July 2, 2019 - From the July, 2019 issue

Metro’s Jenna Hornstock: A Transit Planning Professional’s Exit Interview

Jenna Hornstock has served Metro’s ambitious planning efforts since 2011 as Executive Officer for Transit-Oriented Communities and as former Deputy Executive Officer of Countywide Planning. In this TPR exit interview, Hornstock reflects on her experience at Metro as she moves on from the agency to join Trifiletti Consulting.  Hornstock stresses the importance of maintaining a holistic approach to planning that emphasizes community outreach and equity as Metro navigates the evolving complexities of planning for integrated, transit-oriented communities in Los Angeles. 


Jenna Hornstock

“Delivering Measure M demands a holistic look at Metro’s transit corridors—where the lines go, where the stations are sited and how they’re oriented, how first/last-mile planning fits in, and more.”—Jenna Hornstock

Jenna, you’ve served Metro since 2011, as Deputy Executive Officer of Countywide Planning to your most recent role as Executive Officer for Transit-Oriented-Communities. Elaborate on your Metro planning responsibilities.

Jenna Hornstock: In my first few years at Metro, I ran the Union Station Master Plan. It was a great introduction to holistic transit planning, and it’s an effort I’m still very proud of. I also oversaw our new Transit-Oriented Development Planning Grant Program, which provided grants to municipalities to create transit-supportive land-use plans around our system.

In 2014, I got the exciting opportunity to overhaul the Joint Development program by strengthening the affordable housing requirements and developing a more authentic community outreach process to precede Metro’s Request for Proposal process. Later on, I also took on executive responsibility for parking management, first/last-mile planning, and transit station design through Metro’s Systemwide Design team.

And the Union Station Master Plan…

We worked with a great team led by Gruen and Grimshaw as well as a broad range of stakeholders—from transit advocates, to active transportation advocates, to the historic preservation community, to rail enthusiasts, to our neighbors—to create a plan that reflected the vision of the community and transit riders and create a world class transit facility and destination at Union Station.

At the beginning of the outreach process, we heard two things loud and clear. One was that it wasn’t easy to get around the station, and people were getting lost. That prompted us to launch an environmental graphics program to re-sign Union Station in time for its 75th anniversary. That was a fun and educational process, and the signage work we did really helped passenger circulation and the overall experience at the station.

We also heard that the station felt really disconnected from the rest of Downtown, despite being so close by. In response, we launched the Connect US Action Plan, a community-driven plan for bike and pedestrian improvements to better connect the station to all the neighborhoods around it: Little Tokyo, Civic Center, Chinatown, even Los Angeles State Historic Park.

This plan encapsulates the type of work I’m proud of having done at Metro. We started by looking at existing plans that stakeholders had already developed – there were 88 plans across the communities surrounding Union Station. Then we built on that to design an integrated network that could be implemented in pieces. The Plan identified 13 specific improvements that could be built as we found the money. In other words, we created a holistic, connected vision, but one that could be implemented over time. This kind of planning work may not be as exciting as one giant project, but it’s rooted in what’s really going on and how things really happen.

The city of Los Angeles made Connect US part of its Mobility Plan 2035 as well as the Central City and Central City North community plan updates. Between the city and Metro, we have secured $60 million in grants to implement projects and we are still counting.

Describe your role in the transformation of Metro’s Joint Development program, which partners with the real estate community to develop Metro-owned land surrounding transit stations. 

When I took on the Joint Development program in 2014, my charge from our board and senior leadership was to implement more aggressive affordable housing policies, more thoughtful and transparent community engagement and in general to jump start stalled projects and create a clearer work program that brings commercial development to Metro-owned land .

To do that, I built a team of folks who had worked in redevelopment and affordable housing development, and who understood public-private real estate partnerships through a community development lens. We ended up adopting some of the most aggressive affordable housing policies in the country and revamping our approach to development guidelines, which set the vision and rules of engagement for a site, and to do this through deeper and more authentic community engagement and strong collaboration with our municipal partners.

During my tenure the team produced seven sets of development guidelines and six successful RFPs, with two more coming in the next six months. The program has a robust affordable housing portfolio and a clear path for staying active in the years to come. Just as importantly, there’s a great team in place who will continue to deliver great projects and keep improving the program now that I’m gone.

Metro recently announced it would charge for parking at several rail stations. Elaborate on this decision.

Between 2014 and 2017, I was the executive over parking management, and the team rolled out its first parking management program.  This included deferred maintenance of parking lots, using technology to manage parking demand, and importantly rolling out a system to charge for parking at transit stations. Our policy was almost a textbook “Shoupista” model—following the principles of the much-revered Professor Donald Shoup—and it worked. Metro was able to realize the economic impacts of parking, encourage people to get to stations by other modes, and deter people who weren’t taking transit from using our station parking.  In addition, the parking team created a new model for determining parking needs at transit stations, and that model is based on the location of the station along an alignment, demographic factors, and importantly, the model assumes that Metro charges for parking. This program has changed the way the agency manages and plans for parking.

I’m proud of having a small hand in this major change, but it was really Frank Ching, who is now a Deputy Executive Officer, who did the heavy lift of building a team and rolling out this important change for Metro.

You mentioned Metro’s Systemwide Station Design and First/Last Mile program. Elaborate.

Metro created the Systemwide Station Design, or “kit of parts,” to standardize our design approach to stations. Previously, all the stations looked different. That wasn’t working for a number of reasons. For one, maintenance is more difficult when every station has different materials and paint colors. It also hurts branding; a consistent look helps people recognize the system. And it’s important for customer satisfaction, experience, and safety. Being thoughtful about infrastructure design creates a safer environment that makes more sense to users and also helps operators and safety professionals. That kit of parts is now Metro policy, and the Systemwide Station Design team reviews station plans throughout planning, design, and construction.

The First/Last Mile program is really groundbreaking; Metro is the only transit agency in the country with a commitment to first/last-mile planning. I took over the team in the middle of the Blue Line First/Last Mile plan, at a moment when the community-based organizations (CBOs) involved in the process were raising concerns about how things were moving forward. I was able to help reset the dialogue and reframe how we worked with the CBOs to create space for community voices to share how infrastructure has impacted them, both positively and negatively.

That plan has since been held up as an exemplar of how to incorporate equity and authentic community engagement into transportation planning, and how to produce a plan with stakeholder support.  The approach to First/Last mile planning is being carried forward by a strong team at Metro, into all Measure M projects, and I’m very proud of that approach and process.

Metro CEO Phillip Washington is credited with bringing & prioritizing the concept of “transit oriented communities” to the agency. How did your work further his vision and Metro’s commitment throughout the County to low-income communities and neighborhoods?

The work of the Joint Development program, Systemwide Station Design and First Last Mile team were the starting places for the concept for realizing TOCs, along with the 2015 TOC Demonstration Program.  In 2016, Measure M was approved by the voters of LA County.  When the Measure M funding guidelines were developed, there was a section in the Local Return guidelines indicating that cities could spend their Local Return funds (this is 17% of Measure M funding) on “transit-oriented community activities”, as defined by Metro’s TOC Policy. Such a policy did not exist at the time. We set out to create one through a working group consisting of members of the Measure M Policy Advisory Council, advocacy groups focused on the impacts of transit on low-income communities, and the cities who are Metro’s partner in realizing land use and community development goals centered around transit access.

The resulting policy, which the board adopted in June 2018, is groundbreaking. It lays out how we want to see transit, community development, and land use interact.  It also makes clear Metro’s commitment to considering impacts on lower income communities – both positive and unintended negative impacts. Importantly, it acknowledges that Metro doesn’t directly control a lot of the policies, programs and funding mechanisms to create TOCs: Metro does not have regulatory jurisdiction over land use, affordable housing policies and funding, or many other policies that affect low-income communities, like rent control or small business assistance. The TOC Policy identified ways for Metro to enable and incentivize our partners across the county to look at these issues. It positions Metro to play a role beyond the “T” in TOC, looking broadly at community impacts.

 

For the many projects you spearheaded during your time at Metro, what remains to be accomplished?

 

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There’s more to do to flesh out Metro’s role in creating transit-oriented communities. Senior director Elizabeth Carvajal is currently leading the TOC working group to develop an implementation plan for the TOC Policy.  This plan anticipates Metro hosting convenings on issues like parking, anti-displacement policies, and best practices in urban design, as well as creating broader grant assistance programs to help Metro’s partners in their land use and community development work.

There’s certainly more to be done in the Joint Development program, which is ongoing and where Metro has some great sites to be developed. And as important, is how Metro delivers Measure M projects.  The TOC team has put forward a broader set of questions that should be asked as Metro studies, plans, environmentally clears and builds new transit corridors.  These questions look at where the transit lines go, where the stations are sited and how they’re oriented, how first/last-mile planning fits in, and more.  The concept of making TOC part of the transit corridor planning process is critically important to making LA County a transit accessible place, and there’s a great team in place to do it.

Returning to Union Station. In 2017, you noted in TPR that the master plan was “no longer being adopted at the programmatic level,” although it’s “still an important guiding document.” Update our readers on the status of the Union Station Master Plan. 

So many unanticipated changes have happened since we created the master plan that we can no longer follow it play by play. But the three key goals—transit optimization, connectivity, and creating a destination—are still guiding the work.

There were a few reasons we had to change our approach to Union Station. First, shortly after my team got started on the programmatic EIR for the master plan, the board decided that high-speed rail would come into the station at the railyard. This differed from the recommendation in the master plan, which put HSR on Vignes Street at the City-owned Piper Technical Center.

Second, a fundamental piece of the master plan, the relocation of Patsaouras Plaza, was not funded through Measure M, and this was a core pillar that organized the redevelopment of the station.

Moreover, there’s now a proposal for a gondola to Dodger Stadium, and it’s not yet determined whether the West Santa Ana branch will terminate at Union Station. Those things still need to be figured out. Altogether, enough changes happened that we couldn’t do the programmatic environmental clearance.

However, planning is still going on and many projects identified in the master plan are moving forward. Some focus on connectivity and perimeter improvements, such as the Cesar Chavez Avenue Bus Stop improvements and the Forecourt and Alameda Esplanade Improvements. The latter has CEQA clearance and is going through the NEPA process. Link Union Station, which was redesigned to accommodate high-speed rail at the main platform, is going through environmental clearance and has a portion of its funding. Everybody is making the best effort to make Union Station a world class transit station and destination.

How did the aforementioned changes to the projects included in the Master Plan impact commercial development at Union Station? And, is there still support for a transformed & ambitious Union Station – which will once again be an epicenter of the travel experience in Southern California as like stations in San Francisco, Tokyo and Denver? 

Cohesive commercial development is important because it helps make the destination, and having a mix of uses near the most transit rich place in Southern California can drive transit use. The master plan considered the mix of uses and transit infrastructure coming to Union Station and how they all related to each other. Once those uses started to change, and more infrastructure was anticipated, we realized that it was not yet clear how all the pieces would work together or whether some key sites identified for commercial development would be unlocked after all.

We felt that before we asked the development community to sharpen their pencils and spend time - and money - figuring out a development plan, we must be able to offer clarity about where the key transit components would fall.  In the next 12 months or so, Metro will know how the transit infrastructure proposed will fit into the station, and that will enable Metro to seek a developer partner that can plan for commercial development that will weave together Union Station into a great place.

When undertaking Joint Development projects, how does Metro balance the need for livable communities around transit stations with the need to create a cohesive transportation system?

In most cases, the reason Metro owns a real estate development site is that it has transit infrastructure there. The Joint Development (JD) program doesn’t change that infrastructure, although in some cases, like at the North Hollywood Red Line Station, there is an opportunity to improve and better integrate the infrastructure with the community.

When Metro designs a new transit corridor, the TOC team works with the Corridor Planning team to review proposed land acquisitions around the stations. The goal is to ensure that once the infrastructure is sited, there will still be enough land to develop meaningful transit-supportive amenities and conveniences – whether on Metro-owned land or privately owned land. It’s a balance, because buying more land costs more money, but it’s an active part of the conversation.

Once a site is selected for development through Metro’s JD program, the process begins with the creation of development guidelines that consider both urban design and financial feasibility. Each effort is tailored to the community around the particular site, but the general questions are: What’s working in your community? What do you think is missing or needed? And what is your vision or hope for this site?  Metro balances these questions with its policy goals that include affordable housing, payment of prevailing wages and inclusion of small and locally owned businesses for the project.  Asking and answering these questions can build support from the community and also creates more certainty for the developers who are taking time and spending money to respond to RFPs. The ultimate goal is to enable strategic development around transit in order to make it viable to use the transportation system and to realize triple bottom line developments that promote equitable growth.

  

You’re leaving Metro as ridership numbers decline across the system—both rail and bus. If you were to leave a note in your drawer for the new Chief Planning Officer, James de la Loza, what would you suggest he focus on?

I think the single most important thing is to keep focused on how to deliver holistic, integrated transit corridors. The work that the TOC team has started, asking a broader set of questions throughout the corridor planning and delivery process, is a critical process change and a shift in thought about how Metro delivers projects. There is a perceived conflict, that asking these questions will slow down the process and cost more money – and both of these are cardinal sins.  I don’t believe asking the right questions has to slow down the process or cost money – in the end, Metro has to get it right. There will be tough decisions and trade-offs but those decisions should be made with complete information. There’s so much that needs to change to make public transit a larger part of life in LA County, and that includes more than just creating new transit lines. The urban realm needs to facilitate transit use – we have to make it safe, reliable and pleasant to choose and use transit.  We have to ensure that the places travel to and from are near transit. The transit trip does not start and end at a station or stop – Metro has to be cognizant of where a rider starts and ends their journey.  The TOC approach takes those factors into consideration and builds it into to corridor delivery process.

A second part of that note would be to to lift up Metro’s work around equity and equitable growth and to keep that work moving forward.  If Metro wants to improve quality of life for all Angelenos, its must make equity a key lens for transit planning. Metro recently adopted an Equity Platform, and senior staff is going through racial equity training through the Government Alliance for Racial Equity. All these are key efforts that I hope to see continue.

The good news is there is strong leadership at Metro for all of this. If there’s one thing I can say about Metro, it’s that they are truly committed to the vision of expanding access to public transit.

Finally, share what you hope to focus upon at Trifiletti Consultingyour next professional platform.

What I love about Lisa Trifiletti is that she, like me, is rooted in good public sector work and a “get it done” approach. I’ve been in the public sector for 18 years, including at LA’s Community Redevelopment Agency and the office of Mayor James Hahn. Lisa ran planning for Los Angeles World Airports and worked for former councilmember Jack Weiss. She’s known for her ability to bring stakeholders to the table, think strategically and get the work done, and I like to think of myself that way, too.

Our team of eight helps public- and private-sector clients realize their plans, be it a policy or a program or a project. That’s a special skill: not just planning and thinking about it, but actually bringing it to fruition it in the built environment. We work with private-sector clients on complicated development projects, focusing on land-use entitlements and helping teams think strategically about engaging community and stakeholders, using public financing tools, and telling the story of a project’s multiple benefits. In the public sector, the firm is doing a lot of work in Inglewood around the new stadium development and public transit, as well as working on special projects with the County.  I am really looking forward to contributing some economic development ideas to that work, and to help cities across the County think holistically about land use, economic development and redevelopment, housing and transit.

Similar to my time at CRA/LA and Metro, I’m excited to continue engaging in work that lands in the built environment and truly improves quality of life in Los Angeles.

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