Thu, Mar

Los Angeles Isn’t “Panic City” – It’s Changing With The Times


OP/ED - Last month, Tim Campbell wrote a piece called “Los Angeles: Panic City” in which he argued that City leaders are panicking for solutions to homelessness, housing affordability, and climate change. L.A.’s leaders aren’t panicking, but are acting with the forcefulness that our current moment-in-time demands.

The Mayor’s Inside Safe initiative – while not perfect – has the city laser focused on the humanitarian crisis of our time: people living in tents on our streets. In addition to Inside Safe, Tim’s piece attacked Councilmember Yaroslavsky’s project to build a transitional housing facility on Pico Bl. in West Los Angeles. Tim’s logic is typical of those that have opposed change in Los Angeles. In this case, it seems to be “I don’t want tents in the street, but I oppose the City building facilities to make that possible. Just take them elsewhere.”

When a Council office wishes to help people get off the street in a humane way, they need to find a location that has beds and services needed to help people get back on their feet. In the example of Council District 5 – there is not a single transitional housing location in the entire district. This means that Katy’s office has to beg other districts for their beds, which are hard to come by, since those Councilmembers are trying to help people off the street in their district. Instead of opposing Councilmembers trying to build the type of housing that will actually help get people off the street and rebuild their lives, we should be rallying behind them, and encouraging them to build more.

The piece also attacked Los Angeles “upzoning” while neglecting to give context. In 1960, Los Angeles had 2.5 million residents and capacity for approximately 10 million. By 1980, through a series of downzoning, the City limited its housing stock to under 4 million. As of 2016, Los Angeles has a population of just under 4 million, and a population capacity of 4.33 million. In other words, based on our current zoning, we are nearly “full.” This situation has led to a huge spike in housing prices.

People slip into homelessness for many reasons, but one of the biggest ones is the inability to afford their rent. As of September 2023, the median listing home price in the City was $1.3M, up 22% year-over-year. For rentals, as of 2019, rental rates had risen 65% in the past decade, but the median household income had only gone up 36%. The City is quickly becoming unaffordable for most, relegating those of fewer means to the fringes of the City (and requiring long commutes and expensive car dependence), or worse, to the street. If we want housing costs to come down, and give our children a chance to afford living in the City they grew up in, we have to build substantially more housing.

Recognizing this reality, Governor Newsom signed SB-9, which went into effect January 1, 2022, and legalized fourplexes across the entire state, overriding local control. Instead of fighting this reality, we should be embracing it, and supporting the construction of much more housing in the City. This will bring overall housing costs down (basic law of supply and demand) and also help solve one of the main reasons people fall into homelessness.

Lastly, Tim’s piece went into detail on Marina Central Park, Streets For All’s vision to conduct a feasibility study and see if it might be a good idea to reimagine the 128 acres that are taken up by the shortest and least used freeway in Los Angeles, the Marina Freeway.

When President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in 2021, built into the program was a recognition that the ways of 70 years ago – plowing highways through our cities, destroying homes, and creating massive air and noise pollution in communities – needed to be rethought. Our Grandfather’s thinking needs not be our thinking. This resulted in the creation of a first-of-its-kind Federal Reconnecting Communities program. The goal of the program is to fund both planning grants (feasibility studies) and capital construction grants (to physically change the built environment) to help repair the harms of the past.

In the late 1960s the community of Del Rey was divided by the 90 freeway – and many homes were destroyed. The freeway is known as a “film makers paradise” because permission is given to close the freeway during the day – with few impacts to the surrounding streets. The community of Ladera Heights’ opposition to the expansion of the Freeway’s original path down Slauson, creating a 40+ mile corridor to Anaheim, is one of the main reasons why the freeway is only three miles long.

The assertion that our leaders support for conducting a study on L.A. shortest and least used freeway is a form of panic is absurd. Maybe tearing down the 90 freeway (or any freeway) in the L.A. area is a terrible idea and would result in gridlock. Maybe it’s a great idea, and the traffic impacts would be negligible. What Tim (and others) seem to be missing is that the whole point of a feasibility study is to scientifically study an idea, conduct traffic analysis, environmental impact analysis, as well as deep community engagement, before concluding one way or another. Despite his conviction that the idea is a bad one, he has no data to back that up, only anecdotes.

Tim asserts that the creation of 4,000 affordable housing units with little parking is absurd, and that we expect “residents to use bikes or public transportation that doesn’t yet exist.” This ignores the fact that a Bus Rapid Transit line is built into the proposal, and would connect Lincoln Bl’s future bus lanes with the future Sepulveda Transit corridor (likely, heavy rail between the Valley and LAX). Yes, this doesn’t exist today because the freeway exists, but it is proposed to be part of the project.

Secondly, the idea that L.A. is just too big for some people to get around using a bicycle is just factually incorrect. Look at any CicLAvia or open streets event and you’ll see thousands of Angelenos biking blissfully on car free streets. Why don’t more people bike in L.A. – a City where 50% of trips are 3 miles or less? Because there is almost a total lack of safe infrastructure, and people feel like they are going to die trying to get around. Today, only the bravest of the brave bike in L.A. With our best-in-the-world weather, that would change dramatically if the infrastructure existed, and this infrastructure (a Class I bike path) is built into Marina Central Park.

Zooming out, attacking politicians for trying new things to get us out of the multiple crises we face today with climate change, homelessness, housing affordability, and an epidemic of traffic violence is just absurd. Should we keep our zoning the same and continue to make housing less affordable? Should we keep people sleeping on the street with no chance for them to get back on their feet? Should we double down on the mistakes of the past that made the car the mode of transportation to get around Los Angeles, that gave us gridlock and smog, instead of investing in public transportation and alternatives to the car? Now more than ever, it’s time for a deep courage of conviction to not block progress and new approaches. Listening to community feedback is important; following every loud voice is not leadership, it’s the opposite of it

(Michael Schneider, LA Native, Founder of Streets For All, Board Member of Mid City West Neighborhood Council (title for identification only), member, City of Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee, and member, Metro Sustainability Council. [email protected].)