December 21, 2015 - From the December, 2015 issue

Metro’s Joint Development Goal: Transit Oriented Communities

With Metro’s CEO emphasizing the strengthening of communities and the role of transportation innovation in doing so, TPR checked in with Jenna Hornstock to find out how Metro is implementing these priorities on the ground. Hornstock, Deputy Executive Officer of Countywide Planning and Development, oversees the authority’s Joint Development Program and Union Station Master Plan. She describes how Metro approaches its property: bringing together local government to better understand neighborhood priorities and leveraging partnerships to achieve community benefit. She also updates readers on the master planning of Union Station.


Jenna Hornstock

“The ultimate win is to leverage partnerships in order to achieve a multitude of goals at the site.” —Jenna Hornstock

Metro CEO Phil Washington favors thinking about transportation not just as the “T” in transit-oriented development, but also as part of a strategy of investing resources in transportation to build communities. Is that part of your role at Metro?

Jenna Hornstock: That is absolutely part of my role here. In particular, I’m now managing the Joint Development Program, through which we embrace the concept of transit-oriented communities. 

Within Joint Development, we’re moving beyond the goal of “getting a project done on Metro-owned land.” We’re looking more holistically at how that development links into a broader set of community development goals and supporting communities that can take full advantage of public transit.

Distinguish between transit-oriented development and transit-oriented communities, as defined by Mr. Washington.

TOC is a comprehensive look at how a rail station or a joint-development site at a rail station impacts a broader community context. 

For our joint development sites, we ask: What are the community development goals of that area? What kinds of amenities are needed in that community? What are the opportunities for active transportation connections at our site? How can the perimeter of the site link into investments we know might be coming for active transportation? How do we use that site to instigate and support further investment in the infrastructure? 

We believe it all links back to creating more mobility options for communities and supporting public transit. The more we can center communities around public transit, through our joint-development sites and other targeted investments, the more people will get out of their cars and find other modes of transportation.

What does that mean for Metro’s existing investments, which you’re overseeing?

For joint development, it means we’re changing how we look at individual projects. 

We recently looked at how we manage our joint development process and updated our Joint Development Policy.We have a stronger emphasis on collaboration with local jurisdictions as well as community engagement throughout the joint-development process.

On the Crenshaw Line, for example, the first step we took when evaluating joint-development opportunities was to hold a workshop with each impacted city—the City of Los Angeles and the City of Inglewood. We invited various departments, from Planning to Transportation to elected officials. With everybody around the table, we said, “Here are the sites Metro owns. We want to understand what’s happening at the city level, from land-use planning to public improvements and investments, and what you understand about the communities and their goals.”  We have also started going to community meetings to introduce ourselves and our process.  This is prior to launching into our formal joint-development process.

Next, we’re bringing in design and architecture firms to help us create a community-driven Guide for Development for each site. We’re going to have focus groups and larger workshops to create the guide, which will then go to our Board of Directors for approval prior to us releasing a Request for Proposals for our joint-development sites. 

With the change in our process and focus on TOC, we’re trying to engage with the folks that understand these communities, that are investing there, and know what they need, so that we can bring that into the vision for the site.

Could you elaborate on the meetings in Inglewood you mentioned?

In Inglewood, we had Mark Ridley-Thomas’s office from LA County, the Mayor’s Office, the Planning Department, the City Manager, and the City’s economic development staff sitting around the table. We had a map of Metro’s properties, along with a neighboring county property. 

In this case, the county owns a Department of Social Services building right at the station site. The Board of Supervisors recently passed a motion to vacate that property, as it is not heavily used. They’ve asked Metro to lead the redevelopment of that site through our joint-development process.  We have put this relationship in place through an MOU with the county’s Community Development Commission. It is one example of this holistic approach to transit-oriented communities: Think creatively and leverage all available resources to make our stations support communities. 

We talked about the city’s thoughts for the station area, as well as their current land-use planning efforts. The City of Inglewood has two active planning grants from Metro through our Transit-Oriented Development Planning Grant Program. They’re in the process of creating specific plans at two stations on the Crenshaw/LAX line, including the Fairview Heights station, which will be a joint development site. 

That meeting involved talking about everything Inglewood knows is going on, some of the planning work and planned-for public improvements, as well as how we can best engage with Inglewood and its stakeholders in the joint-development process.

Using Inglewood as a case study, what would be the win/win of a successful joint development process?

The ultimate win is to leverage partnerships in order to achieve a multitude of goals at the site. 

Around the Fairview Heights station, there’s a lot of talk and interest in better pedestrian connections between the station and the neighboring properties, and particularly moving into the single-family neighborhood around it. There is a desire to see a more active pedestrian plaza around the station.

There are also concerns about parking, since a nearby church has a big need for it on Sundays. 

We aim to integrate additional goals of the city and the community into our joint development, and then leverage additional funding sources. You can’t expect that a development will absorb all of the costs for different community-driven needs, but with a developer, the county, Metro, and the city at the table, we can work to find the funding needed to implement a broader vision. 

Inglewood’s Mayor Butts and his council are 10 years into a major transformation of their city, and  Metro is a significant contributor to the positive change. Metro appears to have a clear, direct, inclusive, and politically driven positive partnership with Inglewood. Is that essential for building transit-oriented communities? Do local governments need to be as invested in partnership as Metro?

I absolutely believe that is the case. The kind of work we want to do—this more comprehensive community development—requires strong partnerships with local municipalities. It’s going to require coordination and communication about various goals so that they’re aware of the outreach we’re doing, and the commitments we are making, and of course to find the funding to bring these projects to fruition. 

Through our Call for Projects and the TOD Planning Grant, Metro currently provides funding to municipalities for public improvements and land-use planning.   Inglewood has two of those TOD Planning grants.  But that is not enough. 

Let’s look at a hypothetical example: If we find out, once we start our joint-development process, that there’s a desire for a community art center serving youth on the ground floor of a housing development on our property, that would take a partnership with local municipalities and a host of other funders—foundations, the County, or other organizations.  We would also need to find an operator.

We will have to work together to figure out how to bring community-serving amenities into our joint development projects. Particularly with no redevelopment tax-increment available, we’re all going to have to get creative and bring something to the table.

Flag for us the tools and opportunities being intiated to implement Metro’s vision of transit-oriented communities.

For Metro, the number one tool we bring is land available for development. Second, our investment in transit infrastructure is a huge tool for building community. Third, we’ve made investments through our TOD Planning Grant Program, where we’re helping cities create the land uses needed to support TOD. Finally, we bring our joint development team.  We are a team of professionals dedicated to embracing the TOC approach to our sites, and we have built a team of individuals with strong community development backgrounds.  We are up to the challenge.

Other tools include cities’ or other municipalities’ ability to leverage federal or local dollars to support affordable housing, public improvements, and economic development.  Just as important, our partners are the ones with regulatory land-use control and will be the developers’ partners in securing entitlements for the sites. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention newer tools, such as AB 2 Community Revitalization Investment Areas, as well as EIFDs. It’s critical that Metro partner with municipalities looking at these tools to support and encourage active transportation and transit-supportive public improvements around our stations to be part of these districts.

Advertisement

Beyond Inglewood, what projects are Joint Development priorities today?

We are really busy right now. We were active in negotiations on several projects before I came into Joint Development. Then, with the recession, many of these projects came to a slow grind. Now most of those projects are back and looking to move forward. Add to that new opportunities stemming from new lines under construction.

We have three sites in construction right now and six in active negotiations, meaning we have a developer, we’re working through the various stages of negotiation, and the projects are making their way through the entitlement process.  

We have eight active opportunity sites. This means that our stakeholders and the development community should expect to see a lot of action in 2016.  We will begin the Development Guidelines process for seven sites in the next year: two sites on the Crenshaw Line, two on the Gold Line in Boyle Heights, and we’re looking at our large bus facility in El Monte right now. We’re talking to Caltrans about purchasing adjacent property from them, which would open up a potential joint-development site there. We’re doing a feasibility study at the Vermont/Santa Monica station, and will start on our Sepulveda station—a park-and-ride facility with over 12 acres on the Orange Line—later in the year. 

We completed the Development Guidelines process for our North Hollywood site and released the RFP to our shortlisted developers, Greenland USA and Trammell Crow, on December 4. Our North Hollywood site is over 15 acres and probably the most valuable site in our portfolio. 

If we are successful in our community outreach efforts, we expect to release five RFPS in 2016 with two more in 2017. I’ll add that there are a host of other opportunity sites that are still opportunities, but we’re not active on them at this moment. You can study all of this on our updated webpage (www.metro.net/toc) and also sign up to get regular updates.

Phil Washington has created an Office of Extraordinary Innovation. How is that office collaborating with your responsibilities?

This office is a commitment to being innovative and thinking creatively—and my team is certainly committed to that approach. 

I’ve opened up a dialogue with Josh Schank, our Chief Innovation Officer, and shared our TOC demonstration program as an example of the innovation we’re bringing from Joint Development. We’re going to continually touch base and keep working together to make sure that we’re moving in the direction of innovation.  Another piece we are working on is an Unsolicited Proposals Policy for Joint Development.  The agency is working on an overall unsolicited proposals policy, but we have adapted ours specifically for development.

Phil’s commitment to transit-oriented communities shows transformative thinking about our role within communities. I see the commitment to innovation as a critical resource when we come up against some of the challenging questions we face with our projects—in particular, how can we, through our joint development work, become a solution to the concerns about displacement caused by the current unprecendented investment in transit?

When we last did an interview with you in 2014, we focused on the Union Station master planning process. Can you bring us up to date as the new year approaches?

I like it when I can point to a whole lot of progress within a short period of time! 

Since July 2014, we have finalized the Union Station Master Plan and have taken a set of implementation recommendations to our Board of Directors in October 2014. 

We’ve secured three grants for our Stage 1 Improvements, which look at perimeter improvements to the station. We got $1 million from the county, focused on Father Serra Park on Alameda right across the street, and we will be starting design on street improvements to create a better connection between the front of the station and El Pueblo, as well as implementing some improvements at that park. 

That $1 million will be greatly helped by a very recent grant award. In October, we were awarded $12.3 million from the state’s Active Transportation Program for improvements along Alameda Street. This is where we’re looking at a road diet and widening sidewalks to create better multimodal connectivity for bikes and pedestrians in front of the station. This was the largest grant awarded through the ATP program statewide. We’re very proud of that effort. Complementing this work is $1.2 million in grant and local match funds to create a bike hub at Union Station. That design work is getting started.

We’ve also selected a contractor and kicked off our Programmatic EIR for the Union Station Master Plan. This is critical because we can’t actually adopt the Master Plan or implement the major projects in the USMP until the whole programmatic concept is cleared through a CEQA process. That will take about one year to complete. 

We are also actively coordinating with the SCRIP team—the Southern California Regional Interconnector Project, previously known as the “run-through tracks.” The Master Plan assumed SCRIP was happening, but Metro’s Regional Rail team is leading the project into design and engineering.  SCRIP will raise some, and possibly all, of the tracks and carry them over the 101 Freeway. Then they’re going to loop around and link into the main rail lines that run along the LA River. 

That’s important because it will effectuate one of the large Union Station Master Plan recommendations: the multimodal concourse. Through the SCRIP design and engineering work, our consultant team, HDR, has confirmed the need for that multimodal concourse—once we raise the yard, we need that expanse of space beneath it to allow for vertical circulation for passengers. This means we need elevators, escalators, and stairwells, as opposed to the ramps we have today.  We also need the space for regular passenger circulation, for getting through the station,  and for making transfers. Add to the SCRIP planning the planning for high-speed rail at Union Station, and we have a huge push to identify the first set of major transit improvements at the station.

How does the inclusion of high-speed rail shake up the plan?

High-speed rail is a huge and really important part of the transit improvements coming to Union Station.

In the Master Plan, we took an “illustrative approach” to high-speed rail at Union Station because, at that time, the High-Speed Rail Authority wasn’t yet working on detailed engineering for the alignment and station configuration at Union Station. Our illustrative approach preferred a HSR station under Vignes Street and the city’s Piper Tech facility, on the east side of Union Station. 

Since then, and in coordination with SCRIP, the High-Speed Rail Authority is focused on the engineering and alignment options for Union Station. They are looking to share platforms at our station, where Metrolink and Amtrak trains are today. In order to do that, they’re working closely with our Regional Rail team to determine how changes to the platforms would affect capacity for Metrolink and Amtrak, and what has to be included in the SCRIP project to accommodate this. As I mentioned, we have confirmed that all parties need that large multimodal concourse proposed in the Master Plan, because that large space will accommodate everybody. 

High-Speed Rail is absolutely at the table with us. They’re a large driving force in SCRIP, and one of the first major transit-improvement investments in Union Station under the master plan.

As the coordination effort becomes clearer, the Master Plan EIR will coordinate with the environmental process for SCRIP and high-speed rail, so we will move concurrently to get these projects defined and approved.

When we spoke in 2014, we used San Francisco’s Transbay Center as a benchmark from which to judge how bold, inventive, and innovative LA’s Union Station would be. Can we continue that comparison?

I think the Master Plan hit that benchmark. It’s a great vision for the station, positioning it as the center of a new, expansive area that knits together several cultural and historic communities. Rather than just connecting west to the existing action Downtown, we see the station as an opportunity to connect north, west, south, and east. That’s bold.  Adding in high speed rail and coordinating with them on planning efforts further gives us an opportunity to make bold impacts.

In addition, the LA River is our neighbor and a huge opportunity to have a dramatic impact on the east side of the station. 

The vision is there and exciting things are on the table, from the potential billion-dollar investment in the river to high-speed rail. We might be a couple of years behind San Francisco, but we’re headed that way.

Obviously, San Francisco is a much smaller jurisdiction than the County of Los Angeles. Could you talk about who, in the larger county and region, is helping to shape the vision for all this investment by Metro, High-Speed Rail, and others into the basin? 

The Metro Board and CEO have shown a commitment to Union Station by supporting the Master Plan, our implementation plan, which includes a Programmatic EIR, the SCRIP project, and now coordination with the High-Speed Rail Authority. Add to that the importance of the City of LA—the Mayor and Councilmember Huizar, whose district covers Union Station—as well as County Supervisor Solis.  The Los Angeles Department of City Planning is also a key partner, and will be working closely with us on the EIR, as well as taking a look at the Alameda District Specific Plan, which includes Union Station and the neighboring Terminal Annex property.

We have had strong support in our initial planning efforts. The next big moment will come when SCRIP, in conjunction with the High-Speed Rail Authority, figures out the investment we need to make in the transit infrastructure at the station.  This investment will accommodate future transit growth, but it will also set the stage for new commercial development and placemaking. That will be a key moment to see who’s stepping up to champion this vision. 

<

Advertisement

© 2019 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.