September 8, 2021 - From the September, 2021 issue

SCAG’s Jenna Hornstock on Planning for Housing-Supportive Infrastructure

While the California legislature deliberated on usurping local control over planning and landuse decisions last month, TPR interviewed Jenna Hornstock on her new role as Deputy Director of Planning for Landuse at SCAG and mayoral appointee to the LA City Planning Commission. With years of experience in transit-oriented planning and development,  Hornstock elaborates on SCAG's toolbox for incentivizing housing production including new state funding for "housing-supportive infrastructure" planning.


Jenna Hornstock

"We want cities to take with open arms this opportunity to make… investments in housing supportive infrastructure, so if we can find a way to create a flexible program that meets cities where they are at and help them invest in infrastructure planning where housing is being planned…that's an opportunity to replace something that redevelopment did.”—Jenna Hornstock

Jenna, elaborate on your new responsibilities at SCAG—the nation's largest metropolitan planning organization (MPO)—given your new role as Deputy Director of Planning for Land Use.

Jenna Hornstock: I came into SCAG at a really exciting moment because I was brought on to manage a few special initiatives. First, the state made a major commitment to support housing-supportive planning at the local and regional level through AB 101. SCAG got a $47 million grant through AB 101's Regional Early Action Planning (REAP) grant program to support sub-regional planning in the interest of accelerating and streamlining housing production. SCAG has never had that large of a grant nor an ability to develop an implementation-focused housing program. One of my roles is overseeing a small but mighty team running this $47 million grant program.

Every May, our Regional Council rotates its President, and in May of 2020, Vice Mayor of Long Beach Rex Richardson became our Regional Council president. His 2020/21 Work Plan directed the development of an Inclusive Economic Recovery Strategy along with developing a Racial Equity Early Action Plan for SCAG, so I was brought in to lead the economic recovery strategy effort.

When I joined, I thought I had two years to get this plan done, but in fact it needed to be done by May 2021 – which makes sense given that we were in the midst of the pandemic and recovery needed to be considered immediately. Then-President Richardson's Work Plan was centered on the approach of 'listen, convene, catalyze'. So we structured our effort by convening folks that work in the many different spheres that touch on economic development to come up with a set of findings and recommendations.

These two efforts are the core of what I've been doing the first nine months of my time at SCAG. In July, our Regional Council adopted the Inclusive Economic Recovery Strategy. In the course of this work, we had some exciting and unexpected funding opportunities come through the May Budget Revise. The state is going to be providing MPOs with funding for what they're calling REAP 2021, which is broader in scope than the first REAP program. REAP 2021 is focused on implementation of the SCS (Sustainable Communities Strategy). The centerpiece of SCAG’s planning work is the RTP/SCS (Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy), which is developed and adopted every four years, and a lot of MPOs have said to the State over the years that they don't have the money to implement all these wonderful policies and ideas in the RTP/SCS. 

Jenna: Elaborate on the purposes of REAP 2.0 funding.

The money in REAP 2021 is to implement the region’s Sustainable Communities Strategy and the trailer bill legislation, AB140, that created this program states that the funding will be for transformative and innovative projects that implement a region’s sustainable communities strategy and help achieve goals of more housing and transportation options that reduce reliance on cars. This means projects and programs that promote infill development, reduction of VMT and increase transit ridership . 

Housing supportive infrastructure—What’s that policy term include? Parks?

We have the guidance from the trailer bill language, but the State has a multi-agency task force that is developing the guidelines, so we are anxiously awaiting more detail. What we do know is REAP 1.0 was only for land use planning, while REAP 2021 can be spent not just on planning but capital projects as well. 

Housing supportive infrastructure can be broadly interpreted depending on who you ask. It can include things like parks, active transportation investments and community amenities, but also importantly the basic infrastructure to support housing, like sewer lines, gas, electric and broadband. I'm particularly interested in the basics: sewer, gas, water. This funding will give us an opportunity to do some planning and investing in these key utilities that can make it much easier, faster, cheaper to deliver housing. The SCAG region is so large that we won’t be able to go in and actually directly fund all the infrastructure needed, but I think we can work with our cities and counties to help them plan for infrastructure.

Drawing on your former experience with the mayor's office, the L.A. redevelopment agency, and Metro—How do you respond to proponents of statewide upzoning bills who continue to reject value capture as a function of ensuring public benefit from development? What makes up for the absence of a redevelopment agency if bills like SB 9 and SB 10 are adopted with no requirement for value capture or affordability?

I don't see anything that makes up for the loss of Redevelopment. There's a host of impacts, but what I experienced, particularly as someone who gets to manage teams and hire smart people committed to smart, healthy, and equitable development of cities, is that there's no longer one place in the public sector that fosters the capacity to implement comprehensive community development work— redevelopment agencies could buy land, put together capital stacks, invest in projects, do land use that planning, and invest in community facilities. We lost funding, we lost those combined powers, and we lost the staff capacity and know-how to do this work in our cities. Many of us that worked in Redevelopment are still around in the public sector but we are spread throughout cities and counties.

There are lots of departments that do similar work, but the amount of things Redevelopment could do with tax increment funding and the sheer amount of flexible funding we had available is something I have not seen re-emerge and I don't see being replaced. I celebrate AB 101 and all of the funding for land use planning that the state provided; this not “sexy” stuff that leads to groundbreakings, it’s the basic work that needs to get done and it doesn’t always create the visual optics that politicians seek and need to maintain support. Nothing about giving cities money for land use planning is helping the governor with a recall; it’s just not exciting for folks. I applaud the state for recognizing the importance of making those investments because Redevelopment did invest in land use planning. I think REAP 2021 can give us a similar opportunity to help cities do forward thinking about infrastructure planning, we can meet cities where they are and support their efforts to address the housing crisis.

Trying to do this work at the regional level, especially as large a region as the SCAG region (191 cities and 6 counties), we've got to work to meet cities where they are. We want cities to take with open arms this opportunity to make  investments in housing supportive infrastructure, so if we can find a way to build flexibility into our program and figure out what cities need to invest in infrastructure planning and focus this work in the areas where they are seeing or proposing for concentrated housing development, that's an opportunity to replace something that Redevelopment did.

Just as Prop 13 did 40 years ago affect city and local government economic development strategies and the role of planning commissioners, might the blanket upzoning of Coastal California by right as proposed by SB 9 have similar consequences? In light of the fact that there are no Redevelopment Agencies or mechanisms for value capture in proposed state housing bills, share what's in the toolbox for equitable economic development?

SCAG does not traditionally have a tool chest to address the issues you raised. We are not an economic development organization per se; that's not our direct role. With our recent effort developing the Inclusive Economic Recovery Strategy, we came up with a set of guiding principles centering racial and gender equity. We identified focus areas that are familiar to and drive SCAG’s regional planning work: transportation and infrastructure, housing production, and sector-based strategies. Sector based strategies in particular are important for economic development because they can be both regionally tailored, addressing the needs of various geographies, but also tailored to industry sectors, and within that, we can think about things like entrepreneurship and small business support. The last focus area we addressed is human capital—childcare, transportation, affordable health care—all things that are intersectionally related to increasing access to economic opportunity.

We went out and asked folks who are working in these spaces, what are you doing in this area around inclusive economic growth and an equitable approach to economic recovery? What do you think needs to be happening and what is SCAG's role? I'm pretty rooted in being pragmatic about what SCAG's role is. We're an MPO that covers 191 cities and six counties, so remembering we are not a Redevelopment agency, we are not an economic development organization and we don’t have direct funding for this work, from there we came up with findings and recommendations that SCAG can either directly do, that we can seek funding for, and importantly that we can identify partners and other lead organizations and advocate that they take on these priorities.

In addition, we have opportunities in our next RTP/SCS to talk more about economic development and look at how we bring  data and concepts into our policies and recommendations.

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Examples of the work we are currently doing include our existing programs around goods movement and housing production (the REAP program we discussed), but we also wanted to see if we can get some additional resources and partners where we can have some regional impact. Thanks to the State and in particular, Senator Susan Rubio from San Gabriel Valley, we have a $3.5 million grant from the state to work on some next steps identified in the plan. With the State funding, we're going to be bringing on some staff support to do some follow up work in a couple core areas including identifying, at the county level, growth sectors that offer the strongest opportunities for family-supporting jobs, identifying skills gaps, and trying to make some recommendations and work with partners in that space.

Secondly, we heard a lot around contracting opportunities, both at the government level, but also for anchor institutions, like healthcare institutions and universities, and the need to support small, minority and women-owned businesses to have better contract opportunities. Something we can do effectively is look at best practices and lift up solutions that can meet the needs of all of our regional partners and stakeholders.

We're going to look at construction and union labor and some of the different apprenticeship programs and try to lift up best practices and identify any opportunities for improvements or new partnerships. We are very good at generating regionally significant data at SCAG, and we want to partner with the State to realize some of their recommendations, including creating a sub-regional job quality index. 

And finally, we want to look at some key human capital needs, particularly childcare. There's a lot of funding coming down for the federal government around childcare, and so we want to look at some best practices. SCAG for the first time has an opportunity to go a little deeper into economic development, and what we're trying to focus on is where we can look at best practices, bring folks to the table and make some recommendations that have regional significance and can be useful across such a large region.

One more piece I would add is that the housing work we are funding is very focused on increased production and in many cases upzoning. All of this work includes consideration of affirmatively furthering fair housing and importantly anti-displacement strategies, in fact these are required to be comprehensively addressed in housing elements. We are looking forward to the current housing elements in development so that we can understand the array of policies and programs our cities and counties develop in this space, and hope to focus on best practices and support their implementation.

It has been reported that a new homebuyer needs to earn $68 an hour in San Francisco to afford a home. How does that dollar number impact SCAG’s homeownership goals? 

Well, a couple of ways, I suppose. First off, when we were doing the recovery strategy and talking about housing and equity, homeownership came up across the board—across community-based organizations, builders, and businesses all talked about how important it is to make homeownership more accessible. Homeownership is such a key driver of wealth, and multi-generational wealth creation, in our society. One of our recovery strategy recommendations is to try to figure out what can be done to expand opportunities for homeownership. We are starting to engage in some conversations and learn about what specialty products are out there, further understand the barriers, and learn what folks are doing to expand opportunities for homeownership. 

You also want to look at how we can raise wages; the recovery strategy talks about family-supporting jobs. Raising wages can support a family’s ability to purchase and afford a home. Add on to that how we can deliver housing more affordably. All the work we're doing with the REAP program to try to accelerate housing production and make it easier to develop housing will hopefully bring down cost. Again, we are just at the beginning of this exploration. 

Will developing more housing necessarily bring down costs in the next decade?

What could make housing cheaper right away is streamlining the development and entitlement process so that it doesn’t take three years to get entitled, not to mention millions of dollars. Or if you know ahead of time the utilities that are needed and can plan for those. Different construction methodologies like pre-fabricated modular housing could help. I don’t have all the answers on this, but we are asking and exploring.

What is involved in streamlining the development process?

On one side it means making it clear what can and can’t be ministerially approved and expanding the options for administrative approvals. For example, I do believe that updating LA’s community plans to make more processes by right is critical. As is updating zoning. Right now, there is a ton of funding out there to help cities do their land use planning. So many cities are scrambling to get their housing elements done and identifying their rezoning needs to meet RHNA, this is a huge opportunity. The other big piece of this is CEQA reform, and while the State has identified ways to streamline the CEQA process, there has not been the political willingness to wholesale make needed reforms. 

In conclusion, let’s pivot to your recent appointment to the LA City Planning Commission. At a time of great challenge for all cities— COVID, the economy, the housing crisis, homelessness—what are fast becoming your priorities? What have you been asked by the Mayor to focus your attention on as a planning commissioner? 

When I was asked to serve, there was interest in having someone with experience in real estate development and particularly transit-oriented development. I have a 20+ year history of doing public-private real estate transactions, on the public sector side, so I think those were the areas that were of interest to the mayor's office when I got the call.

Candidly, between having a full-time job and being a parent, I spend a lot of time just reading the cases and trying to get a handle on what's coming before me; it's a lot of electronic paper that comes at you every couple of weeks. I’m diligently trying to understand how to balance a lot of competing development and planning interests and pressures. I found its critical to spend time both reading the public comments and letters we receive and then listening to the community at the hearings. The public comment helps you focus on the core issues before the Commission. Folks take time out of their day to show up. It's really important to make sure that people feel heard, whether you agree with them or not. I hope that if I'm able to disagree with somebody or not vote in a way they hope that I could share with them why and ensure that they feel heard, even if the decision is not what they wanted.

There also are community plans coming, so we have a lot of big decisions to make soon. The city is bringing forward updated community plans for the first time in a long time, and I feel a tremendous privilege, opportunity, and weight to weigh in. My first meeting – the day after I was confirmed – was the Hollywood Community Plan. We have the DTLA plan before us for a second time in September, and I expect the Boyle Heights Plan next.

Lastly, we are also seeing community plans in a time where we're having different and newer conversations about how we talk about equity and how that plays into historic racial inequities, and displacement of low-income communities, cultural communities and communities of color. I want to bring an ability to be open to a broader perspective. I have to remind myself that being in this space of land use and development for 20 years doesn't mean you have the answer, there's a whole world of perspectives that you've got to listen to and balance and challenge what you think is the answer.  We need to focus on the results that we will get and be more clear about how we can center on racial equity as we look to adopt new plans.

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© 2021 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.