ALPERN AT LARGE - One of the most important benefits of having been part of Friends4Expo Transit
(which fought successfully to create the Expo Line, with its leaders are now fighting the oversized and NON-Transit-Oriented Development that is the Casden Sepulveda project) is having worked with individuals who all embraced the intellectual honesty that we couldn't just widen our freeways in perpetuity...and that proper Planning, and NOT just an Expo Line, was the answer to gridlock.
Hence the ongoing fury by Westside Expo Line proponents who are agape and aghast at projects like the Casden Sepulveda and Hollywood Millennium projects that are being rammed down the throats of entire regions who DID vote to tax themselves for mass transit and transportation improvements and who WILL be asked to vote again for similar endeavors...and who are now being demonized as "NIMBY's".
Happily, it appears that Caltrans has come along and suggested a powerful tool to stop inappropriate Planning--NOT stop Planning altogether, just the inappropriate ideas from a LA City Planning Department that's been too overempowered by an outgoing wined-and-dined Mayor and an unholy alliance of developers, trade unions, and chambers of commerce that's turned Planning into a Politburo:
As Michael Hiltzik of the Times reports, Caltrans did what castigated and disempowered neighborhood councils and groups couldn't: it declared that 2+ 2 could never equal seven, six or even five.
Caltrans pointed out what everyone knew about the 55-story tall Hollywood Millennium Project (which would dwarf even the Capitol Records Tower): it would destroy traffic even further for the 101 freeway than the gridlocked parking lot it currently is, and was just too darned BIG.
Considering we live in a City that's supposed to recognize the need for sustainability, environmental right-sizing and the need to avoid obesity and other health problems, it's amazing that Planning has allowed the excessive development being promoted, snuck through and downright slammed over the objections of LA's citizenry.
Clearly, LA City Planning--which has been jonesing for densification that is anything but "elegant", and which clearly despises single-family neighborhoods--is willing to do what Culver City and Santa Monica would never do: create policies that establish that developers have more rights, and fewer responsibilities, than the citizenry.
Perhaps, according to the Planning Politburo, some of us are "more equal than others".
And yet, when Caltrans proclaimed the obvious--the Hollywood Millennium Project would worsen, not enhance gridlock on the 101 and adjacent streets, suddenly the developers offered to reduce the height of the Hollywood skyscrapers by 25 percent!
Maybe the Hollywood Hills and the Hollywood neighborhoods screaming about the downright tyranny of the project had a point, after all.
And maybe the Westside, from Brentwood to Del Rey, from West LA to Beverlywood, has a point about the Casden Sepulveda project as well: dropping a series of towers 10-17 stories in a region that is 2-3 stories ISN'T so smart an idea.
Particularly, since there are NO details or guarantees--just vague promises--for the transit mitigations, community benefits and the justification for the zoning changes and density bonuses that the Casden Sepulveda developers are asking for, in contrast to the attention to detail that Santa Monica is pursuing with its Bergamot Station development.
Having Alan Casden get into a bidding war with Target for the Casden Sepulveda property, and having Alan Casden pay $100,000 to promote the failed Measure A sales tax this spring isn't the same as coming up with proper environmental review and community outreach (or even outreach to the Westside Councilmembers, who were stepped on as much as the citizenry).
The needs of Alan Casden to make a lot of money, or even to break even, is NOT greater than having a first-rate transit-oriented, environmentally-appropriate, gridlock-reducing, and safe project that encourages, and doesn't block, access to the Expo Line at the critical Westside station at Exposition/Sepulveda.
So here's a thought or two for our Mayor-Elect and our incoming City Council to ponder:
1) Streamline Planning and other Departments, but let Building and Safety and LADOT officials be empowered to stop dogmatic or power-driven Planning officials (or even unrealistic electeds) when the numbers don't work out. Engineers and those who respect numbers and math and REALITY need to be able to speak truth to power, and truth to irrational dogma.
2) FIRE City Commissioner Roschen (who helped design the Hollywood Millennium Project, and who stepped on Bill Rosendahl, Paul Koretz, the City Attorney's office and the entire Westside by ramming the Casden Sepulveda Project through the CPC process) and anyone else in Planning who is so driven by a fetish to build tall, tall, TALL towers that they're willing to destroy neighborhoods and create environmental nightmares.
Because, after all, if Pico Blvd. and other adjacent Expo Line corridors are so altered and overdeveloped that the Expo Line traffic projections are made moot and void, then the line will have to be redone with more grade separations and with horrible legal consequences.
Because, after all, if mass transit leads only to overdevelopment, the desire of the citizenry to create more of it will be reduced, if not destroyed for another generation.
Because, after all, if the citizenry rebels and decides to say NO on more taxes while Downtown says YES to breaking the law and overdeveloping, we'll be in a combined traffic and political and economic gridlock for years and even decades to come.
It's true that we can't build our way out of gridlock...but let's not build our way into it, either!
(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected] He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.