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Thu, Jun

Troubling Purple Line Questions Just Keep Piling Up … No Answers from the City 

LOS ANGELES

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-For each unanswered question about this real estate scheme, two more are piling up.

To finally get some answers to both, I am posting this CityWatch column as an open letter to City Hall officials who should know the back story.  

To:      Deputy Mayor Barbara Romero for City Services

            Deputy Mayor William Chun for Economic Development

           Director of Planning, Vince Bertoni

           Senior City Planner, Patricia Diefenderfer

 

A CityWatch reader has asked these four probing questions, so please help us out: 

  1. Who directed METRO to initiate the Transit Neighborhood Plans? Was it the Los Angeles City Council? Was it the Mayor? 
  1. What is the timeline and paper trail for METRO engaging the LA Department of City Planning to prepare and adopt the Transit Neighborhood Plans? 
  1. How was the Los Angeles City Council involved? Are they on the timeline for final approval? Does METRO play any role in the approval process? 
  1. To whom does METRO report? 

These four questions have prompted eight additional ones, some of which I previously asked through CityWatch, but have not yet been answered. Nevertheless, the Purple Line “transit neighborhood plan” has already begun its premature environmental review, presumably to create the false impression that this proposed up-zoning ordinance is a done deal.  

  1. Where is the evidence that increasing the permitted size, height, and density of pricey residential and commercial parcels meets the project’s goals of expanding affordable housing, boosting transit ridership, and reducing Green House Gases? 
  1. Won’t new expensive apartments be rented by the well-off, the most likely demographic group to own and drive cars instead of taking busses and subways?  
  1. Since these new buildings will have large parking structures, as well many occupants, employees, and visitors who drive cars, won’t these projects increase, not decrease, the generation of the Green House Gasses responsible for climate change?  
  1. Won’t granting property owners up-front increases in by-right building height, size, and density, as well as reduced re-code LA parking requirements, eliminate their use of SB 1818 and Transit Oriented Communities to obtain density bonuses?  Why would any developers voluntarily include affordable housing units in their projects if the transit neighborhood plan up-zones their parcels for free, without any affordable housing requirements? 
  1. Per City Planning’s July 12, 2018, environmental scoping letter, what zoning overlay areas will become part of the Purple Line transit neighborhood plan?  How will the transit neighborhood plan amend the adopted Wilshire Community Plan’s maps, policies, goals, population forecasts, and land use designations? 
  1. Why does the Purple Line transit neighborhood plan include still rough re:code LA zones, and not, as recently stated by the Director of Planning, rely on community plan updates for their implementation? 
  1. Why weren’t local community organizations, including neighborhood councils, resident associations, HPOZ boards, and homeowner groups, informed about and consulted with regarding the transit neighborhood plans wide-ranging up-zoning proposals? 
  1. City Planning’s website presents many documents (e.g., Mobility Hubs, Complete Streets Guidelines, and Streetscape Plans) that emphasize the importance of public improvements to increasing transit ridership, such as planting shade trees, fixing and upgrading sidewalks, street lighting, and bicycle infrastructure. Why does the Purple Line’s transit neighborhood plan flout these precedents, policies, and guidelines and, instead, only up-zone private parcels? 

Because of these and other unanswered questions, no local community groups support the transit neighborhood plan’s two up-zoning schemes. Their additional reasons for opposing the upzoning proposal include the following: 

  • Local planning-oriented groups played no role in the preparation of the transit neighborhood plan. In fact, all local groups were completely blindsided by and opposed to the proposal’s two extensive up-zoning schemes, only publicly unveiled at City Planning's July 26, 2018, open house. 
  • No local groups knew about or attended City Planning's previous November 2017 meeting, which Planning then used as its justification for its two July 2018 up-zoning proposals, based on comments from real estate groupies, who somehow knew about that November meeting and its comment period. 
  • The project’s premature Draft Environmental Impact Report, its amendments to the Wilshire Community Plan, its other provisions, and its new zones, should all be folded into the update of Wilshire Community Plan. This Update is scheduled to begin in 2021, several years before the new Purple Line subway stations open. 
  • This update and continued monitoring of the Wilshire Community Plan must be based on extensive community meetings and a detailed review of underlying land use, population, public infrastructure and services conditions, and transportation data. 
  • Any future transit neighborhood plans should apply to all Purple Line subway stations, whether those open since 1996 or now under construction. The focus of this planning process must be the construction of transit-supportive public improvements, especially sidewalk upgrades and extensive planting of shade trees. 
  • Based on existing evidence, the proposed transit neighborhood plan’s emphasis on large commercial buildings will backfire. Instead of meeting the plan’s lofty goals of reversing climate change, increasing transit ridership, and producing more affordable housing units, it will actually reduce the supply of affordable housing, replace existing transit users with new car drivers, and increase Green House Gas levels.  
  • If the City Council adopts this plan, there will be many unintended consequences for local communities: 

-  Most large projects are now discretionary. Neighborhood Councils, therefore, review them. But, once these projects can take advantage of the transit neighborhood plan's "free" upzoning, developers will no longer need to appear before Neighborhood Councils to obtain support for their projects. 

-  The extra height, density, and mass that the City Council grants through up-zoning, and the reduced parking requirements in re-code LA zones, will eliminate any developers’ need to apply for density bonuses by including affordable housing units in their projects. 

-  New commercial and apartment projects will impact local residential areas through cut-through traffic, off-site parking, shade and glare, accelerated gentrification and mansionization, and wind-born toxins from nearby demolitions. 

Until these 12 critical questions are satisfactorily answered, and the transit neighborhood plan is either scuttled or folded into the Wilshire Community Plan update process, local opposition will only grow. Why? Because this proposal is a glaringly obvious ploy to circumvent the planning process and local organizations in order to dish out short-term favors to commercial property owners and real estate developers.  

(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles City Planner who reports on planning controversies in Los Angeles for CityWatchLA. Please send any questions or corrections to [email protected].)

Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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