November 30, 1989 - From the November, 1989 issue

The Central City West Specific Plan: What It Means for Los Angeles

David Grannis, Associate manager of Center City West Associates and President of the Planning Company Associates Inc. (which provides consulting services in land-use and transportation planning), and George Mihlsten, a land-use and real estate attorney with the law firm of Latham & Watkins, bring readers up to date with the history and future of the Central City West Specific Plan.

"By establishing the structure of a “public-private” partnership, the planning process is set up to facilitate consensus-building between the involved parties."

With a full agenda for the day, the action of the Los Angeles City Council on February 1, 1987 to initiate the Central City West Specific Plan, a partnership between the City of Los Angeles and Center City West Associates (CCWA) to prepare a transportation specific plan, was not the most prominent item of the day. However, with that action, the City of Los Angeles embarked upon a new and more formalized way in which the public and private sectors will be more closely working together to solve such mutually critical issues as affordable housing, adequate transportation infrastructure, public recreation opportunities, child care programs, and a host of other items essential to the long term viability of the City.

The Central City West Specific Plan was borne of the mutual need of both the public and private sectors: the need to prepare a cohesive transportation infrastructure and development plan for the 325 acres just west of the Harbor Freeway between Olympic Boulevard, the Hollywood Freeway, and Witmer/Union Avenues. Center City West Associates, an association of local property owners, had been studying the area for two years and had concluded that not only was its transportation infrastructure in desperate need of repair, but a regional approach to transportation planning needed to be undertaken in order to plan for future growth and future mobility for both the Central City West area and greater downtown Los Angeles.

The significance of this “public-private” approach to the future planning efforts of the City of Los Angeles lies in the process itself. By establishing the structure of a “public-private” partnership, the planning process is set up to facilitate consensus-building between the involved parties. The regional and public policy nature of the Central City West Specific Plan, given its regional transportation approach and its aggressive affordable housing component, coupled with the City’s first levying of housing linkage fees, also foreshadows the ability of the City and the private sector to tackle tough issues, develop solutions and set forth the necessary funding and implementation mechanisms to realize the solutions all within the planning process.

As an example of this comprehensive “plan-to-implementation” approach, the Central City West public-private partnership will continue in the implementation of the infrastructure and housing elements of this Specific Plan through the establishment of a Local Development Corporation comprised of both public and private sector representatives.

From its inception, the Central City West Specific Plan process has been a cooperative venture since the Council established the Steering Committee to develop and guide the process through to the approval stage. Comprised of the Department of City Planning, the Department of Transportation, Council District No. 1, Council District No. 9 and Center City West Associates, the Steering Committee drafted a work program, issued bids and selected consultants, and developed and processed an Interim Control Ordinance (ICO) to regulate development while the Specific Plan was being prepared.

The private sector, through the members of CCWA, provided over $1,000,000 of funding for the consultant efforts necessary to develop such a comprehensive program on the basis of a "Third Party Beneficiary" contract, with the City of Los Angeles through the Steering Committee controlling the efforts of the consultants.

The implications for the future of public-private problem-solving efforts are evidenced by the outcome of the Specific Plan which was released in the summer of 1989. Both the City and CCWA set forth a goal at the inception of the process to improve the transportation infrastructure within the Central City West area, yet it was discovered to be impossible to address transportation in this area without considering the region as a whole.

Thus, the result is a regional transportation plan for greater downtown Los Angeles that establishes dedicated busways and High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, freeway improvements, Transportation Demand Management (TDM) programs, connection to the regional transit system, and other regional improvements in addition to numerous Central City West local street and highway improvements.


The total cost of these improvements is approximately one-half a billion dollars. This comprehensive transportation network is designed to not only mitigate and improve traffic impacts resultant from Center City West Development, but is designed to mitigate the current regional impact of the existing 45 million square feet downtown and the added impact of another 25 million square feet (a total of 67 million square feet) projected to come on line downtown in the next 15 to 20 years.

The housing element of the Specific Plan also reflects successful public-private cooperation through an aggressive, significant commitment to the production of affordable housing opportunities. For the first time in the City of Los Angeles, developers will be required to replace affordable housing demolished in the Specific Plan area since 1984. These replacement units must be provided as low income and very low income units and must be produced as a condition of being allowed to proceed with any commercial, industrial or mixed-use development.

A housing linkage fee will also be levied on all commercial, industrial and mixed-use zoned properties within the Specific Plan for the purpose of creating an affordable housing trust fund which will produce additional low and very low income housing units as part of the Specific Plan. Finally, all residentially-zoned properties in the Specific Plan area are zoned with an inclusionary/density bonus zone which requires the production of 10% of all on­site units produced to be set aside as low income housing units.

This comprehensive affordable housing program, which will be funded entirely by the private sector, will preserve and provide several thousand affordable housing units at a cost of over $200 million.

These two elements—transportation and housing—are not the only elements of the Central City West Specific Plan program. The plan also contains urban design guidelines, pedestrian amenities, recreation opportunities, and other provisions to help in the cohesive development of the Central City West area. However, transportation and housing represent two of the pressing issues faced by our City.

Through the public-private partnership of the Central City West Specific Plan, these tough issues have been thoroughly investigated, solutions have been developed to address both immediate and long-term needs, and the process has produced a mutual, long-term commitment from both the public and private sectors to implement these solutions. It is anticipated that this model can and will be replicated in other communities with equally positive results—and with an equal commitment to cooperative problem solving for all.


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