Commission on May 4. The transitional height ordinance will appear there in late May. The ordinance to restrict demolitions of single family dwellings until plans are submitted for another house will not be introduced until the new fiscal year.

In a game of musical chairs reminiscent of Don Regan and James Baker, three division managers at the Planning Department are switching jobs. Emily Gabel is taking Bob Sutton's job, who is taking David Lessly's position, etc. The idea is that Emily Gabel will bring an urban design emphasis to the Community Plan Revision process; Bob Sutton will focus on specific plan studies in Neighborhood Planning; and Lessly will manage batching and the plan implementation division.

Four scenarios are emerging for the sewer hook-up controls which will replace the current ICO by August All four, supposedly, are more restrictive than the existing controls, meaning longer lines for commercial, and perhaps residential, development.

An ordinance is now being prepared to ban period plan review, or batching for five years after a community plan is revised. The exceptions are if there is an error in the plans, a hardship case, or a need to comply with state regulations. This ordinance will soon go to the Planning and Environment Committee.

With numerous ICO's and specific plans for hillside development, the Planning Department is working to create general regulations citywide. This comes as a result of developments in Sunland, Tujunga, Sherman Oaks and the Girard Tract.

The Planning Commission will vote on the Porter Ranch Specific Plan May 11. At a meeting this month with 200 people at the Commission and 60 people testifying, the staff decreased the commercial development from 7.7 million square feet to 7 million while increasing the residential from 3,000 units to 3,280. Council­man Bernson has proposed 6 million square feet of commercial development with a height limit of 10 stories.

Housing costs continue to climb, and the average cost for a new home now exceeds $200,000. A recent report by the California Association of Realtors states, populations pressures, the virtual withdraw of federal spending, and the slow growth movement have disrupted the housing environment. This crisis, the report warns, could threaten California's position as an economic leader.


Councilman Michael Woo: Land Use Planning After the Voters Have Spoken

Councilman Michael Woo was recently elected to a second term to represent the 13th District of Hollywood, Los Feliz, Studio City, and Sherman Oaks. He met with The Planning Report to discuss the city elections and anticipated changes in the city's planning process.

What conclusions can you draw about the Council's mandate for land-use planning from your election and the other city races this year?

I can read my own district which wants to maintain the low-density characteristic of Studio City and Sherman Oaks and is concerned about over­development in the district. I don't think the citywide conclusions are very clear. It's much harder to evaluate because growth issues were not adequately addressed in the mayoral campaign; I think there's no clear citywide mandate on growth and development issues coming out of the city.

Furthermore, given the absence of a strong mandate emerging from the city elections, I think we are in store for four years of uncertainty and instability in the political process. There may be a shifting balance of power with more members of the Council becoming more assertive than in the past—and not just in development issues. This may be reflected in the changing committee structure in the City Council which will enable us to deal more effectively with issues of planning, housing, redevelopment, and transportation.

On what issues will you be assertive?

Some of us on the Council will become more active on citywide issues relating to planning such as parking, the future of the center's concept, questions of inclusionary zoning for the city's housing policies. I think there may also be a greater willingness to consider possible regional remedies to problems of air quality and transportation which may or may not be voluntarily accepted by existing local government leaders.

There are many changes now occurring in the land-use planning process: from restructured Council Committees to the new Commissioners in Planning and at the CRA. How will things change from the Planning Department to the City Council?

These are largely unanswered questions. I am concerned that the Planning Department is overburdened with the task of responding to problems instead of doing real planning and looking ahead to the future and trying to anticipate some of the growth and development-related problems which the City inevitably seems to be heading towards. It's unfortunate that the Planning Department has failed 10 develop the same kind of political constituency that other departments such as the Police Department and the Fire Department have.

I think in many ways the Planning Department is woefully understaffed for the kind of expectations that Council members and the general public have developed. Much of the impetus for change will not come from the Planning Department but from either politicians or the general public.

Is the Planning Commission initiating policy?

Until recently, it seems to me that the Commission has not been playing a very aggressive role—partially due to changes in personnel, partially due to the structure of the process whereby the Plan­ning Commission responds rather than initiates action. I think the Planning Commission does have the opportunity, but in some ways the Planning Commission suffers from the same problems that the Planning Department does. It has a limited period of time, and it must respond to requests of others rather than initiate its own solutions to planning problems of the City.

How will the appointment of the new Planning Commissioner change the decision-making process at the Planning Commission?

Fernando Torres-Gil's opinions about planning issues are not fully fleshed out as far as I'm concerned. I know him personally in terms of his expertise on gerontology issues, but I have never had a serious conversation with him about city planning. To a large extent I consider the new appointee to be an unknown quantity. We asked him some questions when he appeared before Council, but I don't think his planning background is the reason for his appointment.

If the Planning Department and Commission have not been able to un­dertake pro-active planning, bas the Planning and Environment Committee?

I've been somewhat frustrated in the tendency of our committee to spend more of our time on individual cases, which may be very important to the property owner involved in the case, but which are a distraction to some of the broader planning issues facing the city. I would like to see our committee deal more directly with the key issues, whether they are the provisions of parking, or the relationship between commercial space and parking. We tend not to deal with the larger questions as much.

What initiatives should come out of the new committee structure?

The first big issue has to be the Mayor's proposal to lift the CRA cap. There are very high level games of chicken going on between the City and the County. The City would receive revenue to be used for housing and social services, and the County has its own interests to develop County-owned properties. I think it would be appropriate for the new Redevelopment and Housing Committee to deal with this issue—to not only mediate between the City and County, but initiate more public discussion.

Another issue would be management issues within the CRA. In the transition from Ed Helfeld, as Administrator, to John Tuite, I heard a number of public statements made by CRA Board members who felt that the CRA had become too much of a planning agency and not enough of an implementation agency. There was a desire to shift the focus of the agency. In my own experience in Hollywood, I have some questions that the agency has gone too far in this direction and has failed to do an adequate job of planning in favor of the implementation side of its work.

I also think there will be specific issues relating to current redevelopment projects such as the downtown and Hollywood project. In Hollywood, the committee should rightfully scrutinize decisions made by the CRA. For example, a past decision about CRA subsidies for the Stock Exchange has been brought up as an example of a misguided priority on the part of the CRA Board. I think some of these specific decisions need to be looked at. In doing that, the Council could restore a higher level of public confidence in the re­development process.

What does the next four years look like for the CRA—in your district and citywide.


The CRA faces a future of increased scrutiny from elected officials. In a couple of weeks, I will be presenting to the Council a package of redevelopment related reforms which will increase the Council's oversight of redevelopment policies. Specifically, I am proposing to give the Council greater oversight over the CRA budget and work programs, and giving the Council the ability to vote on CRA decisions at an early stage in the game rather than waiting until after Council input.

I don't think the alternative proposals that the Council itself become the Board of the CRA are well justified. I think we can accomplish the goals of greater Council oversight by forcing the CRA to disclose more information and more knowledge about available options at an earlier stage in the game so that the Council will not be impassive.

Do you see any potential dangers in increased oversight of what was a semi-autonomous body?

The danger would be more political meddling. Under the current structure, the CRA primarily relates to the council­member in whose district a redevelopment project is located. This has been a very convenient process for me, but it may lead to inattention to the relationship between activities of the CRA and goals as set forth by the Council. With the restructuring, there will be a closer connection between the Council-adopted goals and actions by the CRA.

There is still no CRA Board member from Hollywood. You represent the district in a major redevelop­ment project. What's your attitude about the composition and responsiveness of the CRA Board to your district and the City in general.

I've told the Mayor that I think it's a very high priority to appoint a Hollywood resident to the CRA given the fact that Hollywood is the largest project in the city outside of downtown. I consider it extremely important to get a representative from the Hollywood community onto that Board. The Mayor hasn't yet made that choice, however.

What’s going to happen with the parking ordinance?

I think that the future of that ordinance is not clear. Personally, I am very skeptical of whether certain kinds of commercial projects need to have more parking required. I'm especially concerned with the potential impact of increasing the parking requirement upon demand for public transportation. Since shopping centers and commercial uses might otherwise be served by public transportation, I would not want to take an action that discourages people from taking public transportation.

The problem is trying to protect surrounding neighbors from the impact of overflow parking without gutting the demand for public transportation which I think is going to substantially increase over the next ten years.

The Mayor's Office has begun to trumpet a mixed-use policy. How will the City Council receive it?

The natural inclination will be to view the proposal very parochially by what the short-term, localized impact will be. Some neighborhoods will not look kindly upon the idea of mixed-use development in the more suburban sections of the City. But for the more built out areas such as the Wilshire district, and Hollywood, I think it makes a lot of sense. I think Los Angeles is going to become much more like other cities with more efficient use of its land reflected in mixed-use.

Will the outcome of the Bernardi-Hall race affect the balance of power on Council?

On broad citywide issues, I think it makes a real difference whether Emani Bernardi or Lyle Hall is the council member of the district. For instance, on such ballot propositions as Prop U or the Occidental oil drilling issue, I think there's a clear cut difference between Bernardi and Hall. There is also a difference on more procedural matterssuch as the unspoken rule that council members generally support the policy directions taken by the Councilman of the district on disputes within one particular district.

What housing initiatives do you plan to take?

In past years, housing policy has been one of the great mysteries of the City Council. Different aspects of housing were divided among different committees. My committee, Government Operations, traditionally has dealt with rent control issues. Another committee of the Council, Grants, Housing and Community Development Committee, has tended to deal with HUD grants. Meanwhile the Planning Committee has actually dealt with the land-use decisions of housing. There was no coherent look at the totality of housing issues facing the city.

The new committee, Redevelopment and Housing Committee, will enable the Council to deal more effectively with these issues. It makes sense to relate rent regulation issues with other housing supply issues relating to density bonuses, or the work of the Housing Authority. Another problem is that I don’t see a consensus emerging from the Council. How we will move on the future of SRO housing? A key issue which is never discussed on the Council is the difficulty of first-time home buyers entering the housing market

Isn't the proposed Housing Commission in Mayor Bradley's budget supposed to coordinate the totality of housing issues?

The Housing Commission has not yet been approved by the City Council although I predict some form of the Commission will be approved. There has been some legitimate concern raised whether or not the proposed new Housing Commission may complicate matters by proposing one more level of government with housing in the title rather than consolidating what already exists. I prefer to think that the new Housing Committee can serve the function of coordinating housing actions.

The $100 minion general obligation Seismic Rehabilitation Bond recently railed to garner 2/3 or the vote. How significant is this?

Many of us on the Council, including Gloria Molina, are concerned about the bond not passing. There is an intense effort to try and identify other financing sources to pay for the same kind of earthquake related improvements. As of now, I don't know of many optimistic solutions to provide for that money quickly. We may need to go back to the ballot and try again. I took it as one sign that housing conditions were viewed as a lower priority to the public than building police stations.

As a councilman, I have found that there is not a general consensus in the public about the need to provide more affordable housing. It's very frustrating, because it's clear that providing housing is one of the key unmet needs of the city, and yet by definition, the people who would benefit from better policies do not exist, nor are they organized. Politicians such as myself are caught in a terrible bind between perceiving problems but failing to identify a political constituency which either provides the momentum or political pressure to cause some action to take place.

It's a terrible problem. As long as we have a system that continues to operate on the squeakiest wheel getting the grease, it becomes really difficult to motivate members of the Council to take a stronger, more active interest in housing policy. Actually with this issue, there’s more of a squeak coming from those who don't want affordable housing coming into the area

Does planning have a squeak?

There is no squeak in the planning process. The only time people get together is when homeowners organize to enforce a veto of a planning project. The problem with good planning is that it would create unpopular political decisions, so there is not much of a political constituency to organize.



Mayor's Group Studies Mixed-Use Policy and its Implementation

By Dean Robert Harris

In the recent Air Quality Management Plan and the consultant's report of L.A. 's Sewer Hook-Up, both reports discussed mixed-use development and an improved jobs/housing balance as one solution to our environmental woes. Similarly, the recent Design Action Planning Team's study of Olive Hill suggested mixed-use development on the commercial strips of Vermont and Hillhurst. More frequently, mixed-use development is mentioned as a possible panacea to many planning ills. Ironically, a mixed-use policy in the city of Los Angeles does not exist.

A “study group” is currently meeting informally to brainstorm ideas and solutions for mixed-use policy. This group has been brought together by the Mayor's Office, which is enthusiastically supporting our mixed-use efforts. The group includes homeowners, developers, consultants, and departmental personnel from several city departments including Planning, Building and Safety, and the Zoning Administrator. One of our central interests has been to pursue plausible alternatives for the City in order to build mixed-use projects.

There are two central reasons why mixed-use development is not undertaken in Los Angeles. First, the financial community is nervous about the idea of mixed-use development because it is not familiar with it. The questions and concerns involved with mixed-use are perceived by the financial community to be doubled or tripled because of the additional uses involved.

Other cities are able to finance mixed-use because there is a tradition in those cities for higher density and mixed-use development. In Los Angeles, such a tradition once existed; mixed-use projects were built throughout the city in places where density existed. However, that tradition died out and is only now being rediscovered. Therefore, until the viability of mixed-use projects can be demonstrated once again, the financial community should be expected to continue to be nervous.

Additionally, the building code does not recognize buildings which have three contiguous occupancies—parking, commercial, and residential. In order to build mixed-use, therefore, developers have to go to the Board of Building and Safety Commissioners to get a modification to the building code. This not only adds a minimum of two months to the approval process, but it also adds a greater dimension of complexity and uncertainty to the project. The Building Department is willing to pursue amending the code, but any amendments need state approval.

The demise of mixed-use was related to the idea of zoning, which was to keep unlike uses apart. While it is easy now to scoff at the City's general plan and its zoning and say how shortsighted the planning of the city has been, it does make a certain kind of sense. The suburbanization of our city separates housing and commerce. This reflects the sensible desire for people to have quiet places that are allowed to stay quiet and busy places which are encouraged to be busy. That idea is simple, compelling, and has been taken to an unfortunate extreme. On the other hand, if you take the idea of mixed-use development and exaggerate it so that it is everywhere, you create a sameness everywhere and lose the possibilities for quiet enclaves. We need to find an appropriate balance.

With the idea of balance in mind, the study group is directly attempting to create the possibility of mixed-use projects and to explore their feasibility. We are trying to discover the means to amend the zoning ordinance and the specific plans to allow mixed-use, and we are asking what kind of form the enabling legislation will take. The study group also believes the City should go beyond the role of passive facilitator and to encourage mixed-use projects with incentives.

This brings us back to the question of why anyone would want mixed-use in the first place: job/housing balance. However the territory in which to accomplish a job/housing balance is a difficult one to define. Mixed-use is one way that we can begin to implement a job/housing balance project by project. Mixed-use is the most direct way to directly create more opportunities for employment coexisting with residence and will subsequently have an impact upon traffic and congestion, on air quality, and on quality of life issues.

As to the concern about how extensive the mixed-use would be, it should be restricted to areas that are already busy streets, such as the defining streets which serve the neighborhoods. In these scenarios, the presence of mixed-use is not so disturbing. And where it is built, it would enrich the life of the street and provide additional opportunities for the neighborhood.

Of course, we realize that higher density and mixed-use are controversial propositions. One question that needs to be resolved is which projects are appropriate for density bonuses. Some feel that it only makes sense for larger projects of 25 units or more. Others would like to see it in smaller projects such as the comer store with housing above it; a density bonus in that case would make even a smaller project more attractive for both investment and for use.

Further, community resistance to any added density is often well-founded. So many projects are poorly planned and designed that new projects in neighborhoods are generally quite objectionable. Therefore, what is especially needed for community groups, as well as the financial community, is good design examples. Johannes Van Tilburg's project on Rose and Main Streets in Santa Monica serves as one example, as does the Mrs. Gooch's mixed-use project on Cannon Drive in Beverly Hills.

Through careful design, we can have increased density and increased amenities; we can have our cake and eat it too. After all, from a developer's perspective, if you are forced to decrease density, then the potential return on investment is decreased as well. The result is a reduction of amenities until a project becomes the least possible thing that can be built.

We need, then, to develop designs and projects to test the influence and the quality that mixed-use can have. We will need to go beyond historic precedents because of new conditions including new parking and other access and safety requirements. It has been understandable that people have felt uneasy about mixed-use and higher-density projects. We intend to demonstrate, however, that these projects can and will add to the quality of our neighborhoods and the life of our City.

Robert Harris is Dean of Architecture at the University of Southern California


Asset Management: School District’s Approach to Develop Revenue, Undertake Joint Ventures

By Dominic Shambra and Wayne D. Wedin

Over the past several years, it has become all too apparent that major shifts in intergovernmental financial relationships have taken place and, when added to the significant alterations in traditional educational operating practices, important impacts have resulted.

As revenue reductions are increasingly felt, all service providers, including the county, special districts, school districts and cities, will look to alternatives to the property tax for financial public services and facility improvements and compete for the very limited uncommitted existing and future revenue sources. One approach to resolving the current shortage of funds for public services is to develop new revenue sources or expand the current revenue base as well as increase productivity.

One of the options presently under significant evaluation by the Los Angeles Unified School District is the Asset Management or Asset Utilization approach to the development of additional revenue sources to meet the educational needs of the young people of Los Angeles.

The goal of Asset Management is to optimize the utilization of available assets. Accordingly, it encompasses strategies to redeploy existing assets in the highest and most productive manner. The process can generate cash resources, and as such, it is a method of creating an alternative funding source.

The most common form of Asset Management is the outright sale of the fee simple interest in property which is considered surplus with the proceeds from the sale redeployed to provide capital funding of the next highest priority need that is not otherwise funded. Surplus property is not only that which is in excess of need, but often property that is located where it is not effectively usable to accommodate current requirements and/or future growth patterns.

A more sophisticated approach to Asset Management involves business arrangements whereby the local school district or other agency participates in a joint venture with private enterprises, and sometimes other public agencies, to develop a parcel or parcels of property to its highest and best economic use. The joint venture partners, of which the school district is one, share in the economic benefit derived from development over time.

The public-private joint venture is usually structured around a long-term participating land lease to a private real estate developer of an asset owned by the local school district. The district provides an attractive development opportunity, and often facilitates the necessary land use entitlements for which the district receives an equitable share of the profits over the life of the development. Entitlements are the governmental and jurisdictional approvals required to proceed with a development plan.

Economic reward to the district is provided in the form of an income stream, which is made up of a combination of base land rent and participation in the profitability and growth in value of the project over time.

The design of a public-private joint venture is to generate a source of revenue from a parcel of land without putting it at risk.

In contrast to the outright sale of an asset, leasing allows the district to retain a reversionary interest in the land. At the end of the lease period (which is typically in the 50-to 66-year range but can often be longer) the District will get the land back with the improvements free and clear, or will have renegotiated the lease terms based upon the augmented value of the land and improvements at a future time. This reversionary interest is an endowment of the public entity for the benefit of generations to come.

The income stream generated through the public-private joint venture can be “leveraged,” i.e., pledged to the re­payment of long-term borrowing/bonding obligations, the proceeds of which are used to finance current capital outlay requirements. The income stream is expected to grow over time with the appreciation of real estate values and inflation. The amount of the income stream which exceeds the debt service is available for additional capital or deferred maintenance needs, and provides another source of long-term endowment for future financial needs of the District.

This leveraging concept therefore allows the District to lease a parcel of land, borrow against the lease payments and get its money up front as though it had sold the property, but in fact retain ownership and continuing economic opportunities from the asset.

Given the nature of funding scarcity for public education within the state of California, the Los Angeles Unified School District is increasingly looking to any and all options available to them to help address their educational facility needs. The District, as a result, is currently in negotiations with Maguire Thomas on the 17th and Grand property owned by the District and has expressed an on-going interest in the Ambassador Hotel property.

Dominic Shambra is an Administrator of Special Projects and Activities for the L.A. Unified School District. Wayne D. Wedin is President of Wedin Enterprises, Inc.


The Politics of Land Use Planning or… What I Say on the Campaign Trail

By Lyle Hall, Councilperson Candidate, 7th District

I would like to begin this discussion of the politics of land use with an important disclaimer: I am not a planner, a builder, or developer. But I have been witness to and a victim of the haphazard planning practices which have defined the San Fernando Valley in general and the 7th District in particular. I feel strongly that each member of the City Council must take an aggressive and pro-active role in creating residential and commercial developments which add to the quality of life for area residents and business people.

The 7th District differs greatly from the other areas of Los Angeles. Our citizens are not anti-growth and are not averse to development. However, there is a strong and justified support for requirements of quality and benefit to the local community. New projects must have an aesthetic standard considerably higher than the majority of those already put in place and need to upgrade the community and increase the value of the development itself. And our neighborhoods need to be protected from poor planning. In my neighborhood of single family dwellings in Panorama, three single family homes were replaced by a tall, 50-unit apartment house. With the recent addition of another apartment house, this inconsistent planning has hurt the character of this single family neighborhood.

The planning process in the San Fernando Valley has been reactive to specific requests or projects and has not been creative in its community-wide focus. Political considerations have been substituted for professional recommendations from our Planning Commission, and the vocal minority has been allowed to unduly influence councilmanic decisions. We need to establish the direct and continuing involvement of citizen advisory councils in each of the community specific plans so that those residents who will have to live with the results can have some say in the direction their communities will grow.

These groups have been established successfully in other parts of the city and the state and provide the opportunity for developers, builders, community leaders, and government to exchange ideas and views during the formative time prior to the start of a project. Issues of traffic flow, intersection load, parks, open spaces, recreation, library, utility, police, fire, and paramedic service can be anticipated and provisions made. Growth management plans can be developed as tools to expedite quality growth along a planned tract—not as stumbling blocks or barriers to inhibit growth. These plans—jointly developed and approved can be politically supported and advanced throughout the process in a timely fashion.

The 7th District is also an area where creative use of the Community Redevelopment Agency should be pursued. We need a redevelopment project on Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima, an area characterized by vacant lots, boarded-up businesses and general blight, which is in desperate need of help. We need to view the San Fernando Valley as the resource it is and ensure its part in the orderly growth of the city. Affordable but quality housing, coupled with full service commercial endeavors that complement our neighborhoods can enhance the level of enjoyment of valley living.

The 7th District is not a homogenous area. While interest and concern over growth and development are wide­spread, one issue stands out citywide as paramount—crime. Walking door to door throughout the district, I am saddened to see the proliferation of walls, fences, and barred windows. No city can develop or grow to its full potential while its citizens live in fear.

Effective leadership must address the myriad of interests that affect the citizens of the district. We must plan for and master our growth or we will be the victims of uncontrolled circumstances. The political process and its role in land use can provide the direction and impact we need to regain control over our lives. We must act decisively or we are doomed to failure. It is time for a change in our attitudes, in our approach, and in our actions. It is time for a change.


© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.