PLATKIN ON PLANNING-2016 is nearly over, and that means that 2017 offers immense opportunities for CityWatch writers and readers, including yours truly, to answer important questions. These are some of the stories that I am following and hope to examine in more detail. I look forward to similar research and articles from other CityWatch writers.
CITY HALL QUESTIONS
How extensive is corruption at Los Angeles’s City Hall?
The LA Times Sea Breeze story of $600,000 in campaign donations to get land use decisions reversed is undoubtedly the tip of the iceberg. And David Zahnizer’s front-page story on Rick Caruso’s luxury tower at the former Loehman’s site is just as important. While the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative/Measure S staff has broken smaller stories of corruption, there are undoubtedly many bigger stories waiting for careful investigation and publication. The more the better because even if Measure S does not pass in March 2017, this type of investigative reporting will play a major role in ensuring that Los Angeles is well planned. The alternative, an unplanned city, in which real estate speculators determine long-term land use patterns, is a road to municipal ruin.
What is the residential build-out potential of Los Angeles, based on existing zoning?
The corporate funded density hawks repeatedly argue that LA has virtually no land left for housing construction, yet the most recent City Planning reports on this exact question – from the early 1990s – concluded the exact opposite. Furthermore, we also need to know how much future housing construction and population growth can be supported by available public infrastructure and public services.
What is really behind the “no money” excuse for the many projects and public services that elected officials and some of their advocates ignore?
There is no shortage of low-priority budget categories that qualify for this sorry alibi: urban street trees, careful plan check and code enforcement, updated General Plan elements, sidewalk and street repairs, ADA curb cuts, street cleaning, street lights, recreation program, library hours, climate change mitigation and adaptation, bicycle infrastructure, mass transit station amenities, and much more. For these and many more projects, local government’s constant refrain is, “There is just no money,” yet big-ticket items, like the 55 percent of the City budget that funds the LAPD, go unchallenged.
What role does local government play in increasing wealth and income inequality?
Most fingers point to the Federal government because it largely controls tax rates, tax loopholes, minimum wage, and the safety net, such as Social Security and Medicaid. But, City Hall also plays a significant, but overlooked role. For example, every time the zone and/or General Plan designation for a piece or property densifies through spot-zoning, the site becomes considerably more valuable. Yet, this windfall is not taxed in California because most commercial property is never totally sold. Instead portions of the ownership change, allowing the property title to remain fixed and unassessed because of Proposition 13.
Is METRO advancing mass transit for mobility or to bolster real estate speculation?
Some scholars, like Allen Whitt, long ago argued that the fundamental purpose of urban mass transit, include MetroRail in Los Angeles, is to resuscitate real estate in older parts of town, such as Wilshire Boulevard and Hollywood. Now, several decades later we are witnessing the expansion of mass transit, but with little consideration for mobility.
In Los Angeles, the MetroRail interface with other transportation modes is missing: buses, cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists. METRO has dropped the ball on this aspect of transit, while City Planning has largely limited its role to up-zoning the private parcels near existing and proposed transit stations. As a result, transit-adjacent public areas have unfunded guidelines, while individual parcels are stoked for an influx of private investment.
How is climate change related to economic activity?
The popular press presents the climate change “debate” as climate scientists on one side and climate change deniers on the other side. This supposed debate is then reduced to one bid question: do humans cause climate change or is it a natural fluctuation? But this this simplistic approach sees the forest and misses the trees. This is because it doesn’t examine the diverse carbon footprints of our planet’s eight billion humans. It equates the carbon footprint of those living in squalor on $2 or less per day with executives of fossil fuel companies, living in energy-intensive estates, driving big cars, and flying on highly polluting planes.
Will driverless electric cars reduce our carbon footprint?
Companies such as Tesla and Google tout their driverless and electric cars as a miracle cure for congestion and Green House Gases. But this is a dubious claim for several reasons. First, better cars perpetuate the entire built environment based on cars: the entire car manufacturing process, roads, parking lots, and car-oriented buildings, especially big box retail and shopping centers.
Second, better cars mean each car uses less energy, but the automobile companies still expand overall production. For example, Toyota does not use the profits from the Prius to make a better bicycle, but to branch out to the Prius C and Prius V. Instead of one Prius model there are now three, as well as other Toyota models with hybrid engines, such as the Camry. As a result overall energy consumption is still expanding.
A FINAL WORD FOR THE NEW YEAR
CityWatch readers, in 2017 please share your information about these and other important and overlooked stories. We may have meager resources, but crowd-sourcing our knowledge can and will be the antidote to the neglect of the mainstream, corporate media.
(Dick Platkin reports on local planning issues in Los Angeles for CityWatch. Please send any questions, comments, or corrections to [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.