Expo Line Plan moving forward: the good, the bad and the hopeful

It is possible to legalize more homes on Los Angeles’ Westside.

Sorry, you may not have been paying attention:

It is possible to legalize more homes on Los Angeles’ Westside!

Technically the Expo Corridor Transit Neighborhood Plan (TNP) still needs to be passed by Los Angeles city council, but since amendments from the two city councilmembers that represent these neighborhoods have already passed, city council approval is expected. And it’s notable that, despite the reputation of local elected officials as reflexively deferential to the anti-growth movement, local councilmembers Mike Bonin and Paul Koretz, who represent two of the most affluent districts in the country, have both tacitly approved the TNP. Progress is possible.

More on Councilmember Koretz’s amendments to reduce housing capacity below, but it’s important to note how progressive the amendments offered by Councilmember Bonin were. His amendments increased capacity for homes in new mixed-use zones, increased affordability incentives within his council district to Transit-Oriented Communities Affordable Housing Incentives Tier 4, and allowed hundreds of single-family parcels to be re-zoned to allow for multi-family housing development (and we’re getting word that, no, the sky is not falling).

There aren’t many policy decisions that give everyone a win, but this sure feels like one:

  • For pro-housing advocates, Los Angeles has new zoned capacity for thousands of more homes.
  • For environmental advocates, the TNP re-orients development away from sprawl and towards infill
  • Affordable-housing advocates can point to capacity for hundreds of more affordable homes thanks to the legalization of more Measure JJJ-eligible base density, and
  • Pro-transit advocates can rest easy knowing that thousands more Angelenos will benefit from LA’s public transit investment

Unfortunately, one other group that got a win is a handful of homeowners in West LA. Despite the City Planning Commission’s decision to increase zoned capacity for housing along the corridor between the Sepulveda and Ranch Park Expo Line stations (as we recommended), Councilmember Koretz vetoed those upzones at the request of local homeowners. What was the source of this opposition? While the Westside Neighborhood Council’s (WNC) letter cites concerns about traffic congestion and the health of local businesses, the only tangible concerns the WNC articulated about these upzones were a desire to preserve the “garden home” style of several houses in the plan area, and concern about the impact of shadows on single-family houses adjacent to the planned upzone of Exposition Boulevard

It’s hard to take these concerns seriously. The proposed upzone from R2 to R3 on Exposition would not have changed the legal height maximum of 45 feet, so it wouldn’t have changed the… shadow profile?… of the neighborhood anyways.

As housing advocates, we must continue to shine a light on the need for more homes, especially in the birthplace of LA’s anti-growth movement: the westside.To that end, let’s quantify what was lost to appease a relatively small number of homeowners. The following is based on a pro bono analysis performed by pactriglo, a real estate analysis firm in Los Angeles:

Pico Boulevard between Bentley Ave. and Overland Ave:

  • Capacity in plan passed by Planning Commission: 1310 units, including 130 units for extremely low income Angelenos
  • Capacity in plan amended by PLUM Committee: 771 units
  • Units Lost: 539, including 130 affordable units

Exposition Boulevard between Sepulveda Blvd. and Midvale Ave:

  • Capacity in plan passed by Planning Commission:: 557 units, including 58 for extremely low income Angelenos
  • Capacity in plan amended by PLUM Committee: 109 units (i.e., status quo)
  • Units Lost: 448, including 59 affordable units

Total Units Lost: 987, including 189 units for extremely low income Angelenos

What did Angelenos get in exchange for sacrificing new apartments in this neighborhood? Nothing.
This is the cost of appeasing the anti-growth movement. We cannot afford to defer to the aesthetic concerns of the privileged few over the need for homes for all Angelenos. It’s what created the housing crisis in the first place.

Fortunately, the conversation feels it’s starting to change. In the past, most local stakeholders might have opposed new homes. But support from the Palms Neighborhood Council shows evolving attitudes towards development and housing, even in West LA. Rather than opposing rezoning for more apartments in their neighborhood, Palms embraced it, citing their neighborhood’s tradition of diversity and inclusion:

“The Palms NC supports the Expo Line TNP as it helps meet our neighborhood’s goals of new and affordable housing, street level neighborhood facing retail, and appropriate development near new mass transit investments. Additionally, more housing and walkable neighborhoods near transit stations is an environmental necessity. Without plans like the Expo Line TNP, we will aggravate traffic congestion, increase greenhouse gas emissions, and accelerate displacement in LA.”

If LA’s leaders commit to the values articulated by the Palms Neighborhood Council, then perhaps one day Los Angeles can finally become the truly inclusive city it was always meant to be. That’s a vision worth fighting for.

#housingforall

(this post written by Nick Burns, Abundant Housing LA’s West LA local leader)

 


LA City Council: don’t oppose SB 827

This week we activated our members to write the Los Angeles City council against a motion that would put the City in opposition to SB 827. Today we sent a longer letter explaining why SB 827 is a good bill for the state and for LA. AHLA letter on city of LA 827 motion

We argue that the trade-off of a small amount of local control over a few aspects of zoning is worth it for a bill that would help add homes near transit and strengthen tenant protections.

We gave 8 reasons why we support Sb 827, and why the City of Los Angeles should too. They are elaborated on in the link above.

  1. It’s the first and only proposal that would address our housing shortage on the necessary scale.
  2. It would strengthen tenant rights and benefits.
  3. It would reduce housing shortages, rent increases, displacement, homelessness and Angelenos being forced to leave the region.
  4. It would reverse decades of exclusion from affluent, low-density neighborhoods.
  5. It’s aligned with policy goals which focus new housing near transit.
  6. It would create many more resources for affordable housing.
  7. It would force free-loading cities to allow their fair share of housing.
  8. It would dramatically reduce our contribution to global carbon emissions.

speaking up for housing for the homeless, tenant rights, and density

Abundant Housing LA supports more homes of all types. We are proud to help advance multi-faceted housing solutions to expand the number of homes while also helping those who lack a place to live and those who have a home, but feel a lack of security due to high rents or precarious tenure.

This week we weighed in on a number of critical housing policies. Our director, Brent Gaisford published an op-ed in the LA Times suggesting that a right-to-remain for tenants, combined with upzoning near transit as proposed by SB 827, would be a powerful combination to protect tenant rights and to increase housing supply.

An article in the Times quoted the Abundant Housing LA letter in support of the City’s permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance that policy committee members Ezra Hammer and Mark Vallianatos had drafted.

Mark also spoke in favor of the PSH ordinance and the city’s Motel Conversion Ordinance on AirTalk on KPCC.

We look forward to supporting pro-housing policies and being part of the conversation on how Los Angeles and California can have enough homes.

 


Talking points for new plans

purple line plan area

purple line plan area

 

The City of Los Angeles is currently updating many of its land use plans. So are other area cities, such as Long Beach.   (More on Long Beach soon….) We have a rare opportunity to influence community plans, transit plans, general plans, and zoning codes. We need residents to support more housing in every community to ensure that Los Angeles has room for current residents to stay in LA and for newcomers to move here.

We have the chance this week to attend meeting on the Orange Line Plan Wednesday night and Purple Line Plan thursday night.

If you are able to attend one of these meetings, or if you have a chance later to send comments on the plan, what should you ask for that would help address LA’s housing crisis? We have a few suggestions/ talking points:

1. Tell planners to set the new housing capacity significantly above anticipated population, and to study this level of upzone in the Environmental Impact report.

This point sounds a little technical, so we’ll try to explain it. Planners are required to conduct an environmental review a proposed land use plan. As part of this process, they will estimate how many new homes and jobs would be allowed in the plan area due to changes to zoning, and study the potential environmental impacts of these new homes and businesses.

LA plans tend to change zoning just enough to accommodate expected growth in population. For example, say that a plan area currently has 40,000 households and 41,000 homes (sadly, this reflects the reality in most neighborhoods where vacancy rates are low and there is not enough room to grow). Estimates show that another 4000 households are expected to arrive in the next few decades, so the plan calls for changing zoning to allow 4250 new homes. This means that there will be 44,000 households and 45,250 homes. Notice any problems? First, we are planning for low vacancy rates, which practically guarantees high rents! Second, what happens if there is higher than anticipated population growth? Third, the number of new homes ignores the fact that LA has hundreds of thousands of low-income households living in overcrowded housing and hundreds of thousands of younger residents forced to stay with their parents.

The solution is to zone for significantly more new homes than the future anticipated population. This will create “breathing room” to relieve the current shortage and tightness in the housing market. If we need more homes, there will be the possibility to build them. If the extra zoned capacity isn’t used, there is no harm, it’s just potential space for future expansion.

Abundant Housing LA recommends that all plan updates or new plans zone for housing capacity at least 50% above the anticipated future number of households.

It is also crucial that the Environmental Impact Reviews for plans study this higher level of zoning. If the EIR doesn’t study this potential higher zoning, it won’t make it into the plan.

2. Suggest specific areas where new homes could go

If you know the plan area well because you live or work there or visit it, you should suggest some places (sub-areas, streets, etc) where you’d like to see upzones, bigger buildings and more homes. These sites might be low-rise areas close to transit, places with lots of surface parking and underutilized lots, etc. Your local knowledge will help make the case for zoning changes and a better city.

3. Allow small apartments in ‘single family’ areas near transit

In editorializing last week about the need for more housing in the Expo Line Transit Plan, the LA Times made an important point about the irony of single unit zoning close to train stations: “Yes, single-family neighborhoods are part of the character and fabric of L.A., but it’s hard to see how the city can house its current occupants, let alone the growing population to come, without at least pondering looser restrictions that allow more triplexes, fourplexes and townhomes.”

We agree! We support diverse low rise housing. Our policy agenda calls for allowing a minimum of 4 units on a standard 5000 sf lot if the property is within a 1/2 mile of quality transit.

4. Eliminate parking requirements near transit.
It’s dumb to mandate on site parking for homes close to transit. Requiring more parking than developers and residents want makes housing more expensive; leads to bad design because parking spaces often shape the architecture more than human needs and amenities; and pollutes the air and warms the climate by encouraging driving. We believe that there should be no vehicle parking requirements within 1/2 mile of transit.

If you have other ideas for these plans, let us know!


Get involved in LA Plan updates!

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This week Abundant Housing is focusing on improving the Expo Line Transit Plan.

The city of Los Angeles is also in the process of creating or revising a number of community plans, transit corridor plans, the general plan, and zoning code. We can’t emphasize enough how important it is for pro-housing Angelenos to get involved in these plans. One of our key policy goals is for Los Angeles to increase its zoned capacity to create more “room for homes” and relieve the tightness that contributes to low vacancy rates and rising rents.

We hope that you can provide feedback and/or attend meetings for a plan where you live or work so that planners know that Angelenos want more homes of all types. It is also great to get involved with plans throughout the city. The housing market is regional, and more homes anywhere in LA can help address the crisis.

The following list of plans that are being updated shows how many opportunities there are to help make a difference by pushing for plans that allow and encourage more homes of all types. We will try to update this list as more meetings are announced and as we develop analysis and recommendations for different plans. You can also sign up via the links below to get updates and announcements directly from the planners.

And if you are motivated to advocate on one or more of these plans, please get in touch and let us know! We are looking for our members and allies to provide local leadership on LA’s new plans.
Exposition Corridor Transit Neighborhood Plan
The Expo line brought rail transit back to the westside for the first time in 60 years. The plan is going to the LA Planning Commission on November 9, 2017 at 11 am. We have an online action alert that you can use to send a letter encouraging more homes in the new plan.
You can also sign up for updates.

Orange Line Transit Neighborhood Plan
The Orange Line plan, focused near five stations (North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Sepulveda, Reseda and Sherman Way) is in an earlier stage than the Expo plan. There is a lot of low density zoning along this corridor that should be up-zoned. There is a meeting November 15 6-830 pm at Van Nuys City Hall, Council Chambers, 2nd Floor, 14410 Sylvan St, Van Nuys CA 91401 to get public feedback on their initial concept.
You can also sign up for updates.

Purple Line Transit Neighborhood Plan
There is a meeting November 16, 6pm to 8pm at Pan Pacific Senior Activity Center, 141 S Gardner St., LA 90036 focused on potential land use changes near three future purple line stations at Wilshire/ La Brea, Wilshire/ Fairfax and Wilshire/ La Cienega. These are great locations for more housing.
You can also sign up for updates.

Downtown LA Community Plans
DTLA2040 is the City’s process to update the two community plan covering downtown Los Angeles. Downtown has obviously been one of the places where the most new homes have been built in recent years, and there is a potential to encourage even more if mixed use development is allowed in some underused industrial areas.
You can sign up for updates and send comments.

Hollywood Community Plan
An update to the Hollywood Community Plan was passed a few years ago but was overturned through a lawsuit by anti-development groups. The city is trying again and we should encourage them to allow even more homes than the first version.
You can sign up for updates and send comments.

Boyle Heights Community Plan
Boyle Heights is already relatively built up area for a residential community but there should be space for more homes on boulevards and in industrial areas.
You can sign up for updates and submit comments.

Southwest Valley Community Plans
The first set of plans to start updates under the city’s recent commitment to accelerate new community plans are three plan areas in the Southwest San Fernando Valley:
Canoga Park-Winnetka- Woodland Hills-West Hills, Encino-Tarzana, and Reseda-West Van Nuys.
You can sign up for updates and fill in a short survey.

South Los Angeles and Southeast Los Angeles Community Plans
The South Los Angeles and Southeast Los Angeles Community plans were recently passed by the city planning commission and will likely be heard by the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee in November 2017.  The opportunity for major changes in these plans may be past, but comments could be sent to the PLUM committee and full council.

General Plan
Ourla2040 is the City’s process to update its general plan. They are currently seeking input on open space and culture but will also establish a framework that is supposed to guide land use rules in community plans.
You can sign up for updates.

Zoning Code
Re:codeLA is the process to fully update LA’s zoning code for the first time in 70 years.
You can provide comments and check for updates and events.


Abundant Housing letter on draft Expo Line Plan

expo line map

 

The Expo Line Transit Neighborhood Plan is being heard by the Los Angeles City Planning Commission on November 9, 2017 at 11 am. Abundant Housing LA has been advocating for changes to the plan to allow more homes of all types.

We encourage pro-housing Angelenos to click on our action alert, which will allow you to quickly send a message to the Planning Commission.

We also encourage you to attend the planning commission meeting on the 9th to testify in person on the need to allow more homes and better rules near six expo line stations.

The action alert provides key pro-housing recommendations for the draft Expo line plan. We also wanted to share the letter that we sent to the Commission. It provides more context on the need for a bolder plan and justification for the recommendations. It opens:

“Dear City Planning Commissioners,

We encourage you to amend the draft Expo Line Transit Neighborhood Plan (TNP) to make it a bolder plan worthy of leveraging our major investments in new transit, addressing the severity of the housing crisis gripping Los Angeles, and taking advantage of the opportunity to evolve transit-adjacent neighborhoods to become more sustainable, walkable and diverse places.”

download the full letter >

AHLA Letter to CPC on Expo plan


Support the Permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance

star apartments

Skid Row Housing Trust’s Star Apartments during construction

(see end of post for how to comment on draft ordinance)

The City of Los Angeles is seeking feedback on its draft Permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance (read the FAQ and the draft ordinance).  The proposed rules would accelerate the approval of, and therefore the construction and inhabitation of, permanent supportive housing for homeless residents. Permanent supportive housing (PSH) is housing for homeless individuals or households that is not time-limited (that is, unlike many shelters, residents can stay there as long as they need to) and that includes services to help residents.

Abundant Housing LA strongly supports this ordinance. We supported and campaigned for City of LA Proposition HHH to fund the construction of more permanent supportive homes as well as LA County Measure H to fund services. We also happy that LA City has started to identify underutilized public properties as opportunity sites for permanent supportive and/or affordable housing.

Funding for PSH, more money for services, and free public land on which to build PSH could be a very powerful combination to help house homeless Angelenos. More supportive homes are badly needed given that last year homelessness increased 23 percent in LA County and 20 percent in LA city.

Unfortunately, these positive investments can be bogged down by local opposition to new permanent supportive housing. Our politicized planning system allows a few opponents to delay or veto badly needed homes even when large majorities of voters supported funding for more housing and services. This is why the Permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance is a good law.

1. The ordinance raises the site plan review threshold for PSH from 50 units to 120 units (and 200 in downtown LA).  This means that larger PSH projects could proceed without needing to go through an environmental review process, require approval from the City Planning Commission and City Council, or face legal challenges and delays under CEQA.  Making more PSH projects ‘by right’ will help them get built quicker and help get more Angelenos off of the streets into good housing.
2. Instead of a politicized process, where people who already have homes can go to meetings and try to stop new dwellings for the homeless, the PSH ordinance requires common sense standards for design and construction. For example, the ordinance mandates how much space is required to be dedicated for services and common space in a PSH development; and requires testing and mitigation of soil if the site was previously used by a polluting industry.
3. The ordinance grant permanent supportive housing projects incentives similar to what are available for density bonus and transit oriented communities developments (higher density limits and height, reduced parking requirements and setbacks, etc. These incentives will help house more Angelenos, a vital goal given the city and region’s surging homelessness.
4. Allowing developments of permanent supportive housing on sites zoned public facilities using the zoning of nearby property, and allowing conversion/ replacement of residential hotels to permanent supportive housing regardless of underlying zoning are other good features to expedite badly-needed housing.

The City is seeking comments on the draft ordinance. To have your input considered for the planning staff recommendation report, contact cally.hardy@lacity.org by October 30, 2017. If you have comments after the 30th, email the planning commission at cpc@lacity.org


Chelsea Byers joining Abundant Housing LA steering committee

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We’re excited to announce that Chelsea Byers has joined the Abundant Housing LA Steering Committee as our Director of Organizing!

Chelsea will be helping Abundant Housing members across the city get involved in their local communities and neighborhood councils to advocate for more housing and lower rents. By providing resources, coordination, and training support, Chelsea will help our members to improve Los Angeles one community at a time.

Many crucial decisions about housing  in Los Angeles are made at the hyper-local level. Each individual neighborhood council has significant influence over zoning and development in their neighborhood, and even a single pro-housing voice on each council can make a big difference. Even more importantly, as few as 7-10,000 votes can win a city council race, so even a small number of dedicated local pro-housing activists can have a big impact on election and policies. With 100 active volunteers in each council district, we’d tip the scales of Los Angeles politics for decades to come. We could not be more excited for Chelsea to take on this project and join the steering committee!

Chelsea has a long background in progressive organizing work on a wide variety of issues. In addition to her work with Abundant Housing, Chelsea is the Chair of the Campaign to End the Statute of Limitations on Rape and Sexual Assault and a member of the Speakers Justice Bureau through the Community Justice Reform Coalition. She has organized dozens of public demonstrations for social justice, held vigils for political prisoners and whistleblowers, and earned media at the 2016 Republican National Convention for gun violence prevention advocacy.
If you’re interested in getting more involved in Abundant Housing LA, please consider applying for our steering committee. We have three positions open.


Strong AND Gentle: creative tension in housing advocacy

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design housing solutions workshop participants, photo by James Rojas

The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss wrote a book called The Raw and the Cooked focused on “categorical opposites drawn from everyday experience.” 

It may be that housing advocacy needs to value a similar binary.

YIMBY advocates have started to build political strength in order to support proposed housing and better rules. This means contesting for power at the political level, at hearing, online, etc. This ‘strong’ approach to movement building and advocacy is absolutely essential. But is it enough?
 
Planner and artist James Rojas has talked to us (steering committee member Mark V.) about “a gentler approach to housing.”  By gentle, he means techniques that draw upon peoples’ empathy, memories, and imagination to change attitudes and encourage more openness to adding housing.

His Place It! workshops let participants build models with everyday objects to encourage more participatory and creative planning. In James’ words, “Building with objects makes the participants use their motor skills. Intangible thoughts became tangible.” We spoke about the Design Housing Solutions workshop he and a group of urban planners and housing advocates recently led at the American Planning Association Planning conference in Sacramento.Jonathan P. Bell, Gunnar Hand, Fay Darmawi, Cathy Creswell and Connie Chung collaborated with Rojas on the session to investigate approaches to pubic engagement on housing.

When James facilitates workshops, he often starts by asking participants to quickly build “their first memory of belonging, shelter or home” in fifteen minutes, and then share what they made and the underlying memory with the group. James reported that “these memories tended to be happy emotions of belonging, place and home” and that by forming this memory out of blocks, toys and other small objects, participants “uncover knowledge about their enduring landscape and realize they have the expertise to shape it.”

This is certainly a better starting point than the tension, negativity and frustration that often infuses public hearings about housing developments.

After the icebreaker and self reflection activity, participants are prepared to work in groups to build models of housing developments. In James’ words:

“The communal nature of this process provided a platform that everyone participated. By giving teams little instructions they developed a variety of solutions based on their understanding of their built environment. Through building together participants quickly communicated and tested their visual and spatial housing ideas. Through negotiations, new ideas emerged.  In no time the housing models began to take shape and illustrated solutions for their imaginary communities.”

Exercises like this that draw upon positive emotions and let people act creatively to collaborate to design homes should be a part of the pro-housing toolkit. We still need to build power, and to use data and messaging to change minds. But winning hearts (and thinking of housing as a shared goal to add to the quality of communities, rather than a battleground) can also benefit from a gentler approach.


Abundant Housing’s policy agenda for the City of LA

Earlier this year we surveyed our members on what housing policies and funding sources they thought would help Los Angeles address its housing crisis. Our new policy committee, which brings together members and supporters with expertise in policy analysis, architecture, construction management, local government, research and writing on land use, advocacy, teaching, small scale development, urban planning (and living in and caring about LA!), worked from these responses as a starting point, and recommended a local policy agenda with 15 points.

The agenda is ‘time-stamped’ August 2017 because we know that conditions and opportunities change, and we will be flexible in pursuing opportunities and adapting our agenda to the city and region’s needs. What we want to stress is that:

A. No single fix can address LA’s housing crisis. To achieve a city with space for all our diverse residents, we need a multi- faceted package of reforms.

B. We believe that an impactful package of pro-housing reforms must:

  1. make ‘more room’ for homes;
  2. make it easier and faster to build homes;
  3. raise money for affordable homes;
  4. protect tenants; and
  5. encourage innovation.

You can download the agenda below. In coming weeks, we will profile some of the ideas in more detail.

Abundant Housing LA 2017 policy agenda