November 1, 2010 - From the October, 2010 issue

Local Public Agencies Gear Up for Accelerated (30-10) Build Out of Transportation System

This month, the federal government announced the first loan in connection with the 30-10 Plan. The $546 million loan for the Crenshaw/LAX Line will serve as a pilot project of sorts for this unprecedented proposal. With Measure R money flowing, and with the possible accelerating effect of the 30-10 Plan looming, local officials are redoubling their efforts to ensure the system is delivered efficiently and intelligently. To detail the preparations underway at Metro and the L.A. City Planning Department, TPR/MIR presents the following excerpts from the recent ULI L.A. FutureBuild event, featuring Martha Welborne, Metro chief of planning; Vince Bertoni, chief deputy director, Los Angeles Department of City Planning and Denny Zane, founder of MoveLA.

Martha Welborne

Vince Bertoni, chief deputy director, Los Angeles Department of City Planning: To talk a little bit about the built component of how we move people around the city, sometimes across long distances and sometimes very short distances, one of the things we will be concentrating on in the Planning Department is as we move people around the city, what the city will look like from a built standpoint. What will the built environment offer once these projects are all built out? To give a little context in terms of Los Angeles itself: We are the lion's share of some of the major bus and rail lines in the county...if you look at the Westside subway extension, in terms of the existing stations, about 58 percent are in the city, for the future Westside subway extension, we are 46 percent. The next phase of the Expo line is 57 percent. The future Crenshaw line is at 71 percent. How we plan in L.A. is going to really impact the success of these various stations for the whole system.

When you look at the planning of the stations, we have a lot of challenges that we are dealing with. We have a lot of land uses that may not support these stations once they are constructed. We have a lot of development standards-and for those of you who work in development in Los Angeles, none of this is probably news to you-in our zoning, and the community plans are in a earlier 20th century frame of mind in terms of zoning and planning. They don't have the type of heights, densities, and parking standards that would support transit oriented development. That is a big challenge.

Another big challenge is that L.A. is a very unique place; we have 15 council districts that are all very different. We have very diverse communities and an incredibly diverse city. One of the things that we struggle with all of the time is how we keep these communities unique, viable, and sustainable over time while accommodating new growth. What we plan on doing is trying to capitalize on what we are building...from Downtown to the Eastside to Boyle Heights and show the middle and southern and western end of our metro area how to be a little bit more forward looking in terms of planning for these areas.

We are looking at a four-tiered approach. First, we want to talk about the general alignments. Some of the lines have somewhat general alignments, such as the 405 corridor and some of the bus line corridors. What we plan on doing is working with Metro and some of the other agencies to bring together a city consensus on the alignments. The other thing we are looking at doing is bringing together some consensus at the city level on land use and transportation issues regarding station locations where those haven't been finalized yet, along with dealing with the design of those stations. That is the first task we have.

The second thing we plan on doing is looking at our community plans. If you aren't familiar with Los Angeles, we have a citywide General Plan, or our long-range plan, which is divided into 35 community plans covering the entire city, plus we have a plan for the port and the Los Angeles International Airport. Those plans act as the Land Use Element for out communities. We want to be strategic and effective as possible. We want to look at some of those community plans that have both a high concentration of future stations and might be older plans that might be out of date. We want to look at those more comprehensively because we understand that we just can't look at the transit station, we are also going to have look at how we move around some of these plan areas because they are so old. That is one of things that we want to do-start to address some of our high priority community plans now.

The next thing is doing TOD districts around many of the stations that are outside of plans. For those community plans that we will update because they have a high concentration, which I just mentioned, we will do some transportation oriented planning. Outside of those plans, there are some community plan areas that are already going through updates-like South L.A., Southeast L.A., and West Adams; Hollywood, and Wilshire recently went through fairly comprehensive updates. Those areas we want to go back in and take a look at the new stations in those areas and take a look at how we can do better transit planning around them.

When we look at those things, we need to also look at the zoning. Right now, the zoning doesn't allow a lot of height in those areas, doesn't allow a lot of density, and requires a lot of parking. Our goal around the new transit districts is to make sure that we look, within a reasonable area, with walking and biking to that area, to how we can increase the heights and densities and decrease the parking but also put some parameters in there. This is going to be a conversation not just with the citywide agencies but also with the council districts and communities who are also concerned about what their communities are going to look like near those transit stations. We will have that conversation with the communities as part of that. We hope we strike a balance there, where we can allow development and density and fewer parking requirements in exchange for more certainty for the neighborhood in terms of what will actually go in there. It will be a challenge. I did a rough count and found that our part of 30-10 planning was going to go into ten different council districts. That is two-thirds of the council districts and ten very different councilmembers for ten very different constituencies with different needs.

The fourth part that we will look at is once we do these plans that things actually get built with the plans. We are looking at a marketing component so we can market these transit oriented districts so people know about them-so they know about the rules and they don't sit there like a coffee table book; they get used and implemented. That is a major goal.


All this planning along that four-tiered approach will be done in conjunction with a lot of other planning efforts. When we talked about the issue of bicycling and how we work with that around the stations, we also are updating a new Bicycle Master Plan for the city. That is going out to public hearings very soon. We looked at the existing and future transit stations as part of that to try to make sure that we are doing very strategic bicycle planning to support future stations.

One of our challenges is always is whether we can get all this done-can we deliver on the promises? It will take some time and it will take some staffing. We will be asking, probably, for some staffing to accomplish this. We are looking at having dedicated staff for this so we can make sure things aren't re-prioritized and they are not able to get to this path. We are looking at creating a dedicated unit for the 30-10 Plan. Hopefully, if we do all that, once the first stations open up, we will have land use and zoning practices that will support this and change the way we move around the city and experience the city.

Denny Zane, Founder of MoveLA: One of the things that comes up when we talk about TOD, especially on a more accelerated basis, is how we make sure that the existing residents are beneficiaries, that the whole thing isn't a displacement or gentrification program, in effect-that low and moderate income residents don't find themselves displaced from their communities. How do we protect existing residents and ensure equity as this whole thing goes forward?

Vince Bertoni: There will be a few things we need to do. For a variety of reasons, when we plan for these districts, we need to make sure we plan outside of the area where the station is going to be. We actually have to plan a larger area, thinking of housing so that we aren't displacing housing, but also to ensure that we aren't creating a donut hole where the station is, creating more financial economic incentives outside of the station area than inside the station area. We need to balance those. That will also be accomplished by a more citywide affordable housing strategy because affordable housing needs are different in different parts of our city. There really isn't a one-sized fits all for all of the communities. Part of it is a holistic approach. We do have a separate, ongoing housing strategy that we are looking at now.

Denny Zane: The announcement recently of a $546 million loan program for the Crenshaw Light Rail ought to be regarded both as a down payment and gesture of seriousness on the part of the Obama administration. What seems to be a very good idea is blooming into a very good reality. Let's assume for the minute that we are successful and the Crenshaw Corridor becomes successful for a follow up commitment. I put this question to Martha: Are our institutions capable of accelerating the construction to the level envisioned by 30-10. Do we have the access to skilled labor, design, or material? How realistic is it to implement even if we get the funding?

Martha Welborne, chief of planning, Metro: That is a great question and one I worry about every day. From the outside 30-10 seems like a really great idea. When you get inside and realize, "Oh my God, 12 projects times ten years. That is daunting." But it is the type of problem we want. It is a great opportunity. It is not just that Metro works alone. We have a lot of consultants. If you look at the amount of ramp up for the projects, there is a column for the consultant teams and a column for the Metro teams. You can think of a lot of different players to mobilize quickly. You are right to say "institutions" plural, because it is not just a Metro or city issue. Any time we go after federal money, Metro is involved with scrutinizing every little thing we do. For ridership projections, we have to do it exactly the way they want us to the ridership projects. There is a lot of back and forth, a lot of interaction, and a lot of milestones that can be stopped or slowed down by anyone. Two of the draft EIRs and EISs are out on the street right now in the comment period-those are the subway to the Westside and the Regional Connector. Just making sure those got out-if the feds didn't let those out. They wouldn't have gone out. There are many, many institutions. State players are involved as well. We are working as fast as we can. There is a momentum and an adrenaline that builds up when you have so much to do. It is a very exciting place right now. We have also just gone under a reorganization. I am undertaking a reorganization of Planning because we are splitting Highways out into its own entity. The transit projects and the long term planning will be under me but separate from Highways. We are trying to carefully assign staff and teams of staff. I am sure when the budget comes back, I will ask for more staff.


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