January 30, 1992 - From the January, 1992 issue

Patsaouras: Transit Superagency’s Impact on Region’s Development

In December, the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (LACTC) and the Southern Califor­nia Rapid Transit District (RTD) adopted a reorganization plan that provides for the agencies’ merger under a single policy board — the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Trans­portation Authority. Because the new superagency will have broad powers over transportation in our region, it will profoundly affect the planning and development process, as well. 

To assess the effects of the merger and to discuss the linkages between transportation planning and development, The Planning Report interviewed Nick Patsaouras, a member of both the LACTC and RTD Board.

As someone serving on both transit boards and deeply involved with the merger of the two agencies, what can we expect out of our new transit superagency over the next couple of years? 

I am pleased that the agencies will be consolidating into a super­agency. It’s a welcome, gratifying development because I called for the consolidation as early as March 1988. The interests of the public were not being served by constant staff turf wars (which are still going on), per­sonality conflicts which carried over into policy-making, and bias driven by those conflicts. 

We are going to see streamlining and an opportunity for good em­ployees to advance. Though we’ve made a commitment not to fire people, those with mediocre performance will find themselves on the sidelines. It’s a long-overdue cleansing process. 

What are the investment plans, year by year, for this new transit agency? 

We’re looking at investing $5 to $6 billion per year, including the re­cently-signed federal transportation bill. We’re looking to add one rail line per year for the next 10 years. Next October, the commuter rail lines open to Santa Clarita, Ventura County, and San Bernardino County. The Red Line is opening in 1993, the Green Line in 1995, and conceivably the Pasadena line in 1996 and Metro Rail to the Valley in 2000. It’s an exciting time for the L.A. area.

What milestones on the merger should we be watching for during 1992, and what action remains to be taken in Sacramento?

The RTD and LACTC now have a common consensus plan to be sub­mitted to the Legislature. We expect the Governor to sign the bill during 1992, and it will take a few months to organize the superagency. It will be composed of 13 board members — four representatives from the City of L.A., the five county supervisors, and four from cities in LA.County. There will be a CEO and three sub-structures: Operations, which may or may not be the RTD; Design and Construction, now performed by the RCC; and a third division that will incorporate some of the current planning functions of LACTC.

There have been various fears ex­pressed about the merger — about the powerful CEO, the composition of the board, and the effects on bus service. How are these fears being allayed? 

The power of the CEO has been mitigated because I was successful in getting an amendment that the super-board will hire and fire the operating officers. But there is no question that the CEO will be a very powerful position. I would imagine that the super-agency will go out on a national search — Neil Peterson would be highly considered but by no means is the job closed. 

What can we expect in terms of development from this $5 or $6 bil­lion per year? 

First, I want to make it very clear that the superagency is not in the field of development: all of the re­sources will be dedicated to trans­portation. However, we own a lot of real estate along the lines and around stations. We have been successful in joint venture development to create mixed-use development. A case in point is the Catellus project at Union Station where RTD agreed to locate their headquarters. It provides a selfish benefit to RTD and also revital­izes development near the station, in an important part of the city where development should occur, near the hub of 500 miles of rail. 

Another project is the Wilshire­-Alvarado station, where Kaplan-­McLaughlin-Diaz has prepared a master plan that will go before the RTD board in the first week of February. This is a very exciting plan because it will revitalize nightlife, provide security, clean up an area overrun by drug dealers, provide a supermarket and other retail, and provide residential development above all of it. RTD would provide tax-exempt financing to make it fea­sible for a developer.

Another case is the revitalization at Fourth and Hill and Fifth and Hill. We have jewels in Grand Central Market, the Bradbury Building, Bun­ker Hill and Angels Flight, and Pershing Square. But as it stands now, no one has any reason to wander around that area. KMD has prepared for RTD a vision of what that area could be, and where the pedestrian linkages are so people can walk from Pershing Square to Grand Central Market.

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On Sunset and Vermont, we put the breaks on the design and while we took three months to do a plan, the construction was not delayed. The result was a better plan. LACTC will enter a joint venture with Children’s Hospital for a 150,000 sq. ft. medical office building, and by taking an ag­gressive position, there will be low- and moderate-income housing on top of the tower. These are some ex­amples of how the transit agency can be the driving force to provide desperately-needed housing in the area. 

What are the obstacles to achieving the linkages you've discussed? 

It’s a train of thought, it’s bureau­cratic thinking. At the Sunset/Ver­mont station, the Commission hired a consortium of consultants. When they made their presentation to the Ad Hoc Committee on Joint Devel­opment, their conclusion was to have a medical office tower. They dis­cussed hotels, retail, and offices, but not once did housing come up. We’re talking about 10,000 employees there — nurses, clerical staff and others who need affordable housing. The answer from the consultants was that LACTC staff did not give them a direction. Even the consultants fell into the trap of business and usual. I said you have the land free and clear, why not provide housing, and they said, “you are right.”

Another case in point is the Warner Center Specific Plan. We are spend­ing billions of dollars to develop a rail line between the east and west San Fernando Valley and the Warner Center plan was concrete and more concrete, creating overpasses and superstreets. They didn’t address rail at all because, they said, “We didn’t believe it would happen.” The people who make these decisions live in Alhambra or Covina, they make these decisions on the 10th Floor of City Hall, and take their car and go home. It will take an aggressive push on the part of our elected officials to think of creative ways of doing things. 

You wrote about it early in 1991, but only just a few weeks ago did LACTC hold a workshop on land use in L.A. The Commission did this, not City Hall. Why? I have my conjecture, but I’ll keep it for myself. 

During 1992 we will see the comple­tion of the Congestion Management Program. What are your expecta­tions on how successful it will be in linking transportation and land use planning? 

I don’t believe you will see any results in this decade from the CMP. The reason is that you won’t have any development. So the Commission is going to waste $4 million per year on meetings, paper, and a lot of talk. The plan calls for mitigation fees if the development occurs. But anyone who knows about the city knows that we are in a depression and the supply can take care of demand for almost ten years. 

Why create a plan where you penalize a developer to mitigate traffic when we are spending $45 billion to develop a transportation system. Isn’t that mitigation? In­stead of encouraging, supporting, and seducing development along the rail and bus corridors, where the tax money is already spent, we’re creat­ing another, yet-to-be-defined sys­tem, and to do what? In the final analysis, the CMP will be a non­event in this decade.

Can we really link mixed-use devel­opment to transit in this region? 

We can only get more housing by locating it near the rail system. There, we can talk about maximum parking spaces rather than the minimum, reducing the enormous parking costs. You can joint venture with the transit agency which owns a lot of land, and get a density bonus. Then you get affordable housing. 

We need to utilize this multi­billion dollar investment. If we stop thinking of the rail system only as a way to get people from point A to point B and start thinking about how we leverage the money spent, we’ll clean up the air and address our social ills.

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