ULI Los Angeles News

The Transit-Oriented Vision for Los Angeles

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“Los Angeles is on the move,” both literally and figuratively, asserted City of Los Angeles Planning Director Vince Bertoni. What will be the transformational outcomes of L.A.’s significant and growing investment in multi-modal transportation? What are the conditions and concepts driving L.A.’s transit-oriented future?  ULI Los Angeles, a District Council of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), convened a group of top local and national experts in urban planning and design to address the revolutionary, rapid urban transformation that is taking place before our eyes in Los Angeles.

Planning for Transit” was held On October 4, 2016 at Downtown L.A.’s Japanese American National Museum before an audience of 200 leaders of L.A.’s transportation, planning, and real estate development communities. The program was part of ULI LA’s Transit Oriented Los Angeles (ToLA), which provides thought leadership on responsible uses of land that can catalyze the development of sustainable, resilient communities.

img_8407Discussions centered on density, public transit, and multiple modes of transportation, as well as urgent community concerns about traffic, parking, planning for seniors and millennials, and affordable housing. New transit options will improve what Bertoni called the “random resources working today” and mitigate the “crushing impact of traffic.” L.A. Metro planners are looking at every aspect of transit today. For example, “We do not have to think of Uber and Lyft as competitors. Instead, we can look at them as extending the use and reach of transit,” said L A. Metro Chief Planning Officer Therese McMillan.

Panelist Neils Cotter, Senior VP, Development at Carmel Partners, said he commutes on an electric skateboard, giving him a “better appreciation” for alternative modes of getting around. “People are excited about new forms of transportation,” Cotter said. “We need to develop transportation programs that are meaningful for city residents. For example, we have a new program in development with Lyft to help seniors overcome the difficulties of getting to doctors’ appointments.”

img_8475The speakers addressed the lack of funding for smart TOD in Los Angeles. “L.A. is not maximizing the invest potential that is available, including $121 billion in federal funding,” said moderator Katherine Aguilar Perez-Estolano, co-founder of Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA)’s Pilot Program for TOD Planning provides funding to local communities to integrate land use and transportation planning with a transit capital investment.  TOD is promoted by the state of California as part of its Strategic Growth Council (SGC) efforts to reduce vehicle miles and thereby decrease greenhouse gas emission.

img_8497Allison Joe, Deputy Director of the SGC, and Hasan Ikhrata, Executive Director of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), provided an overview of the State and Regional grant programs that, together, provide hundreds of millions of dollars to support progressive TOD planning and development projects.

The program also included a discussion of TOD-related Los Angeles ballot measures. Before voters on November 8 will be “Build Better L.A.,” a ballot measure to add new requirements for affordable housing on multifamily developers, and Measure M, which would fund transportation upgrades and other programs. Other initiatives reflect residents’ uncertainties about the development community. On March 7, 2017, Angelenos will vote on the opposing “Neighborhood Integrity” initiative, designed to restrict the size and number of development projects. A similar initiative, “LUVE,” on the ballot in Santa Monica in November would require voter approval for developments greater than 100,000 square feet.

img_8720Several panelists discussed how to engage local communities in the planning and development process to address some of the concerns that are driving these initiatives. In developing their El Plan del Pueblo (The People’s Plan) for Boyle Heights and the Los Lirios project at First and Soto Streets, the East LA Community Corporation (ELACC) had to get creative in its outreach to a cross-section of community members. Rather than host an open house and hope that people would show up, ELACC Community Organizer Carla DePaz described how the organization sought people out during their daily routines, whether on the bus or at their doorsteps.

img_8867During the event’s closing keynote, Tom Murphy, ULI Senior Resident Fellow and former mayor of Pittsburgh, delivered a call to action and challenge to L.A.’s leaders. “The community has a choice,” urged Murphy. “It is about whether you go along with people who protect the status quo, or whether you want the leaders and the partnerships that are going to reach for the future.” The Planning Report has published excerpts of his remarks.

This article was written by Nadene Gallagher of Lauter + Gallagher.

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