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Wed, Apr

Neighborhood Integrity Initiative Won’t Block Affordable Housing – Critics Should Back up their Claims!

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-If you are concerned about planning issues in Los Angeles, then you have undoubtedly heard about the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, and perhaps a counter-initiative, the Build Better LA Initiative. 

Affordable housing: You have may have also heard the repeated claims by the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative’s opponents that it would block the construction of affordable housing. Nice try, but it takes far more than repetition of a talking point to actually make it true. 

This is why I still stand by my previous Citywatch articles: the critics have not yet presented evidence that LA's zoning laws and General Plan designations impede the construction of affordable housing projects. While Neighborhood Integrity Initiative supporters are already looking under every rock for any relevant data, we also invite those who make the “affordable housing argument” to back it up. 

More specifically, I have repeatedly reached out for evidence, in particular the addresses and case numbers of affordable housing projects that required City Council legislative actions to pull building permits. Until advocates, experts, or CityWatch readers can furnish data such supporting these affordable housing claims, I will assume that the critics are only blowing smoke. 

Filtering: A related affordable housing argument is called filtering. It is based on the parallel claim that new, expensive housing filters down to eventually become old and affordable, given enough housing construction and time. Ergo, we should open the floodgates for luxury housing construction in order to meet the housing needs of everyone else. 

The State of California, through a recent report from the Legislative Analyst’s office, has argued that filtering takes a generation to actually work. Under perfect conditions this could be true, but I would go much further than the Legislative Analyst to rebut the filtering argument for Los Angeles. (Note photo above showing old housing in Angelino Heights --not yet affordable after a century.) 

In LA, the price of older housing is going up, not down, and since 1980 the cost of LA’s housing has more than doubled in constant dollars. Even if we accept the caveat that filtering only works when there is substantial construction of new housing, it is still a phantom in LA. Porter Ranch is one of the few LA neighborhoods with substantial construction of new housing over the past 25 years, but where is the evidence that nearby communities with older housing, such as Chatsworth, Northridge, or Granada Hills, have, therefore, had a decline in housing prices or rents? For that matter, what about the vast stretches of post-war homes and apartments in the Valley that are now more than 50 years old? Has any of it filtered down to become affordable housing? 

According to Appfolio, exactly the opposite has happened despite large amounts of aging housing. Apartment rents in the south Valley went up 9 percent in 2015. 

To date I have only heard second-hand anecdotes about apartment buildings whose landlords let buildings deteriorate, especially those near USC. In these cases, however, landlords deliberately ran their apartments into the ground so existing tenants would voluntarily leave. Once they did, however, the landlords made basic repairs and then leased the same units out to students, but at a much higher rents. The result is filtering upwards, not downward. 

But such anecdotes about such landlords are not hard data, and as we continue to look, we also patiently wait for the critics of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative to finally document filtering in Los Angeles.  

Free market fables: So far, the claim about filtering, like the affordable housing argument, is just another free market fable thrown at the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative to see if it sticks. At one time this Pollyannaish belief in the cure-all properties of deregulated real estate markets was confined to the recesses of Ayn Rand and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. But, these myths have now oozed into the deep crevices of the Democratic Party, including nearly all elected officials at City Hall and even some affordable housing advocates. 

Free market myths and fables, however, cannot substitute for hard evidence when it comes to setting public policy. 

If the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative’s opponents were truly concerned about affordable housing – instead of using it as a weak stalking horse for the needs of real estate speculators to build luxury mega-projects -- their time might be better spent advocating for alternative affordable housing programs, such as these: 

1) Inclusionary zoning. Many cities already have zoning requirements that force developers to include about 20 percent affordable housing units in all apartment and condo projects. LA only has a density bonus ordinance, and John Schwada has shown that it has produced few genuine affordable units. 

2) Housing preservation.  Each year LA loses thousands of affordable units to demolitions to clear sites for high-end projects, such as McMansions. This has to stop, but calls for the preservation of existing affordable and lower cost housing are sparse. 

3) Rent control changes.  At present landlords can automatically raise rents by 3 percent per year. This, too, must stop. Likewise, vacancy decontrol must go. This loophole allows landlords to raise rents to whatever level the market will bear when a tenant moves. 

4) More resources from the Federal government. Affordable housing requires the restoration of Federal housing programs, as well as State programs, such as community redevelopment agencies. While a collection basket for LA's Affordable Housing Trust Fund is always welcome, it cannot substitute for well-funded public housing programs. 

None of these approaches conflict with the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, offering further evidence that it does not stand in the way of affordable housing.

 

(Dick Platkin is a former LA city planner who reports on local planning issues for City Watch LA. Please send any comments or corrections to [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Connecting California’s Climate Change Fight to Affordable Housing

HOW WE LIVE--Californians now have a better tool to track where the billions of dollars being collected through the state’s cap-and-trade program are being invested in their communities. An updated online map from TransForm, a transportation and walkability advocacy group, tallies projects receiving funding through the program, and their estimated greenhouse gas reductions.

California sets a legally enforceable limit on the amount of CO2 industry can emit, requiring businesses releasing more than 25,000 tons a year to get permits from the state. The state’s revenues from the permits are then invested in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), which supports projects to further reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.

The new TransForm map tracks these projects: 412 so far, representing over $1.5 billion in investment, and just over 3 million megatons of greenhouse gas reduction. Money has gone to the state’s high-speed rail project, wetland restoration, more efficient farmland irrigation, the expansion of urban canopy and more.

A less obvious use of the funds with immediate benefits for individuals and communities is the construction of affordable housing close to public transportation. These projects both reduce households’ reliance on private vehicles and help more individuals weather California’s affordability crisis.

To date, over $150 million from the GGRF has been utilized to build affordable, transit-oriented development. A 2014 report estimated that developing 15,000 such units could prevent 105,000,000 miles of vehicle travel every year.

According to the report, lower-income households living within a half mile of transit drove 25 to 30 percent fewer miles than those living in non-transit-oriented development; those living a quarter mile or less from transit drove almost 50 percent less.

By contrast, higher-income households drove more than twice as many miles and owned more than twice as many vehicles as extremely low-income households living within a quarter mile of transit. The report suggests that while demand is booming for luxury condos close to public transportation, carbon reduction goals will be best met by preserving some of that housing as affordable.

In addition to the mapping tool, TransForm released a video this week, co-produced with the Greenlining Institute, that tells the story of one resident in a new GGRF development. Esther Robert and her children live close to transit in West Sacramento. Without it, she says in the video, “I would probably be living with all of us in a studio apartment in some place I don’t want to be, just because that’s the only place I could afford to keep something over my head.”

Greenlining Institute Environmental Equity Director Alvaro Sanchez said in a statement, “California’s climate investments are improving people’s lives … . We’re not just tackling climate change, we’re bringing real help to communities that have historically been left out of economic prosperity or saddled with the worst pollution: affordable homes like Esther’s, better transportation choices, cost-cutting home weatherization, and much more.”

(Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Satellite Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. See her work at jakinney.com. This piece originated at NextCity.)  Photo by El Cobrador, via Flickr.

-cw

Disturbing Uptick: LAPD Shooting the Mentally Ill

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-A 300-page analysis of shootings by Los Angeles police released by LAPD officials Tuesday concluded that over a third of those shot had documented signs of mental illness. LAPD’s Chief Charlie Beck states the report will serve as a framework for the Police Commission to discuss how the police use force. 

In 2015, encounters where LA police used forced accounted for about 2,000 of the 1.5 million contacts police made that year. Of the 38 shootings by police last year, 14 were documented as mentally ill and of the 1,900 incidences that involved police use of Tasers, bean-bag guns, and other devices, about a quarter involved mentally ill people. 

The frequency of in-custody deaths also tripled, from 4 in 2014 to 12 last year. About half of these incidents involved someone deemed to be under the influence of drugs. 

One year ago, an officer fatally shot Charly “Africa” Keunang, a homeless man, on Skid row, when Keunang grabbed the rookie officer’s holstered gun. Keunang’s record had included time in a prison psychiatric hospital. Activists attended Tuesday’s commission meeting to protest that incident, along with another fatal shooting of a homeless man by an officer near Venice boardwalk. 

The nexus of law enforcement, prison, and mental illness is a serious issue, not only in Southern California but throughout the U.S. The number of mentally ill inmates in prisons is growing and many others are embroiled in the court system.

At the Federal level, authorities are turning up the heat on LA County Supervisors to improve the situation for inmates who are mentally ill; and LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey is investigating how to divert the mentally ill from the criminal justice system. 

Part of the solution involves training officers to manage situations with suspects who may be mentally ill or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, as well as being homeless. LAPD is already making some headway, having rolled out de-escalation training last year. Tasers are now required for all officers and bean-bag shotguns will be kept in the front of patrol cars rather than in the trunk. 

Assistant Chief Michel Moore shares, “At the end of the day, the instances in which we use force … is extremely rare. But at the same time, each incident is one too many if it can be avoided.” 

Continued efforts in training and in the way we handle the mentally ill in the justice system should help. 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and writes for CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

California Political Parties: RIP

POLITICS--Are both political parties collapsing in California?

Over the past few years the release of Secretary of State data showing a drop in Republican registration has become a routine news story in California.

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Monster Porter Ranch Gas Leak a Monster: Largest in US History!

ENVIRONMENTAL NIGHTMARE-According to a peer-reviewed study just published in the journal Science, the nearly four-month leak released roughly 100,000 tons of methane -- effectively doubling the methane emissions rate of the entire Los Angeles Basin. Southern California Gas Co. said it stopped the leak earlier this month. State Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources engineers confirmed the leak was halted last week. 

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LA’s Housing Crisis: What Can We Really Afford?

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-Since 2000, the cost of housing in Los Angeles has outpaced income growth by four times. Conventional financial advice suggests spending no more than a third of a monthly paycheck on rent or mortgage payment but more than half of Southern Californians spend over 30% on housing, leaving many Angelenos cash-strapped for food, healthcare, transportation, and savings. 

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East LA Latinos: Not be Voting for Trump Anytime Soon

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--As Donald Trump comes closer to clinching the nomination more people start to worry and pay closer attention. If you mention the name Donald Trump in East Los Angles you will now get a reaction, this is according to an article by Steve Lopez from the Los Angeles Times. 

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Clear Channel’s Rogue Billboards Skirt LA’s ‘Code of Principles’

BILLBOARD WATCH-Several months ago, we wrote about a Clear Channel billboard on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice that violated an outdoor advertising industry code regarding the proximity of alcohol ads to schools and places of worship. That ad for New Amsterdam vodka was recently removed, but what’s displayed now on that 52 ft. high, 624 sq. ft. sign? An ad for Camarena tequila. 

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Is LA Losing Mass Transit Riders or are We Messing with the Numbers?

TRANSIT TALK--Regarding the purported 10% drop of mass transit passenger ridership, I will quote from Mark Twain’s Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review. “Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.’” As one who has difficulties with numbers I know how it feels. 

But here’s a statistic attributed to myself: I am a regular transit rider, going back to 1992. I own a car for use, but my commitment to trying to reduce the worst air pollution in the nation, and the continuing and very worrying threat of climate change from burning carbon gases (how’s this February, 2016 winter heatwave working for you?) keep me riding transit. 

Wendell Cox’s attempt through statistics to rebut Ethan Elkins’ criticism of the original Los Angeles Times article which started this noise has left me quizzical. And his buyer’s remorse over his amendment to Proposition A, a measure providing nearly all of the local funding for rail systems for a decade of construction, left me disappointed. 

I followed Cox’s link to newgeography.com which provided statistics to back up his buyer’s remorse and to buttress Thomas A. Rubin’s statistics against the construction of the region’s rail network. 

Again, I am lousy with numbers, but in that article I followed, as I could, the statistics on the change of transportation patterns: 

Census Bureau data indicates that the employment access share of transit in Los Angeles County has declined modestly, from 7.0 percent in 1980 to 6.9 percent in 2013 (including Metrolink). Driving alone increased from 68.7 percent to 72.7 percent, while carpool commuting dropped from 16.8 percent to 10.0 percent. Outside of driving alone, the largest increase occurred in working at home rising from 1.5 percent to 5.2 percent (Figure 3). Unlike transit, working at home requires virtually no expenditures of public funds. Transit one-way work trips increased 77,000 daily, while driving alone increased by 947,000 and working at home increased 182,000. Carpools suffered a large loss. 

Using my admittedly unprofessional statistical abilities, I did some basic math and made my own interpretations. While newgeography points to a modest decline in the “Work Trip Share” of transit -- 6.9 percent down from 7.0 percent -- I would say that the needle has barely moved. However, while drive alone increased four percent, it was offset by an almost four percent increase of working at home. But carpooling decreased by nearly seven percent. Walking decreased nearly one percent, and other remained the same. 

Where did that six percent decrease in carpooling go? 

If the increase of driving alone is offset by working at home, and carpooling suffered a dramatic loss (which further bolsters the point that widening the 405 Freeway in the Sepulveda Pass will not pay off) and transit ridership was nearly the same, how could it be that there was a 10 percent drop in transit ridership? 

Again, I’m lousy with math; there may be an answer somewhere, but I don’t see it. 

Furthermore, I completely disagree with Rubin and Cox’s refuting the idea of counting transit trips as “unlinked trips,” where every bus ride is considered a separate ride. As a transit rider, mostly buses, I support the unlinked trips counting of transit. 

Before I go into my personal experiences, I must ask: when counts are taken of freeway capacity and gridlock, what methodology is used? Once a vehicle enters any freeway, is that considered the entire trip for every freeway, or if I drive on the San Diego 405 Freeway and then get onto the Santa Monica 10 Freeway, would that be considered two trips on two separate freeways? 

Planning for budgets for freeway maintenance should depend how many trips are taken on each freeway. If all freeways are considered one, then the very short Marina 90 Freeway, which always has open lanes, should have the same wear and tear as the 405, and therefore receive the same maintenance funding. I know from driving on both that these two freeways are not in the same condition. The 405 is rutted, bumpy and gridlocked while the 90 Marina Freeway is not. The 405, due to greater use, requires a greater maintenance budget than the 90 freeway. 

So, my experiences as a transit rider tell me that each trip on each and every bus or train should be counted separately, because, as a rider, I will make a transfer to a bus on a street separate from the previous bus, and those need to be counted as separate trips. I may transfer from one transit agency, say Culver City, to another agency such as Metro or Santa Monica. I assume that, when planning their budgets, these three independent transit agencies only count ridership on their buses or trains – the latter of which are exclusively Metro’s. 

Today I rode six buses: in the morning it was Culver City, Regular and Rapid 6 northbound; Metro 720 westbound; and Santa Monica No. 1 westbound. In the evening I took the Santa Monica No. 3 Rapid southbound to another Culver City No. 6 northbound to a bus stop different than the one I used in the morning. For each bus ride it was a walk to the bus stop, wait, board the bus, pay the fare (through the TAP card, but that’s another story), and depart the bus. After that, I had to walk to the transfer bus stop, wait, board, pay fare, and exit. Again and again and again. All separate trips. 

I am not complaining, because that is the nature of transit riding. This leads me to question the everyday transit riding experiences of Rubin and Wilcox. If, day in and day out, they rode buses and rails, they would know the personal experience of separate transit rides. 

What is very disappointing is Rubin’s anti-rail stance and Wilcox’s buyer’s remorse for rail. Indeed, a great number of transit riders today are low to moderate income, as they assert, but Rubin and Wilcox seem intent on keeping them in the less favorable rider experience of bus use only. 

I have nothing against buses. I rode six today. They are my transit mainstay. 

Modern buses are a huge improvement over those I rode when I started riding transit in 1992. But there are limitations on their carrying capacities; they not only offer a lower transit riding experience, they also provide hindrances to it. 

Rails are much smoother than the streets, and so is the ride. It’s worth every penny. The expense elevates the ride for lower and moderate income riders. The entering and departing trains provide a quantum leap for the better at the train stations; they are more expensive to build and maintain than buses and bus stops, but again, they offer better treatment for lower and moderate income riders. 

I have exited buses that put me into a hole in the sidewalk. I have had to leap from a bus to a sidewalk to avoid stepping into a gutter full of water. I have nearly tripped over tree roots or broken sidewalks, or when the bus door opens, I have stepped onto a grassy sidewalk parkway which may be wet; and when sprinklers are on, we transit riders must walk out the door into the spray, trying not to slip on the wet grass. 

These are not good transit experiences, and if you’re low income, or maybe just down on your luck, it’s the last thing you want or need. 

I wonder if Rubin or Wilcox and other mass transit officials and experts have had these kinds of daily experiences that do not show up in statistics. 

I know from driving and taking transit that, during the ever expanding rush hours, traveling by rail is as fast, and sometimes faster, than driving. The benefit of having extra time is priceless. 

Absolutely, rail cost more, but the major cities of the world, the cultural capitals, dynamic and exciting mature cities where people are visible in the streets and not sequestered in the cocoons of vehicles, have extensive passenger rail networks. 

The increase of rail construction cannot be confined to statistics. Its importance rises far above just the aspiration of being a better city and seeking the inspiration to make the city more humane and less mechanical. The question is, do we make ours a world class city, or do we remain middling, muddling along and not trying to improve transit rider experiences? Finally, do we do what is of benefit to all, and particularly for lower income people? That cannot be put into statistics.

 

(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native. He is a transit rider and advocate, a composer, music instructor, and member and president and executive director of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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