December 30, 1990 - From the December, 1990 issue

Richard Katz: New Development to be Linked to Transportation Plans

For this special issue on transportation policy, The Planning Report met with Richard Katz, who has served as Chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee since 1985. He was the primary author of Proposition 111, the transportation initiative approved by California voters in June. Kenneth Bernstein of The Planning Report interviewed Katz on the impact of this measure and on other issues affecting the link between transportation and land-use policy.For this special issue on transportation policy, The Planning Report met with Richard Katz, who has served as Chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee since 1985. He was the primary author of Proposition 111, the transportation initiative approved by California voters in June. Kenneth Bernstein of The Planning Report interviewed Katz on the impact of this measure and on other issues affecting the link between transportation and land-use policy.

How do you expect the provisions of Proposition 111 to affect planning and development in Los Angeles?

In Prop 111 funding is obviously important—it provides over $18 billion for transportation. The goal was to create a ten-year program so that necessary transportation improvements will actually get completed.

The second part of Prop 111 is the Congestion Management Plan. If we were going to continue to grow, I felt it was important to tie land use and transportation decisions together. Today they’re sometimes in conflict and sometimes in total ignorance of each other—a building goes up and five years later someone figures out how to address the transportation problems it creates.

The Congestion Management Plan doesn’t try to micro-manage from Sacramento. We do set statewide performance standards in terms of level of service—at the major arterials the LOS shall be the current LOS or level “E”. But the way you get to that level is a local decision. You can do it by ridesharing, carpooling, staggered work hours, light rail, heavy rail, or maglev. But if you don’t maintain that level, you’re going to lose state funds.

ls that threat to withhold state funds a credible one given our experience with such threats from other government agencies in the past?

This is more serious. There is no appeals process, and no need to seek authorization to cut off funds. We state simply that if the Congestion Management Plan is not in place, then you’re ineligible for state highway funds, and you’re at the end of the line in applying for Prop 111 money.

There is one exception to the level of service standards. As a result of a compromise between the Sierra Club and the Building Industry Association, in situ­ations when one road is worsened beyond the level of service standards, the developer can agree to make a significant contribution to reducing both congestion and air pollution elsewhere in the county.

These improvements must be equal in dollar cost to the problem they’re causing.

The regional agency will have to approve these trade-offs, and the AQMD will publish a list of what kind of mitigations are needed in the area—what we refer to as the “bridal registry of mitigations”—that will tell developers what their obligation is.

If you were a developer today, what strategies would you be looking at in this new environment?

I’d be looking at how to mitigate the trips generated by my project. I’d join the local Transportation Management Agency (TMA). I’d also insist that any money I contributed in TRIP fees be spent at the same time as the development occurs.

What is your general feeling about TRIP fees and how they relate to Prop 111?

TRIP fees could be used by localities as one strategy to comply with the CMP. I don’t have a problem with the concept of TRIP fees.

My problem is with the City of Los Angeles’ inability to do its job. There are TRIP ordinances all over this city but because the city’s bureaucracy moves so slowly the development has gone up and the city has done nothing to mitigate the traffic.

That’s unfair to the community and unfair to the developer who’s willing to pay to fix it. Incompetent city staff keep the problem from being solved.

What role will your Los Angeles River proposal play in improving regional mobility?

I viewed the channel as an available, under-utilized resource. First, I looked at it as a way to encourage carpools—only carpools or clean-fuel-burning buses would be allowed on the expressway. If you can jump into a carpool lane and get downtown in half the time, you’ll find a way to carpool.

The second part of the proposal is use of the concrete channel south of downtown for a truck lane from the Harbor to downtown. We would then ban trucks on the Harbor and Long Beach Freeways, where trucks make up 15% of the traffic. This would improve traffic and air quality immeasurably. The third part of the proposal was to use highway mitigation money to create a 30-mile linear park with hiking, jogging, and equestrian opportunities.

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How do you react to the criticisms of this proposal by environmentalists?

Frankly, I’m puzzled by the environmentalists who say it’s not an environmentally sound proposal. We’re taking 300 million tons of pollutants out of the air through carpooling and we’re creating a linear park.

We’re a city in the desert in the middle of a drought—we shouldn’t be sending millions of acre-feet of treated water to the ocean when we can use that water for parks, golf courses, freeway landscaping, or industry. Any self-respecting environmentalist ought to be in favor of recycling that water so we don’t have to tap Mono Lake or other sources.

Have the inter-agency transit wars been lessened with the creation of the Rail Construction Corporation?

The RCC is only constructing the one project, and there is now a fight over whether the RCC will build the remainder of the projects. My legislation would mandate that the two agencies in Los Angeles come up with a reorganization plan under one agency within a year and a half. I firmly believe you need one agency in Los Angeles.

If you were running the City of Los Angeles today, what planning strategies would you be pursuing?

I’d start by getting rid of a lot of people currently involved in the process. A key choice for L.A. is who to choose as the next planning director. Does the City Council want a professional who they will allow to do a professional job, or do they want someone who appears to be competent but who will allow each Council member to exercise political zoning? I would want the next Planning Director to make decisions that are best for the community without the pressure of political contributions or neighborhood groups.

I would also try to make the rules clearer. I would try to bring certainty to the system, so that the rules don’t change every six months and the process is expeditious and fair. Today it takes forever to get turned down, it takes forever to get approval, and it’s uncertain.

What is the outlook for regional government in 1991?

Regional government is a tricky problem for which no one has a good answer. The Speaker’s bill, AB 4242, grew out of his observations that existing boundaries weren’t working, that traffic problems and air pollution don’t stop at the city lines.

If there’s going to be regional decision-making it’s got to be done by people who are accountable yet it should not create a new level of bureaucracy. And that’s where it gets tough. If you don’t create another bureaucracy, then you’re taking power away from existing officials. Yet it makes no sense to create more hoops to jump through. No one’s been able to solve this dilemma.

The problem with single-purpose regional agencies is that their goals are often in conflict. For example, strategies that are crucial for transportation (such as spreading the capacity of the freeway system over the entire day) may yield only negligible benefits to the environment. One of the positive features of the CMP is that meeting this requirement will be largely equivalent to meeting AQMD’s Reg XV requirements—they dovetail quite nicely.

Many of the transportation improvements we’ve discussed won’t be in place until the end of the decade. What can we do to improve transportation until then?

You can’t force people to change their attitudes. But you can effect change through leadership and example. We’ve got a program with corporations and through advertisements emphasizing one-day-a-week ridesharing. I’d start a crash program on ATSAC and smart intersections which can give us great improvements in the short-run for a relatively small amount of money.

It’s also simple things like bus cutouts on major arterials, and my “don't block the box” ordinance, which has made a big difference in relieving gridlock at intersections. I see an expanded role for van shuttles and jitneys to serve as the last leg of the transit system when you get off a train.

But perhaps the biggest thing we can do is to make the CMP work, so that any development that occurs is fully mitigated, assuring that we don’t fall further behind. We’re at a critical point in Los Angeles right now. It’s going to take all of our efforts to make this city work again, to improve the quality of life. I’d love to hear ideas on how we can do this from readers of The Planning Report.

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