July 1, 2003 - From the July, 2003 issue

Regional Leaders Address Issues Of Density & Housing

The issue of housing appears to be cresting on the minds and agendas of regional policymakers. TPR queried some local officials on the challenges of providing new housing and the delicate balance of increasing the housing inventory while maintaining or upgrading the quality of life in our neighborhoods. TPR presents this sampling of quotes from leaders across the region.

The relationship with the state with regard to the housing element has been adversarial. In fact, two cities in Ventura County have filed litigation with the state agency against the housing element challenging their numbers. We will have to be able to look at the goals for "smart growth" and the desire of communities to address the issues of traffic and density, yet balance that with the desires to have some open space and quality of life. As a region, Ventura is ahead of most counties and we have been historically because of our standard agreements for development going into cities and for greenbelts between cities. Today's challenge is how to protect that and make it work with the housing demands that are out there.

-- Kathy Long, Ventura County Supervisor

The city of Pasadena is doing its part to meet the regional goals for developing housing. There are some communities that are not and really do need to step up to the plate or be encouraged to do so. Some other cities are not spending their redevelopment dollars in the way they probably could to encourage affordable housing development or even to increase the housing stock. So, there probably needs to be appropriate criticism leveled at some cities because they aren't doing their part to address the shortage of housing regionally.

-- Chris Holden, Councilmember, City of Pasadena

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Glendale is an older community -- meaning it's more mature, it's built out. Our ability to just go build more units is very limited. We need to be creative about how we generate those units, and those units need to be affordable to the community, units that everyone has access to. People needing access to affordable housing are nurses, firefighters, teachers, people who are a part of our community and who we need to have living in our community.

-- Philip Lanzafame, Assistant Director of Development Services, City of Glendale

The development community is very segmented. There are a lot of housing people who don't want to talk about retail. Retail people don't want to talk about housing. Office people don't want to talk to either. I think that we develop silos for each type of real estate, and those silos don't talk to each other at all. What we're going to need is a new breed of developer -- and those people are beginning to come to the floor -- who can do mixed-use, who can speak two or three languages at the same time.

Unfortunately there are many people in the San Fernando Valley, and elsewhere, who are just stuck in the 1950s and don't realize that the 1950s can't be replicated, and it can be quite a hell if we don't move into the 21st century.

-- Joel Kotkin, Senior Research Fellow, Davenport Institute, Pepperdine University School of Public Policy

There's a difference between developing new housing in the inner-city and trying to do it in suburban areas that are also becoming more densely developed. The problem and, the San Fernando Valley may have come up with the solution to be replicated elsewhere, is that the only kind of growth that's probably going to be acceptable is along commercial corridors. That's where the transportation is and that's where the single-family residential owners will accept some sort of growth and density. They don't want to see their single-family communities disrupted with multi-family housing.

-- Bob Scott, Former Chair LA City Planning Commission

In recent years, we've focused on looking at the downtown corridor areas for trying to increase residential development. We would like to get people out of their cars and onto public transportation, most notably the new Gold Line. Also, we have put forth an inclusionary housing ordinance that would require up to 15% of new residential units to be provided as affordable housing

-- Chris Holden, Councilmember, City of Pasadena

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We have these wonderful vast open space areas that are still farmed and/or open space designations. That puts even more pressure on the cities. And as the cities have been redoing their general plans and trying to balance the state housing element demand for housing, the cost of housing has escalated to a critical stage. There has been little development of multiple unit housing complexes because of contract defect laws and other issues. So we are, at this point, working regionally with stakeholder groups educating the public and trying to identify financing tools that will help us develop a greater diversity of housing.

-- Kathy Long, Ventura County Supervisor

The Mayor is driving a housing agenda that is focused on increasing the housing stock for people of all income levels including affordable and workforce housing. The Mayor has demonstrated the leadership necessary to achieve these goals. In his Office of Economic Development he has appointed Assistant Deputy Mayor Sarah Dusseault to lead his housing agenda; she is supported by Deputy Director of Housing Nataki Finch Richards -- both talented, dedicated individuals. He has renamed the business team the LA Housing and Business Team. The Mayor's housing agenda needs the Council offices to strongly support his agenda if we are to be successful. They need to work with the neighborhoods in their districts -- particularly with the neighborhood councils -- to help people understand that additional housing and greater density can improve the quality of life in targeted communities rather than diminish it.

Some communities have a knee-jerk reaction when we talk about density without knowing that there are designs that can really improve the quality of life in a neighborhood. Educating those communities that are not aware of the potential to revitalize communities through well-planned and well-designed density and encouraging owners of under-utilized land to sell their property to housing and mixed-use developers -- especially along our many tired commercial corridors -- are significant challenges, but also significant opportunities.

-- Jonathan Kevles, Deputy Mayor of Economic Development, City of Los Angeles

To solve the housing crisis, first and foremost, we need to engage the talent and capital of the private sector because for-profit developers build the vast majority of new housing. In addition, present capital market conditions are very favorable for residential development -- interest rates are at an all time low and equity capital is readily available. We need to create an atmosphere that encourages the best developers to come to Los Angeles with confidence that they if they propose well-designed and appropriately scaled projects, they will be able to obtain entitlements and build housing. That means we need an entitlement system that is efficient and yields certainty and predictability. If we can create an entitlement system that is fair and efficient, we should also be able to insist that developers build housing featuring the highest quality architecture, amenities, design, and landscaping -- housing that adds value to a neighborhood.

-- Mitch Menzer, President, Los Angeles Planning Commission

But, there is a definite tendency on the part of discretionary bodies to keep looking over their shoulders making sure that they're not stepping on toes at City Hall. It's difficult for anybody to be independent and overcome that problem. As a commissioner, the most you can do is make a few statements as to the reasoning of the decision-making process and try to encourage your fellow commissioners to take a stand based upon objective logic rather than on passion and politics.

Planning in the smaller cities of Calabasas, Burbank, San Fernando, and Glendale is done naturally and more holistically. People in those cities see the entire community when they're deciding where something goes. It's virtually impossible to have that kind of holistic thinking in the City of Los Angeles because it's so spread out; there are so many different cultures and different mind-sets. The lesson is that we're stuck doing ad-hoc planning in Los Angeles until we come up with an entirely new paradigm -- a new vision.

-- Bob Scott, Former Chair LA City Planning Commission

For Glendale, there is more of a suburban mindset. We've all grown up with it and we think that the American dream is to have our own house with a big lawn in front. What I think is interesting and attractive about mixed-use development, when you go into it you feel something, like when you travel to Europe. I think it's a connectedness to people. Overcoming that desire to separate ourselves and have a connectedness among our neighbors, I think is one of the major challenges.

-- Philip Lanzafame, Assistant Director of Development Services, City of Glendale

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