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Wed, Feb

Another Crackpot Idea: Hand The I-90 Freeway Corridor Over to Real Estate Developers

Opening dance scene in LaLa Land, shot on the I-90 Marina Freeway

PLANNING WATCH LA

PLANNING WATCH - Here they go again, this time a Streets for All proposal to turn the three mile long I-90 corridor in West Los Angeles --  famous for the opening dance scene in LaLa Land -- into private sector apartments adjacent to a new park.  This is real world YIMBY economics, which is why I call this proposal crackpot.  Like similar upscale apartment projects, this proposal has no connection to the planning process, including the slow-moving updates of four westside community plans: Palms-Mar Vista-Del Rey, West LA, Venice, Westchester-Playa del Rey.  These updates began in 2020 and include the I-90 corridor, where this new housing and park would be located.   For a host of reasons this proposal is highly problematic.

If done correctly, this developer's pipedream of 11 four-story apartment buildings should follow, not proceed, the update of the Palms-Mar Vista-Del Rey Community Plan.  The I-90 Marina Freeway corridor is located in this extremely valuable westside area, a mile from the ocean.  As for the Palms-Mar Vista-Del Rey Community Plan that guides infrastructure, public services, and real estate development in this area, the City Council adopted it in 1997.   This I-90 freeway corridor redevelopment proposal is, however, nowhere to be found in this old plan or in new community plan update materials.

As for a draft Community Plan or Draft Environmental Impact Report that address real estate development of the I-90 corridor, they do not yet exist.  This plan update process will minimally require two more years before the City Council adopts it.  Given City Hall‘s sluggish pace at updating the LA’s 35 community plans, it will probably take much longer.

Since there is nothing in the new plan update material that mentions replacing the I-90 freeway with private apartments and a park, the Community Plan Update should be abruptly changed.  Alternatively, City Hall planners could ignore this grandiose project.  If so, no one at City Hall will have considered the infrastructure (e.g., water) and public services (e.g., schools) needed for the new park, apartment buildings, and their residents and customers.

If the City of Los Angeles, then acquired this three-mile-long freeway, demolished it, rezoned the levelled corridor for mixed-use apartments and a park, and then approved building and park plans, it would require heavy administrative lifting.  

Role of private real estate investors: While many real estate developers would gladly build apartments on this prime land once the freeway is demolished and the land is rezoned, they would build expensive market housing adjacent to a new park.  If they built low-priced rental housing, they would lose money, which is why they are loath to do so.  At best, their mixed-use apartment buildings won't help LA’s homeless, overcrowded, and rent gouged.  At worst, the housing crisis will become worse.  

Follow the money: While it would be great if the new housing were truly affordable, this requires public funding or subsidies.  Since HUD and CRA public housing programs were terminated decades ago, private investors would, therefore, become the developers.  If they were smart, they would wholeheartedly support this project and its mastermind, Streets for All.  This might have already happened because according to the Streets for All website, “We work with the California YIMBY Education Fund, a 501(c)(3) organization that fights for more housing in California; they are a fiscal sponsor of Streets For All and support our educational and policy work.”  California Yimby is, in turn, funded by high tech and major real estate companies, according to Patrick McDonald is his recent book, Selling off California: The Untold Story.

 

Missing funding:  According to the LA Times, the potential funding for this enormous project is, so far, limited to an application for a feasibility study from the U.S. Department of Transportation.  As for the City of Los Angeles, its Recreation and Parks Department does fund and build new parks.  But its list of new park projects dates to 2016, and the links to its quarterly reports are broken.  Of course, a new park could, like most golf courses, be privately funded.  If so, it would benefit local residents, not the severely under-parked Los Angeles region.

If the Streets for All project happens, few Angelenos will benefit from its new apartments and park.  For the residents of the large LA areas with few parks, nothing will have changed.  Ditto for those desperate to rent or buy low-priced housing since they could not afford the new apartments in the former I-90 corridor.

 

(Dick Platkin is a retired Los Angeles city planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatchLA.  He is a board member of United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles (UN4LA).  Previous columns are available at the CityWatchLA archives.  Please send questions and corrections to [email protected].)