June 30, 1993 - From the June, 1993 issue

MTA Board Member Larry Zarian: Corridor Planning Opportunities

With the creation of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a new board was appointed, bringing several new faces into regional prominence. Among them is Larry Zarian, Mayor of Glendale, who has become second Vice-Chair of the MTA. He spoke with The Planning Report about the MTA and other planning issues facing local officials.

What can we expect the transit investment that you're overseeing to do for the land-use planning and development of our cities and neighborhoods? 

I think that transportation is one of the key elements in the future of Southern California. A lot of cities are going to plan around transportation - we are doing that along the San Fernando Road corridor. It will be tremendous in bringing people from the inner cities to work in Glendale, Burbank and other cities in the area. 

Those who are transit-dependent are mostly those of different ethnic backgrounds: that will not only create jobs, it will allow people to go to work for better pay without having to spend money on an automobile. I see the transportation investment being a tremendous positive for Southern California over the next century. 

One criticism of transportation planning locally is that its focus has been "on-time/on-budget” to the exclusion of building a city, creating jobs, and shaping quality neighborhoods. Do you see any hope for moving the discussion beyond this stage?

I think you're hearing me say that. We are in a state of flux now until the Los Angeles mayoral election: you're going to have four new MTA members, including the new Mayor himself. Everyone I speak with today is talking about jobs, talking about making sure that the corridor where transit is located creates jobs. We can accomplish both. It's done back east, it's done in Europe - why not here?

The foothill cities, from Burbank going east, have begun to band together on subregional planning and transportation issues. How successful have your efforts been? 

There’s a lot of concern that the foothill corridor be served, going from the San Gabriel Valley to Burbank. And there’s also the Tri-Cities Transportation Coalition (TCTC) working together. The cities of Glendale, Burbank, and Pasadena own an airport. We need to concern ourselves with how to get people to the airport. 

We all have the same concerns and impact each other. Our city managers, city councils, and mayors meet on a regular basis to make sure that on subregional issues we understand the direction we're going. 

You've had some success at downtown redevelopment in recent years. What lessons does Brand Boulevard and your revitalization strategy offer for other cities looking at down­town revivals? 

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It's planning and making sure that you look to the long-term and don't spot develop. Of course, we have made mistakes in Glendale. We are now doing another redevelopment area in the San Fernando Road corridor and will do things differently downtown. Brand Boulevard was mostly high-rise buildings. Now, we're looking at low-rise buildings and mass merchandisers. We’ve done a project called The Exchange and are looking at duplicating that a couple of blocks away, and we're revitalizing the Alex Theater for an arts center. 

Other cities need to make sure that their redevelopment effort doesn't only concentrate in one part of the redevelopment area. We focused north of Broadway and neglected south of Broadway. We now feel we should have paid more attention to that area. 

The intergovernmental relations questions arise all of the time where cities raid from one another rather than create new economic activity. How can we as a region better build a growing economy rather than taking from one another? 

Because we're all in competition with each other, the raiding will continue. But we need to change the image of this region worldwide - we're not doing a lot of that. Last year's episode hurt us tremendously: it will take a long time for us to recover. Spending money in South Central Los Angeles is not the only issue. We need to have ombudsmen in these areas to solve problems and make sure when someone wants to do business in Southern California that they're welcome. 

We need to go around the world and the nation and say that Southern California is the place to be. Just as we've been raided, we need to raid other states, as well. Retention is the key: once you've retained what you've got, then you can go out and get new businesses. 

Redevelopment agencies are under attack, both at the state level and locally. What can you share with us about the usefulness of redevelopment, both for your city and others? 

Redevelopment has revitalized our downtown area. Prior to 1972, we began to see vagrants, porno shops, and closed stores. Redevelopment brought back people and investment. The unfortunate thing is that redevelopment rules have changed, so you don't get back 100% of your tax increment dollars: it's only 50%, and now the state is taking even more of that. This makes it even more difficult for cities to reinvest in their redevelopment areas and revitalize. 

The biggest income we have is sales tax dollars, and if the state continues to take monies away from us, we’ll see a rollback to the 1960s in terms of the deterioration of downtowns all over the state.

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