March 19, 2007 - From the March, 2007 issue

New Assemblymember Feuer Provides Insight into Nexus of Land Use Planning & Transportation

In an age when term limits have set in at nearly every level of government, elected officials often move fluidly from the local to state level to keep serving their constituents. Former L.A. City Councilman Mike Feuer has taken that leap to Sacramento, but his commitment to a better L.A. remains unflinching. In the following TPR interview, now-Assemblymember Feuer, of West L.A.'s 42nd District, outlines his state and local agenda.

Mike Feuer

You spent six years in the L.A. City Council and were recently elected to State Assembly. How does the view from the capitol differ from that in City Hall?

I loved being a City Council member in Los Angeles; it was very rewarding. As a member of the State Legislature, I necessarily have a broader perspective on the issues.

As a City Councilmember, I had to be on top of every issue in every neighborhood I served. And that was appropriate because no other official was going to be able to fix potholes and deal with speed humps and nuisances in the community and that sort of thing.

As a member of the State Legislature, people want me to help fix those problems, but I also of course have to grapple with the major issues confronting all Californians -everything from transportation, to education, to major environmental concerns. So far I've found that challenge extremely stimulating. I have a great staff and have already had a chance to move forward on some key issues.

I'm chair of the Budget Subcommittee on Transportation, so I've been riveted on transportation issues, including many local transportation issues. I have introduced close to 20 pieces of legislation, and those bills are grouped in several priority areas: education, the environment, health, kids and senior citizens, the importance of public service, and public safety.

Your Assembly district, like so many others in the L.A. region, encompasses several distinct municipalities. What are your new constituents' common concerns? What are your priorities?

My constituents share an array of common concerns. Obviously there are going to be issues particular to a given neighborhood, but in general they express the same concerns about the tremendous traffic congestion in Los Angeles, the quality of public education, the quality of the environment, and trying to improve access to health care. These issues resonate throughout the district. They may take different forms, depending on the neighborhood, but the basic issues and concerns are the same.

I try to work on two different levels as a member of the Assembly: I try to work on the big picture issues that exist statewide, and then I try to connect my work on those issues to what matters most in the daily lives of my constituents. I think that too often residents view their state legislators as detached from their daily lives and not being particularly relevant. I'm trying to be a combination of a member of the State Legislature and a member of the City Council in that I want my constituency to feel that I'm accessible on issues that are not necessarily thought of as state issues.

You've long been outspoken about land use planning, especially on L.A.'s Westside. How might the Westside grow more dense? What might the Legislature and state government do to contribute to smart growth development statewide?

Yes, I have views about not only how the Westside should grow but also how urban California should grow. Those views, I think, represent the consensus among urban planners. Obviously we need to focus on smart, transit-oriented development predicated by good public transit. There's a key relationship between transportation and land use.

I sought my present committee chairmanship because transportation issues are so integral to so much of what Californians care about every day, and not just to transportation or land use. Transportation is tied to how families relate to each other; for instance, when people are on the road too long returning from work, they need after school programs for their children. Health is associated with how we choose to get around. For example, when we rely on vehicles powered by diesel fuel we are relegating kids in the surrounding areas to diminished lung capacity, asthma, and other health consequences. On the Westside, we should talk about transit-oriented development and mixed-use development, and we should talk about development where infrastructure can handle it. We should talk about development that coincides with amenities that people need in their communities, for example: parks, good schools, and other types of infrastructure. But in many parts of our city and state, those amenities don't exist.

My platform on the Westside would include preserving the nature of single-family neighborhoods while taking advantage of opportunities to grow along major thoroughfares. Not only are there transit stops, or soon-to-be transit stops, nearby, but also because there is other infrastructure already available as well. Obviously, everybody is saying the same thing: we're going to have two million more people in Los Angeles in the next 15 or 20 years just from natural birthrate, so what we do to house, educate, and employ those people-those are the cutting-edge issues facing government at every level today.


With L.A. now fighting for a share of the $20 billion from Prop 1B, what should the Westside's transportation priorities be?

Our transportation priorities should include improving freeways (such as adding a carpool lane to the northbound San Diego Freeway) but also go beyond traditional transportation models. In L.A. we need a subway to Santa Monica. We need to build the light rail along Exposition to Santa Monica. But we also need to think about transportation and land use together.

California voters just approved many billions of dollars of bond funding, including $20 billion alone in transportation. Part of my job is to try to incorporate, to the extent that I can, good land use policies, strong environmental policies, and so on into the allocations process. For example, we might want to reward specific land use planning at the local level by allocating bond funds to communities that have focused on transit-oriented development-how to increase density in certain locations, how to diminish miles driven by commuters every day-in order to reward those communities that have put together land use policies that can be catalysts for more smart land use at the local level.

Tell us more about the transportation subcommittee that you chair. Are you pursuing these kinds of initiatives in committee?

The role of the committee is to deal with budgetary issues associated with transportation, and those include not only bond-funded projects but also transportation funding in the regular budget. I'm going to look across the bonds. In other words, I hope to be among those in Sacramento to look to see how we integrate our allocations for, say, transportation and housing.

For instance, there's money in the housing bond for transit-oriented development, but it's impossible to consider allocating those funds without relating housing policy to transportation policy. There are different line items, for example, in the transportation bond, and one of those items has to do with reducing emissions at ports.

I want to work with my colleagues on how to program those funds to their highest and best use at ports around the state. There are other funds that deal with how the state and local government can partner with each other; for example, those is funding for "state-local partnerships." That line item would be an ideal one into which to infuse these basic values of good, smart growth, limited vehicle miles driven, and so on as we decide how to allocate money.

When you talk to your constituents about issues you've discussed in this interview, like greater density, transit oriented development, etc., how do they react?

Generally, they receive them well. Where the real issues arise are not when one talks about the concepts but rather when one deals with specific locations. I find that that conversation gets much more complex when you talk about a particular corner in someone's neighborhood.

That's why I think we ought to be de-mystifying some of the issues that surround greater density by affirmatively helping locate mixed use near transit and near other infrastructure because once those buildings are constructed and people are living and working and shopping in them, communities will see their value. But it's a very delicate process. If you lead with your chin and support a project as an elected official that has detrimental impacts-even if it sounds like "transit-oriented development" or "mixed use"-you have made a big mistake. We have to make a very strong first impression about this next wave of urban planning by creating projects that can serve as examples of the best of what this kind of land use can be.


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