May 30, 1991 - From the May, 1991 issue

Central City West: Now, The Real Work Begins

On February 20, 1991, the Los Angeles City Council approved the Central City West Specific Plan, the most comprehensive land use, transportation, housing, and urban design program yet developed by the City. The Specific Plan covers the 465 acres west of the Harbor Freeway between the Hollywood Freeway, the Harbor Freeway, Olympic Boulevard and Witmer/Union Avenues.

The Council’s action capped an extensive and intensive four year “public-private partnership” between the City and the property owners, residents and organizations in the Central City West community. David Grannis, President of Planning Company Associates and author of this article, goes on to argue that this working relationship demonstrates that the public and private sectors can work in cooperation to achieve specific public and private objectives.

Benefits for the City

In this case, both property owners and the City achieved a great deal. Property owners received certainty through the specific processes and entitlement triggers set forth in the plan. The City achieved the following;

● A land use component which scaled back commercial development potential by 50% and increased housing development potential by 150%;

● A transportation component which addressed both local and regional transportation needs through a comprehensive transportation network improvement program which must be implemented concurrent with or in advance of commercial development;

● One of the most, if not the most, aggressive affordable housing programs in the country which will yield over 6,000 low and very-low income housing units. It requires replacement of previously demolished affordable housing units, the payment of linkage fees by all commercial development, and the implementation of additional affordable units through mandatory density bonuses on all residential development; and

● An urban design program which provides for a balance of needs such as dedicated pedestrian rights-of-way throughout the plan area, the provision of open spaces and activated plazas in commercial areas, and a provision requiring child care facilities and operations to accompany commercial development.

Finally, the entire Specific Plan development program is keyed to a strict phasing program which only allows development to proceed from one phase to the next if the necessary transportation improvements are committed or in place, and if specific levels of affordable and mixed-use housing are in place.

The Specific Plan is most certainly something in which all participants — ranging from then-Councilwoman Gloria Molina, the United Neighbors of Temple-Beaudry, and Center City West Associates — can take great pride. The best lesson of the Central City West Specific Plan has been the process itself: one of inclusion, consensus and mutual benefit for all participants.

However, while the elements of the Plan are comprehensive and the “partners” in preparation of the Plan each deserve credit for a successful process, now the real work of this program begins: implementing a good document, transforming it from words on paper to bricks and mortar. The implementation program must continue the “public-private partnership” of the past four years to ensure that the goals, objectives and vision of the Specific Plan become reality.

The Transportation Plan

This will not be easy. To accomplish the buildout of the Plan area and the full implementation of all the provisions in the Plan, the private sector must work with the public sector to ensure that a comprehensive $625 million regional and local transportation network be implemented. Further, the Plan contains four equal phases of development with 6 million square feet of development per phase; it mandates that each phase’s needed transportation improvements be underway prior to moving to the next phase.

Many of these improvements are regional transportation improvements which provide benefits beyond Central City West, such as the Harbor Freeway Transitway extension bringing Caltrans’ existing Transitway into a new bus/High Oc­cupancy Vehicle (HOV) corridor along Bixel Street in Central City West. This corridor connects to a series of reconfigured one-way streets connecting to the downtown Los Angeles Central Business District, thus providing for direct access by buses and HOV’s to both Central City West and the Central Business District.

Better Than Trip Fees

However, this improvement requires a substantial amount of capital from both the private and public sectors in order to become reality. Under the existing way in which the City collects private dollars for regional transportation improvements — trip fees — it would take too long to collect enough private capital to leverage the necessary public monies.

Thus, to assure that the transportation improvement program is built expeditiously and to comply with the phasing element of the Plan, Center City West Associates is forming a Community Facilities District in order to bond for transportation monies “up front.”

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This method provides a benefit to both the private and public sectors: the private sector pays a tax to retire the bonds over a number of years instead of paying trip fees all at once upon issuance of a building-permit; and the public sector realizes a sig­nificant up-front infusion of capital from these bonds.

The City of Los Angeles will work in partnership with the Los An­geles County Transportation Com­mission and Caltrans in a Local Development Corporation framework to implement these improvements. The Local Development Corporation will be funded through the bond-financed dollars received by the City through CCWA’s improvement district and then leveraged by the City, Caltrans and LACTC to more efficiently implement regional transportation improvements. This model of interagency cooperation could help implement major regional transportation improvements in other parts of the region and state.

Building Housing in CCW

In addition to implementing required regional transportation improvements more effectively and efficiently, the Central City West Specific Plan has an aggressive affordable housing element which must be implemented in order for commercial development to move from phase-to-phase.

This housing element requires that all commercial property owners that removed affordable housing since 1984 must replace those removed units on a “one-for-one” basis, with 60% of replacement housing being very-low income units and 40% for low-income units. Further, 30% of all replacement units must be two bedrooms or larger to accommodate families.

The replacement housing obligations are tied to the Certificate of Occupancy for a commercial building. Required affordable housing units must have a Certificate of Occupancy prior to or concurrent with the issuance of any Certificate of Occupancy for a commercial building.

Linkage fees will also be collected from all commercial development in the Central City West area at a rate of $4.20 per square foot. Thus, a total of nearly $100 million could be generated in the Central City West area for affordable housing over and above the replacement housing units. It will be critical that these monies are leveraged and that actual units are produced in order to meet the needs of the residents of the Central City West area and the requirements of the Central City West Specific Plan.

In order to ensure that linkage fees are translated to housing units, the Plan creates a non-profit Affordable Housing Corporation similar to the Local Development Corporation for transportation infrastructure. The Housing Corporation will be comprised of representatives of the City, the community, area property owners, and other professionals who could help provide the corporation with key services, such as lawyers and accountants. The Corporation will work closely with the City’s Housing Preservation and Production Department as the City disburses collected linkage fees to the Housing Corporation.

Effects of a Soft Market

Other immediate implementation challenges for the Central City West Specific Plan center upon the real estate market. Obviously, slower real estate activity could result in a slower pace of generating trip fees and housing monies. However, the purpose of a plan should be somewhat irrespective of the cycles of the marketplace, which will eventually rebound.

In the case of the Central City West area, the establishment of a Community Facilities District enables the bonding of transportation monies which would otherwise not be collected through the trip fee process.

Also, on the housing side of the equation, CCW property owners are moving forward with land acquisitions and preparing for development of their required affordable housing units as soon as they are ready to move forward with their commercial developments.

Therefore, much like the “public-private partnership” that helped to prepare the Plan, the Central City West Specific Plan’s transportation and housing elements are gearing up for implementation through the establishment of the financing and development corporation tools described above. The ultimate success of the Specific Plan will be in the development of transportation improvements and affordable housing units.

Thus, while many are to be congratulated for their hard work, vision and perseverance, let’s not relax too much until we realize the implementation of the joint public and private goals embodied in the Central City West Specific Plan program.

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© 2022 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.