November 30, 1990 - From the November, 1990 issue

Mixed-Use Development in Los Angeles: A Special Planning Report Roundtable

Last year, Mayor Bradley proposed the development of a mixed-use policy for the City of Los Angeles designed to help alleviate air pollution,  jobs/housing imbalance, and the shortage of affordable housing. After meetings and community working groups, a draft mixed-use ordinance was discussed by the Planning Commission on October 18th.

The proposed ordinance would create a conditional use under the jurisdiction of the Planning Commission. In Height District 1, an incentive of an additional 1.5:1 floor area ratio (FAR) would be allowed, up to an overall FAR of 3:1. The additional 1.5 FAR could only be utilized for residential development, and some percentage of that residential space must be reserved for lower income households for 30 years. The specific percentage requirement of low-income housing will be determined later, based on an economic consultant’s report.

In Height Districts 2, 3, and 4, no maximum cap on FAR is proposed, nor is a maximum cap imposed in Height District 1 for projects in redevelopment areas, enterprise zones, “center study areas,” or areas within 1500 feet of a transit project. As a result of the Planning Commission’s discussion of the ordinance, further Planning Department staff work is now occurring.

Because mixed-use will become an increasingly important part of the local land-use scene in the years to come, The Planning Report this month asked experts from throughout the Los Angeles area to comment on various facets of mixed-use development.

Mixed-Use: Problems and Prospects

The unique issues that are dealt with in large mixed-use, multi-phase projects are difficult for the Los Angeles building departments to comprehend. Existing codes make it very difficult to execute a long-term plan like ours (California Plaza). We are constantly trying to hit a moving target (the City) although the scope of development has not changed in ten years.

Nyal Leslie

President, Metropolitan Structures West

We’re not currently working on a mixed-use project, but believe the notion of mixed-use is a good one. It’s becoming more and more difficult to convince cities to accept residential development without some commercial offset.

Frank Scardina

President, Kaufman and Broad, Coastal Valley

Perhaps the ultimate irony of modern land use is that the most popular “new idea” is living upstairs from the neighborhood store. Our grandparents labored hard so our parents wouldn’t have to do that.

Doug Ring

Gold, Marks, Ring and Pepper

The City has tried to promote mixed-use in the Specific Plan for the Ventura Boulevard corridor, but the incentives are not adequate. If they want to encourage pedestrian activity, why don’t they encourage multiple-family uses? You need high-density residential to back up the other high-density uses.

Pete Racikot

Director of Predevelopment, Lycon Group

In Santa Monica, the success of mixed-use zoning is dependent upon the strength of the retail area and the extent to which bonus floor area is allowed for housing. Further zoning changes are anticipated in Santa Monica to encourage the development of housing in commercial zones, and a number of developers are looking at mixed-use options. But with high land prices, relatively low FAR’s, and inclusionary housing requirements, these are still very difficult projects to accomplish.

David Hibbert, AIA

The Landau Partnership

Mixed-use, compact, pedestrian-oriented projects are the key to creating exciting, livable, safe urban neighborhoods or districts within the city. But they must be designed as social, people oriented, “experiential” places—not simply high-tech architectural monuments. The mix of uses and the spaces between the buildings are more important than the buildings themselves, and a strong residential component should be integrated into or adjacent to each activity center.

Carl Worthington, AIA, ASLA

The Jerde Partnership

The City’s Mixed-Use Ordinance

The City should be applauded for its great start on the Mixed-Use Ordinance. For my part, I would like to see shared parking more exactly defined (i.e. for commercial, according to the area’s General Plan and for residential, at one space per unit), mixed-use allowed within a suite in a manner similar to artist lofts, minimum square footage requirements for low-income units, and incentives for inclusion of SRO units.

Glenn Erikson, AIA

The Erikson Partnership

Whenever you try to do two things at once, you end up doing neither very well. Mixed use and affordable housing are both admirable goals in themselves and should be pursued separately. Rather than granting a 1.5 FAR bonus for residential with an affordable housing requirement, the City should grant a bonus for housing and then an additional bonus if the housing is affordable.

Michael Kron

Alschuler, Grossman and Pines

While I applaud the undertaking of a serious mixed-use development policy in the City of Los Angeles, I believe that the City’s mixed-use policy should not be limited to development in commercially zoned areas. There are industrial or high-density residential areas where certain types of mixed-use development would be welcome and beneficial. As an example of a truly effective mixed-use policy, the City of Portland recently approved a master plan program for its greater downtown area in which mixes of uses were encouraged in most commercial, many industrial, and certain residential areas. The result: a completely revitalized waterfront area.

David Grannis

Planning Company Associates

While the proposed ordinance will have a positive impact on traffic congestion, air quality and jobs/housing balance, the residential density bonus may not be an adequate incentive to developers, who may say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” The city should also consider other incentives for mixed-use development, such as expedited permit processing, or exempting mixed-use projects (which positively affect traffic) from TRIP fees. In defining mixed-use, the City may also want to include a minimum threshold of both commercial and residential floor space, say 10% to 20% of each.

Joel Miller

Psomas and Associates

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You can’t mandate what the market will accept, and more importantly, the distinctions between uses are so pervasive in our codes—in building and safety as well as planning—that it would take a lifetime to figure out how to remove them. Simply having an ordinance saying, “Thou shalt have mixed-use” on the planning side is nice, but unless you fundamentally change the extremely bureaucratic and regulatory nature of our planning and building and safety processes, you really haven’t achieved that much.

Dan Garcia

Munger, Tolles, and Olson

(On Warner Ridge, the Mayor’s) planning deputy, Jane Blumenfeld, talked vaguely of mixed-use. But there are very few good examples of mixed-use in this city, and I don’t think mixed-use would ever be acceptable to the people in that vicinity. If they want to experiment, they can find another place to do it.

Joy Picus

Los Angeles City Council, Third District

Reactions from the Community

I think homeowners do support the mixed-use process. The questions are the enforcement, the monitoring, and the parking requirements. In our neighborhood, we’ve seen developers get a bonus and then use it for something else. It is critical to monitor it to be sure they remain neighborhood-serving uses.

Sandy Brown

Friends of Westwood; Westside Civic Federation

I’m very pleased that the City is going in the direction toward mixed-use, and I’m encouraged that it has already made changes in its codes to help create mixed-use projects. We can now envision a time when people will be able to go to work without getting into their cars.

Jerry Daniel

Chairman Emeritus, Federation of Hillside and Canyon Associations;

Board member, LA 2000 Partnership

Because the Miracle Mile is an already established cultural center, it is an ideal area for piloting the mixed-use development concept here via the upcoming Craft and Folk Art Museum’s expansion. Families living in the Mile love to walk to a diversity of fine cultural offerings nearby. In New York City there are similar opportunities along Fifth Avenue near the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mixed-use can be “best use” for us with developments of integrity and quality, as long as it is kept in commercial zones and doesn’t attempt to add irreconcilable components, such as late night discos.

Lynn Cohen

President, Miracle Mile Civic Coalition

Mixed-use could be the most socially beneficial planning policy for the Los Angeles of the future. Terrific for urban in-fill, it can provide affordable rental units above small businesses or professional offices. Providing high-demand housing close-in encourages mass transit use, reduces congestion, and improves living conditions. Mixed-use, however, doesn’t belong everywhere. Keep it where it works—in urban areas.

Dolly Wageman

Studio City Residents Association

Mixed-Use and Affordable Housing

Mixed-use projects offer unique opportunities to use linkage fees and TFAR payments on-site to develop affordable housing opportunities in the Central Business District. The CRA is likely to encourage well-designed mixed-use projects in the 1990’s.

Carlyle Hall

Hall and Phillips; CRA Board Member

With mixed-use, the East Coast meets the West Coast. There are a lot of underutilized spaces in this city where we can use existing facilities and air rights to build housing. This brings a more holistic approach to serving our new and diverse communities.

Marva Smith Battle-Bey

Executive Director, Vermont-Slauson EDC

Our experience with the density bonus has been that the requirements for very low-income housing exceed the economic advantage of the bonus, so that program is not generating a significant number of units. That experience should be considered when developing the mixed-use ordinance: the City should examine carefully how much affordability can be achieved through mixed-use incentives.

Gary Squier

General Manager, Los Angeles Housing Production and Preservation Department

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