Friday, January 30, 2009
Look for things to pick up speed when the folks at Ponte Vista create their list of who might be asked to be interviewed to help produce a workable plan for Ponte Vista at San Pedro.
Look towards February for more things to unfold.
The more members of the public who are interested and informed about Ponte Vista, the better.
Please consider seeking a place at the conference table regarding Ponte Vista.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Published almost ten years ago, the article contains the words, "smart growth" and not in a wonderful light.
Since the publication of the article, the 110 Freeway got its HOV lanes, but the Long Beach Freeway still is stuck with basically its same geometry.
Whatever benefits have been gained during the last 9 years since the article was published has been more than eaten up by increased population and so many more vehicles on the road.
But sometimes it might be a good idea to learn from the past so we don't repeat it. Unfortunately, the L.A. Department of Transportation and others didn't seem to remember or learn what they should have.
Honk if You Love Traffic
By Wendell Cox
Op-ed published by Los Angeles Daily News17 October 1999
Everyone believes Los Angeles is the ultimate in "urban sprawl" -- low density residential and commercial development. And, indeed, Los Angeles covers a lot of territory -- stretching 75 or more miles from Ventura to Beaumont and from Santa Clarita to San Clemente.
But compared to the sparse suburbanization of other U.S. cities over the past 50 years, Angelenos are packed in like sardines. Los Angeles now has the highest population density per square mile.
For example, if Los Angeles followed Portland, Ore.'s more sprawling path, the Southland would extend uninterrupted to Mojave, Barstow and Indio.
If Los Angeles were developed at the same density as the New York City area, nearly 10 percent more rural land would have been developed.
Most people also believe that Los Angeles is nothing but freeways. The fact that Los Angeles has the nation's worst traffic congestion has led some anti-automobile interests to suggest that freeways are incapable of solving the problem.
However, Los Angeles has less freeway space per capita than most urban areas -- ranking 44th out of the largest 57 urbanized areas in 1996, according to Federal Highway Administration data.
Nashville and Kansas City have approximately double the equivalent freeway lane miles of Los Angeles, and traffic congestion is under control in both locations.
The plain fact is that Los Angeles, with an urbanized area density of 5,800 residents per square mile, has a freeway system that is at least one-third too small to accommodate travel demand.
This did not have to be the case. Decades ago, the California Highway Department planned to build freeways four miles apart that would have provided close access to virtually the entire community.
Unfortunately, special interests and communities opposed the freeways planned in the San Fernando Valley along Reseda Boulevard, Topanga Canyon Boulevard and a mid-Valley east-west route so vociferously that they were canceled, as was a freeway planned for Slauson Boulevard.
Had all those freeways been built, there would be considerably less traffic congestion in Los Angeles today.
Clogged traffic should have been recognized as a conscious choice based upon the freeway development policies that were pursued.
There was also a lot of wishful thinking that didn't materialize. Policy wonks believed the public would abandon their cars in droves and hop on buses or subways. They didn't.
Thirty years of history make it clear -- people love their cars. And it's not just a phenomenon found in Los Angeles. From Europe to Canada, Australia and New Zealand -- more cars are fighting for space.
It is time that state and local officials recognize the obvious -- that the automobile is here to stay and the number of cars will continue to grow at least at the rate of population growth.
No amount of transit expansion or rail construction is going to change that. Providing transportation for the future means providing for the automobile, pure and simple.
Solving the traffic problem in Los Angeles won't be easy. But it can be done. It means either building more freeways and/or improving efficiency.
Politically, the task is daunting.
Practically speaking, adding capacity isn't a problem. For example, in Tokyo, a city that has more people but fewer cars, double-deck freeways are being constructed in the middle of major surface streets, while major downtown streets are double decked. Little additional right of way is required by these approaches.
And Paris is beginning to build 60 miles of underground freeways.
Making roadway use more efficient also could be easily solved by adopting the type of road pricing plans that operate in Singapore. During peak periods, car and truck drivers are debited by freeway scanning devices that make toll booths unnecessary.
Making drivers pay more during peak hours would discourage freeway use at the most congested times.
That certainly would reduce traffic congestion, but almost as certainly would rile the public who are used to paying for roadways at the gas pump rather than on the highway.
Until the politics changes, traffic congestion will continue to get worse.
But if government adopts the current fashionable idea of "smart growth" the worst will happen sooner.
Well meaning but naive people believe that such so-called "smart growth" -- increasing densities and restricting growth boundaries -- will reduce traffic congestion.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Traffic congestion in the United States and around the world is worse in more densely populated urban areas.
The reason is very simple -- higher population densities mean more cars per square mile, more travel per square mile and thus, worse traffic congestion, not to mention air pollution.
The last thing Los Angeles needs is higher densities. It may seem ironic, but at the end of the 20th century, Los Angeles faces the nation's most severe traffic congestion because it has become too dense and has too few freeways.
Wendell Cox was a member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission from 1977-1985.
Since the article was written there have been busway access points added to the 110 Freeway, but still there is only one METRO bus line that travels along Western Avenue during the day.
I don't believe that Ponte Vista would ever receive real beliefs that is could be completed and be truly be called a development that had enough of the smart growth standards needed.
It certainly could be built utilizing some of those standards.
As I have considered for several years and illustrated on this blog, there needs to be a route to Gaffey provided for both Ponte Vista and Mary Star of the Sea High School.
With 'new' ideas that will be considered, the new route should come up again with real discussions this time and more pressure on the U.S. Navy by regular residents and those who want housing at Ponte Vista in numbers greater than 420-735.
Now that the Planning Department has opined that there should only be two access points along Western in and out of Ponte Vista, the new route to Gaffey should be given even greater importance as a subject to consider and work towards.
Ponte Vista may never reach the heights of truly being considered as real smart growth, but that doesn't mean we can help it achieve as many of the standards as it can get. That may end up helping all of us out in the long run.
Friday, January 23, 2009
There was nothing new to be found at www.yourpontevista.com as of Thursday night. I hope the Outreach Team has been working on plans how to get more community involvement into the process of considering what could be successfully built on the site.
Maybe next week will find all of us learning more that can be published.
Here is a bit of a warning for folks who may read this blog and live in areas where things like this are occurring.
Apparently there are folks knocking on doors in the area claiming to represent the Peninsula High School football team's efforts at raising funds.
This is a scam and it has been reported and information has been passed around the areas further up on The Hill.
However, my doorbell was rung the other night by two individuals who claimed they represented Narbonne High School and it appears they were asking for funds, too.
I can't say whether they were legit or not, but since I am on a very fixed income that is not very big at all, I did not provide either of the two any money.
The Rancho Palos Verdes Planning Commission is continuing its public hearing regarding the Marymount College Expansion Project and I have mentioned that in earlier posts.
It also seems that opponents to that particular development project also have a great deal of difficulty with the Traffic and Circulation Section of the Project's EIRs.
Tuesday evening may get as interesting as some of the meetings many of us attended regarding the Ponte Vista project.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
You are also encouraged to contribute written comments to the Planning Commission and you may do that via Email, using the Marymount College Expansion Project in the subject line and sending the Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org That address is for Mr. Ara Mihranian, the city's manager for the project.
The Expansion Project's most controversial aspect is the proposition of placing 128-on campus dormitory rooms to house 250 students and 5 faculty advisers.
I will posting this notice on three of my blogs and providing some different comments on each blog, depending on the blog.
For anyone considering anything about Ponte Vista at San Pedro, you may want to learn some facts about the proposed expansion.
If the proposed plans are accepted, over 1,500 ADDED trips to and from the campus would be generated every weekday classes are held.
40% of the added traffic would travel along Western Avenue from Crestwood Street to P.V. Dive North.
Actually the Traffic and Circulation section of Marymount's Environmental Reports have significant errors that should be corrected before approval is granted for anything.
There is an Alternative that states if on-campus housing is not granted, the College's administration may want to increase the number of students and faculty living at the Palos Verdes North off-campus housing site on P.V. Drive North.
This would be almost a complete disaster, in my opinion, if this were to happen.
The Alternative also includes items that would basically place the entire Athletic Department and their classes at Palos Verdes North, along with a large increase in housing units.
The off-campus housing site already has about 300 individuals living there on a site that has a code variance because there are actually more dwelling units at the site than is currently allowed by L.A. zoning laws.
I doubt very much that the College's administration is looking to try and deal with the city of Los Angeles with regards to expanding the off-campus housing site, but you need to know that it is on the table.
No matter what you would like to see at the Ponte Vista site, I hope you join many of us in objecting to any on-campus housing being built at Marymount College and that there must be no real consideration of the Alternative which would add more units along Palos Verdes Drive North.
From what I have read on the Internet, here is how Credit Suisse acquired DLJ.
In 2000, the giant investment and brokerage firm of Donaldson, Lufkin, and Jennerette sold its real estate funding business to Credit Suisse First Boston.
The acquired unit was named CSFB Realty.
In 2002, Credit Suisse quietly closed down tha unit, but kept the name DLJ and subsequently created DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners, LP.
There is nothing that I have been able to find that suggests that DLJ has anything to do with planning what types of units would be built at Ponte Vista at San Pedro.
DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners appears to be a financial organization and continues to have the funding to back whoever is attempting to act as a developer for the project.
It is my impression that Mr. Ted Fentin in his role as a representative of DLJ is primarily concerned with the funding and financial management of the project.
I feel it is still fair to request that the Ponte Vista Outreach Team provide the name or names of individuals who actually are supposedly replacing Bob as a developer of the project.
Mr. Fentin may be the one person who give the go ahead with whatever is proposed, but from what I have been reading, his firm doesn't deal with physical project proposals, mitigation, and outreach, other than in a financial way.
As I learn more, I will post more.
Friday, January 16, 2009
If someone had told me just after I wrote "Odds and Ends 10" that I would still be creating weekly posts for Friday publication, I would not have believed them.
It's 2009 already and many people thought the old duplexes would have been gone by now and Bob would have left to let a contracting firm deal with the site, while the marketing team was busy collecting deposits on units that had blueprints drawn and willing buyers.
I don't know if any of us could have imagined that opposition to the first plans for Ponte Vista at San Pedro would get us, partially, to where we are today.
It is impossible not to believe that the recent, current, and future economic turmoil has had an impact on all of the issues, but when OUR community got together and said, "NO!" I guess we were believed.
I feel all of us have learned quite a bit. I am still looking for someone to help me with a book about what has happened so far. To claim that events surrounding Ponte Vista as San Pedro weren't interesting, would not be a believable claim.
Where we are today is where we were almost four years ago with the giant exception that all of us have learned so much more than we knew that long ago and the Outreach Team also has learned quite a bit, I believe.
That exception provides the fact that we will not be starting over from scratch and as we start over, many new implications, concerns, visions, and discussions will become very important.
Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you. In this case, we will watch very carefully for any attempts by anyone to fool anyone else. This is a major piece of education I think we have all learned.
Caution now replaces the optimism first expressed by too many people when thinking about the project.
Caution in this instance is going to be a good thing to insure that whatever is approved of at the site will meet the best interests of OUR community and not just a developer trying to profit at our expense.
Caution is also something we need to use as we really try to work with everyone, including the Outreach Team and the development team, whoever they are, now and in the future.
Can some kind of development of the property be successful? I certainly hope it can and I will help try and make it so.
I feel everyone is a stakeholder if they feel they are. Everyone should be heard who wants to speak.
If I remember correctly, Mr. Ted Fentin, the Credit Suisse representative identified in the article was one of the two people Ms. Swanson gave me the name of, last year.
I bring that point up because I have not seen any published reports as to who makes up the 'new' development team for Ponte Vista at San Pedro.
We have been told that DLJ Real Estate Property Management Co. is now involved, but wouldn't it be a good, trust-providing thing to do, for the Outreach Team to provide the names of the individuals who will be making up the new development team?
If the names of Mr. Alan Abshez or Mr. Hoffman are included, that is a sign that some of the 'new' members are not new at all and are still affiliated with Bisno Development Co., LLC.
It's kind of funny to see "Copyright 2009 Bisno Development Company, LLC" on the right side of the 'your ponte vista'. It might make somebody think that Bob is still in the picture. Is he?
I thought Bob was removed in 2008. Oh well, he may still own the site.
If may bring up the issue of whether to trust folks representing Ponte Vista at San Pedro, but I think I uses a word several times on this post that states what I feel should be the way folks look at the issues.
Since the Outreach Team still seems to try and tell you that Ponte Vista at San Pedro will be used using 'smart growth' techniques, I moved the very, very large article by Mr. David Zanhiser up to where you can find it.
The article was first published in June, 2007 in the L.A. Weekly and it is titled;
What's so smart about smart growth.
Real smart growth involves many things including creating a community that favors walking places, nearby mass transit hubs, many shopping venues, and a community that fits in with the mush larger surrounding community.
I am sure the Outreach Team will advise you to go to: www.smartgrowth.org so I am jumping in and letting you know about that site. It is a treasure trove of information about smart growth and what qualifies and what does not.
A smart growth community has businesses that allow residents to walk from their home to where they work or take a few steps to a mass transit hub to get to work in an area close to another mass transit hub.
A smart growth community also tries to reflect the nature and tenor of the overall area of the city where it is located.
A smart growth community allows for residents to get to and from major shopping and entertainment venues by walking or utilizing mass transit that is located at the smart growth community.
Line 205 of the MTA, the ONLY bus line traveling past Ponte Vista does NOT go to the Del Amo Mall, the Promenade Mall in Rolling Hills Estates, but does end up at the 110-105/Green Line hub.
I'll be watching how the Outreach Team spins their smart growth concepts and how Ponte Vista fits in with the rest of the San Pedro community.
Frankly, with all my reading, it could never qualify to receive official claim of being a smart growth project.
The Outreach Team will also spin LEEDs certification. It is a very good thing to be environmentally conscious and Ponte Vista will (hopefully) be built satisfying all the requirements for LEEDs certification. What folks may not know is that by the time the project gets approved for any new building, the requirements will be mandatory and more regulations are being approved of all the time.
Ponte Vista will provide the benefits of the certification because they will most probably be required to do so.
I think since the time span has literally been years since the traffic and transportation studies and the school enrollment studies have been done regarding the Ponte Vista at San Pedro project, new ones for any new application need to be conducted.
Now that Mary Star is open, we can get a better set of studies conducted. Since Dodson Middle School continues to have about 600 students bused in and an unknown number of students being driven to that campus from outside San Pedro and R.P.V., this is another reason why new studies should be undertaken.
The economic arena should be restudied because of the opening of Target and the loss of businesses within a five-mile radius of the site may have changed the dynamics in a big way.
I highly doubt that a revised application should be accepted by anyone.
The guidelines set up by the Planning Department suggest one fewer access route into and out of Ponte Vista so just about everything associated with the very area most local to the project's site will be greatly changed. Longer turning lanes, different signal timing, more congestion, and more mitigation will be necessary.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
The article is about 7,189 words and I have to divide it up into several posts. I tried for over an hour to get the whole thing onto one post. I am now posting the article based on major sections as laid out by Mr. Zanhiser, in his article.
Here is the first section:
What's Smart About Smart Growth?
City Hall's plan for the future expects you to give up the yard, the car - and learn to love density
By DAVID ZAHNISER
Wednesday, May 30, 2007 - 3:00 pm
We are not moving. We, the passengers of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s No. 304 bus, are not moving. The traffic signal up ahead is green. But we are not moving because we sit behind a constellation of brake lights, a seemingly endless chain of cars lined up end to end as far as the passengers can see.
The No. 304 bus is heading east on Santa Monica Boulevard in rush-hour traffic, inching its way out of Century City and into Beverly Hills. Because traffic is terrible, as it so frequently is on the Westside, the bus is nowhere near to being on schedule. After all, it spent 27 minutes traveling in a straight line from Lincoln Boulevard to the 405 freeway — a pace of 7.5 miles per hour.
“It’s always like this,” declares passenger Sharon Tohline, who takes the No. 304 each day to her job at Koning Eisenberg, an architecture firm in Santa Monica. Because her firm specializes in environmentally friendly design, and because her 7-year-old Mazda has seen better days, Tohline decided to do her part and hop on the bus. Now, she has a commute that consumes three hours each day.
The bus on Santa Monica Boulevard isn’t just slow, by the way. It is also smelly. Wretchedly smelly. One passenger asks out loud whether someone vomited. In reality, the odor comes from the disheveled man with a ponytail in the third to last row, who grins incoherently as he sways to 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” playing on a nearby stereo. The stench is violating, so powerful that passengers have emptied out the seats on each side of the smelly, drugged-out man.
Tohline is philosophical about the situation, making jokes about indignities suffered on other commutes, like the day passengers swiftly concealed a mystery odor by spraying perfume. The 26-year-old native of Louisiana also makes sure her hours on the bus aren’t wasted time. She has an iPod, the preferred device of the bus passenger, and she has books. Many books. Tohline has read 30 of them since she started taking the bus in February — Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated, Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love and, most recently, Marisha Pessl’s 514-page Special Topics in Calamity Physics. “I polished it off in a week,” she says.
If the bus is moving slowly now, wait a few years.
Huge development projects are planned for Santa Monica Boulevard, in a district of Los Angeles known as Century City. The Related Companies recently demolished the St. Regis Hotel to build a 42-story condominium tower. Westfield, the shopping-mall giant, is planning a 42-story skyscraper that combines shopping with condos. And JMB Realty, based in Chicago, recently received the go-ahead to build two 47-story condo towers and a 12-story loft on nearby Constellation Boulevard.
The elites who control L.A. real estate have two words to describe the changes in store for Century City: smart growth. When planners talk about smart growth in Century City, they mean high-density housing in a job center. When lobbyists talk about smart growth in Century City, they mean luxury condos surrounded by walkable streets. Even Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, who does not hide his boredom with certain planning issues, rhapsodized in January that Century City will one day behave like a village, not an intimidating cluster of skyscrapers. In other words, smart growth.
Los Angeles leaders are pinning their hopes on smart growth, the utopian planning vision that seeks to halt the suburban sprawl that comes with endlessly expanding cities. Politicians, planners and policy types say smart growth, sometimes described as “new urbanism,” will relieve the region’s housing shortage, diminish its traffic woes and solve L.A.’s overall unlivability.
Real estate developers have caught on, using the phrase shamelessly to gain public support for enormous developments, from a hillside subdivision near Santa Clarita to the Westside’s Playa Vista, the massive, 5,800-home development near Marina del Rey. In a city where growth was once a dirty word, smart growth is the spoonful of sugar that suddenly makes bigness palatable.
Conceived a decade ago as a way to protect open space, smart growth relies on a few major precepts. One is that the car is bad. Another is that cities should be composed of villages, where residents walk to their amenities — shops, restaurants, a decent dry cleaner. To make those places walkable, housing and businesses are concentrated in the same multistory buildings, according to the smart-growth doctrine. And to discourage cars further, those “mixed use” buildings are placed on big streets with frequent public transit, like Santa Monica Boulevard.
With a real estate boom serving as the spark, smart-growth projects have spread like wildfire, rising near subway and light-rail stations. Hollywood is adding thousands of condos and apartments along the Metro Red Line. Koreatown is ground zero for hundreds of new multistory homes and offices near the subway. Little Tokyo is a magnet for four- and five-story condo projects, largely because of a Metro Gold Line station slated to open in 2009.
And Union Station, the 1939 train depot and Los Angeles icon, is now hidden by apartments on two sides — a situation viewed as a disaster by L.A. design purists.
Beyond this construction near the area’s few rail lines, the city's many bus corridors are also attracting apartments, lofts, town homes and condos — La Brea Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard, Vine Street and Ventura Boulevard, Western Avenue and Washington Boulevard. Higher-density housing is being recommended for any corner where a bus arrives every 15 minutes or less.
And that leads to one huge problem: For all the talk of a subway to the sea, Los Angeles is a bus town. For each mile of rail operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, there are 40 miles of bus routes. And in 2007, the average speed of the widely used orange bus is just 11.7 miles per hour. Buses, which will serve in many ways as the backbone for smart growth, are stuck in traffic along with everybody else.
If smart growth is about changing behavior — getting people to give up the car, the backyard, the five-bedroom house on a cul-de-sac — then planning gurus are taking a tremendous gamble in Los Angeles, the city that made sprawl the urban form of the 20th century.
Smart-growth enthusiasts believe motorists will become so fed up sitting in traffic that they will abandon their cars for a substandard transit system. The bus, in particular, provides a series of indignities: the lone screaming passenger who makes everyone else miserable; televisions that noisily broadcast commercials for gym equipment; the ban on beverages and food. (You can bring a travel mug on the bus; you just can’t drink from it.) And despite all that inconvenience, MTA daily passes are set to double in price — to $6 in 2009.
Advocates of smart growth are making a second risky bet, arguing that once someone makes a home in a condo or a multistory apartment building, he or she will work nearby — reducing the number of cars on traffic-choked streets. Or, as a newsletter published in 2005 by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce put it: “More [transit] funds and smart growth are key to correcting L.A.’s traffic woes.”
So here’s an unpleasant thought: Unless enough people can be persuaded to change their behavior, the L.A. traffic nightmare will be much, much worse under smart growth — miles and miles of high-density neighborhoods, with public transportation no one but the poorest residents will use, or tolerate.
Smart-growth advocates say they aren’t worried. The city will need density either way, they say, just to qualify for federal funding that pays for rail. If traffic gets worse in the short term, neighborhoods will finally rise up and demand the light-rail and subway lines that could transform Los Angeles into a functioning city, says Gloria Ohland, vice president for communications with Reconnecting America, an organization that promotes rail and transit-oriented development.
“Traffic, which is the problem, is also the solution,” Ohland says. “So I would argue, boost the density in Century City. Build it out to the max. And then, there will be the constituency to build a subway down Wilshire Boulevard.”
Ohland and many other smart-growth backers assume that at some unknown point, the number of commuters who abandon their cars will reach a critical mass and the city will become more livable. But no one knows precisely when — or if — that will happen. To make it work, they will need commuters like Tohline, the 26-year-old office worker who gave up her car.
With a three-hour daily commute, Tohline could easily succumb to the boredom and get back behind the wheel. After all, no subway will reach Century City for at least a decade. And even if it does, that subway will come from Koreatown, not from the Hollywood neighborhood where Tohline lives.
Asked how long she can last on the bus, Tohline pauses. “I don’t know yet,” she says, as her bus heads past the skyscrapers of Century City. Even the upbeat commuter on the No. 304 is no sure thing.
Los Angeles has always had an uneasy relationship with growth. The archetypal boom-and-bust town, L.A. repeatedly sees its real estate market surge and recede, with each growth spurt followed by a period of financial pain. Transportation was the catalyst for one of the earliest booms, with newcomers flooding into the city after fares on the transcontinental railroad from the Midwest to L.A. dropped to $1 per ticket. Land values soared — until a bank crisis caused a collapse in 1888.
For much of the 20th century, growth was considered good in Los Angeles. The city accommodated its continual influx by creating the most extensive trolley network in the nation. It was dismantled after World War II, replaced by the “Motor Coach” — General Motors’ halfhearted marketing term for the bus — and by the sprawling freeway system.
With the freeways came discontent, as traffic choked the Westside and then much of the city. The symbol of anti-growth ire was Proposition U, which voters easily passed in 1988. Proposition U shifted L.A.’s planning equation from unbridled growth to “slow growth,” by limiting the height of buildings on major boulevards to 45 feet and cutting in half each commercial building’s “floor area ratio” — a formula used to determine the mass of a building. Then, in the wake of the 1992 riots, a crushing recession stopped development almost completely, and growth slowed on its own.
But at the start of this decade, and without much public notice, slow growth was replaced by the concept of “smart growth,” as Los Angeles city planners quietly urged elected officials to put “mixed use” projects on major boulevards, with retail on the ground floor and housing up above.
The first push for higher-density housing came in 2002, during the administration of Mayor James Hahn, when the Los Angeles City Council passed — with little scrutiny — a law allowing projects with affordable housing to exceed existing density limits by more than one-third if they were near a rail station or any of the city’s dozens of bus routes.
Months later in 2002, again with little public involvement, the council went further, voting unanimously to create a smart-growth zoning designation — “Residential Accessory Services” — that allows developers to build projects twice the size previously allowed if they combine housing and businesses in the same building.
On low-rise commercial avenues and boulevards like Ventura, La Brea and Pico, developers suddenly found that by adding housing, they could blow past the growth limits voters established under Proposition U. Prop. U, after all, only capped the size of commercial and industrial buildings.
The results can be seen all over the city, with construction pits and steel girders marking where the development rules have abruptly changed.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, elected in 2005, says smart-growth strategies will produce “elegant density,” multistory buildings that are embraced by neighborhoods. But County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who campaigned for Prop. U, has a more skeptical view, saying the Department of City Planning found a way to circumvent the electorate.
“There’s nothing elegant about busting the limits that have been in place on the Westside, that I got in place in my district,” Yaroslavsky says. “And it isn’t elegant to the people who thought they were protected by the restraints we put in place 20 years ago in those neighborhoods.”
Eight thousand housing units — accommodating thousands of new residents — have been approved in the past three years using the new smart-growth zoning, says Jane Blumenfeld, a 16-year veteran of the planning department. To help her employees understand where she believes that zoning makes sense, Blumenfeld created a map that shows every place in Los Angeles that sits within 1,500 feet of a major transit stop — that is, a transit stop at which a bus or train arrives every 15 minutes during afternoon rush hour.
( Map ommited from this copy. Please visit http://www.laweekly.com/ to find it)
The map is, to put it mildly, jarring. On it, nearly every boulevard north of the Santa Monica Freeway and south of the Santa Monica Mountains and Hollywood Hills appears as though it could be converted to smart-growth zoning. A huge swath of South Los Angeles and several pockets of the San Fernando Valley are also prime candidates.
Why? Because nearly every boulevard has a bus. “We want to build housing near transit, as opposed to building it where there’s no ability to reach transit,” says Blumenfeld, who oversees citywide planning strategies. “South of the mountains, there’s pretty much transit everywhere.”
Blumenfeld cautions that the map is only a guide, and can’t be used to force density on the few remaining areas still designated R-1, or single-family, where no more than one house can be constructed on a residential lot.
The new higher density, she says, will go primarily in places permitted in each neighborhood’s community plan. Community plans are official documents now being updated, with varying levels of community input, all over Los Angeles. First up in the battle over adding new density to their community plans are West Los Angeles, Sunland-Tujunga, Westlake and parts of South Los Angeles.
Barring another Prop. U–style voter revolt against development, Los Angeles residents won’t be given a choice. For the past few years, the neighborhoods have been warned: If they don’t find places to allow density, the planning department — and the 15 City Council members — will find those places for them.
Hollywood resident Lucille Saunders is not quite ready to see her city remade on such a dramatic scale. A volunteer with the Melrose Neighborhood Association, she has been combating a proposal for an outsize 219-unit apartment building on La Brea Avenue. Minutes after she testified at City Hall, Saunders took one look at the map and gasped. “It’s a travesty,” she declares. “It just seems as though this is opening the entire city, the entire central city, to whatever the developers want.”
Saunders’ group was prepared to allow a three-story apartment complex on La Brea. But when the developer announced his desire for seven stories and an exemption from height limits, her group hired a lawyer — and a lobbyist. After spending thousands of dollars, the Melrose Neighborhood Association persuaded city officials to prepare a full environmental impact report on the project, a move that delays but does not stop the seven-story tower
.With so many bulked-up buildings springing up on major boulevards, some politicians are seeing a resurgence in restlessness over new construction. Councilman Weiss, whose district includes Century City and much of the Westside, has been targeted for recall by a handful of neighborhood groups. And Supervisor Yaroslavsky, who pushed for “slow growth” initiatives two decades ago as a city councilman, says traffic is so bad that he no longer travels to certain parts of his district in the late afternoon.
Yaroslavsky blames not only Los Angeles, but smaller cities like West Hollywood and Santa Monica, for allowing developers to go for projects that were “previously unacceptable.”
“There is a revolt that is now surfacing in various parts of Los Angeles, and rightly so,” Yaroslavsky says. “Communities [will] never be able to compete with the real estate lobby. All they have is their political power and their voice. And they need to be heard.”
The Chicken and the Egg
Los Angeles is the birthplace of trends — the freeways of the 1950s, the anti-tax movement of the 1970s, the gourmet pizzas of the 1980s. But when it comes to smart growth, the city finds itself atypically at the tail end of a movement that originated in smaller, rural states as a way to protect open space.
Smart growth arose in the mid-1990s in Colorado, where then-Governor Roy Romer faced an outcry over new housing subdivisions gobbling up farmland around Denver, Boulder and other midsize cities. Romer warned during his 1994 re-election campaign that the Rocky Mountain State was looking more like Los Angeles, the nation’s poster child for traffic and bad planning.
In Los Angeles, planners and affordable-housing advocates pushed smart growth not so much to save open space but to address traffic and a lack of reasonably priced housing. Only a few years earlier, home buyers in San Bernardino and Riverside counties were delighted to find four-bedroom homes on cul-de-sacs for less than $300,000. Yet their commutes dragged on for as much as two hours.
“If we put people at the urban fringe, their only transit option is the car,” says Beth Stecker, policy director with the L.A.-based Livable Places, a nonprofit group that favors smart growth. “There’s no bus service there. . . . They find someplace they can afford to buy, but they have a long, hellish commute. So if we can give people a place where they can have a choice of taking the train or the bus, or biking or walking to work, then that’s better.”
Mayor Villaraigosa jumped on the smart-growth bandwagon soon after his election, telling business leaders that if the city wants to keep moving, then freeways and single-family homes will need to be things of the past.
“A lot of us grew up with the idea of a three-bedroom house with large backyards and front lots. We have to recognize that that’s not going to be possible,” Villaraigosa said in remarks covered by the Los Angeles Daily News.
Villaraigosa, who is driven around town in a GMC Yukon, has a hilltop home in Mount Washington and at least four years of free rent at the mayoral mansion in Windsor Square, a neighborhood lined with streets zoned for highly restrictive R-1, or single-family homes. Shortly after his election, Villaraigosa selected nine people to carry out his development vision at the Los Angeles City Planning Commission.
Seven of his nine planning commissioners also live in single-family homes, nearly all on streets that enjoy the most restrictive zoning in Los Angeles — prohibiting apartments or multifamily housing of any kind. Even as they try to change the behavior of the city’s residents, planning commissioners have been loath to alter their own.
Heading the commission is Jane Usher, a lawyer who is, like the mayor, a resident of leafy Windsor Square. With Usher at the helm, the commission unveiled a 14-point manifesto last month that demands a smart-growth approach: a walkable city, jobs near housing, and density near transit, to name a few.
A onetime aide to former Mayor Tom Bradley, Usher wants Los Angeles to become much more dense, arguing that more residents, grouped more closely, are needed in order to maximize the use of a transit system that will one day crisscross L.A. — including expanded Metro Rapid bus service and the Metro Gold Line to East Los Angeles, the Expo Line to Culver City, and the subway to the sea so often mentioned by Villaraigosa.
“It is a chicken-and-an-egg problem,” she says. “If those [rail lines] are just the nearest things on the horizon, and other projects follow, then there will be a point in time when L.A. has a real train system. And my belief is, buildings that are built today need to anticipate that real train system and need to support it.”
And in the interim?
“In the interim, there’s going to be traffic,” Usher adds.
The chicken-and-egg problem is, in fact, all over the city. Places that are getting rail frequently don’t have density, and the places with density frequently don’t have rail. Playa Vista, billed as smart-growth, is adding 5,846 homes along Jefferson Boulevard but is miles from a rail stop.
The Metro Gold Line extension to East Los Angeles, slated to open in 2009, ends at a McDonald’s, a Chevron and two huge mini-malls — places that house businesses like Manny’s El Loco and Los Pollos No. 2. Los Angeles County officials bought land on nearby Atlantic Boulevard to ensure that multistory housing gets built, but right now those lots lie fallow.
The prospect of a new rail line excites 22-year-old Michael Cowie, waiting on a Sunday afternoon for the arrival of the Metro Rapid bus on Atlantic Boulevard. But even so, he is one of those transit riders who doesn’t believe people will change their ways. Standing in the hot sun, he says it’s obvious that anyone who has a car will choose to drive it. “Everyone hates the bus,” he declares.
The chicken-and-egg problem makes it unclear when either commuters or bus riders will find relief under smart growth. It looks unlikely in 2009, when the Metro Gold Line reaches East Los Angeles. Or 2014, when the rail line along Exposition Boulevard finally reaches Santa Monica.
Perhaps it will be 2016, the earliest realistic date for the subway to the sea. “This is about an evolution, not a revolution,” says Ohland, the communications vp with Reconnecting America. “It’s taking a really long time to go from car-oriented to transit-oriented, and in between there’s a lot of uncomfortable places.”
The Hollywood Problem
The MTA’s 156 bus crawls up Highland Avenue on a Monday afternoon in April, fighting through evening rush-hour traffic as it passes streets known around the world — Melrose Avenue, Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard. An exhausted-looking jogger, running inexplicably in the right lane of traffic, easily passes the bus.
It’s not hard to do, since the bus has traveled four blocks in 10 minutes.
From Hollywood south to Sunset, 36 vehicles have stacked up single-file in the right-hand lane. In the one-block stretch from Sunset to De Longpre Avenue, another 25 cars stack up. From De Longpre to Fountain Avenue, there are 23 cars. On the next block, there are 19. After that, 16. The bus drops off a few passengers across from the Metro Red Line Station at the Hollywood & Highland shopping mall before heading up Cahuenga Pass into the San Fernando Valley.
Because it is a bus route, Highland Avenue is what the planning department calls a “transit corridor,” a place where smart-growth advocates want the greatest amount of housing built. And so far, they are doing a good job of it.
Last month, the planning commission approved the Jefferson at Hollywood, a 270-unit apartment building across from Hollywood & Highland. The project is classic smart growth: shopping on the sidewalk and housing above, across from a subway station. Not far away, construction workers are building the Hollywood, a complex of 54 condos on Franklin Avenue selling for $800,000 and up. And across from it is the future McCadden Place — 218 condos in two eight-story buildings.
If smart-growth theories work as envisioned, many of those new residents will get out of their cars and hop on public transit. Yet the developers of the Jefferson and McCadden Place are hedging their bets: Together, the two projects will offer 1,381 parking spaces — some for residents, some for tourists. Each new car will have to fight the traffic choking Highland Avenue, which is in turn making it impossible for buses to get anywhere.
Highland isn’t the only north-south route in Hollywood jammed with traffic. Other bus routes, like La Brea and Vine Street, are getting worse. On Vine, the Los Angeles City Council voted to lift the height limits to build a luxury W Hotel, along with 500 apartments and condos. Next door, an 11-story residential building is going in, with a Whole Foods Market on the ground floor.
Blumenfeld, the city planner, insists that many of the new Vine Street residents who move into these buildings will live differently, owning only one car or taking transit each day. “I don’t think people will have no cars. But the fewer the cars, the better the transit gets,” she says.
Hollywood is represented by Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, the 36-year-old former Rhodes scholar who has aggressively pursued smart-growth policies, particularly multistory housing. He argues that 95 percent of the traffic in Hollywood is passing through to somewhere else. “Traffic gets 5 percent worse a year in all parts of Los Angeles,” Garcetti says. “And the places that get the worst are the places that have built the least housing. West L.A. is the worst.”
As he strolls down Western Avenue on a rainy afternoon in March, Garcetti points enthusiastically to a trio of smart-growth projects that brought affordable housing near the Hollywood and Western subway station. One project has a Mondrian design — dozens of squares in red, yellow, orange and blue. A second has 100 apartments for senior citizens and shops on the ground — Jamba Juice, Blockbuster Video, Ross Dress for Less. A third, Garcetti eagerly points out, was featured in the ultimate arbiter of eco-friendly design chic, Dwell magazine.
Smart growth, in theory, is supposed to promote the pedestrian. But the Jamba Juice apartment building has in its center a big parking lot, not a courtyard. A mixed-use Walgreens on Western Avenue has so much parking it looks like a mini-mall with four floors of housing on top.
Standing in the Walgreens parking lot, Garcetti promises that L.A. will get better at smart growth, by making good design a higher priority. And he says smart growth serves an important social need, by creating housing at all income levels. “If you have all the poor living in one place and all the rich people living in another place,” he warns, “you get the Westside.”
The Bus Problem
The Bonaventure Hotel on Flower Street is the last place you’d expect a gathering on smart growth. The place is a bunker, catering to the car like few places in Los Angeles. If you’re not paying attention, you can miss the hotel entirely and drive from Fifth Street onto the northbound 110 freeway. Even the walkways in and out of the hotel look like tiny freeway overpasses.
Needless to say, participants in the New Partners for Smart Growth annual conference aren’t happy. Chatting over the hiss of the Bonaventure’s indoor fountain, they are mortified by the location, long derided for its fortresslike urban design. Still, they have other worries. One panelist at an evening session warns that the public is failing to make the link between sprawl and global warming. Another earnestly declares that the movement has failed to show how pedestrian-oriented designs can address obesity. If the makers of Waiting for Guffman find out about this event, they are going to have a field day.
One session features an employee of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, who tells the overeducated, extremely middle-class audience how to live here without owning a car. (He used a Global Positioning System to determine where he would have the most shops and services, then moved to congested West Hollywood.)
The session that most clearly signals the future of Los Angeles is led by Rex Gephart, a regional planning director for the MTA. He tells audience members the history of the red Metro Rapid bus, created seven years ago to address the city’s declining bus speeds. The Rapid bus is an elongated vehicle that stops infrequently, moves passengers in and out more quickly, and alters traffic signals by keeping green lights green.
The system was deemed a huge success and expanded from two routes in 2000 to 16 last year. It is cheaper to install than light rail, or heavy commuter rails like Metrolink, or even dedicated bus corridors like San Fernando Valley’s popular Metro Orange Line, built solely for buses.
But the so-called Rapid system is also slower than each of those other options, and getting slower every year.
In 2007, the average speed of a Rapid bus is 13.7 miles per hour. That makes the special, bright-red Rapid bus just 2 miles per hour faster than the citywide orange buses that stop constantly.
Among the most lethargic Rapid routes is the Metro Rapid on Western Avenue, which averages 10.9 miles per hour. That line slows as it heads toward the purported smart-growth village being created around the subway in Hollywood. Buses on Western and Vermont avenues — two key north-south routes that lead directly to subway stations — are so slow that they are dragging down the speed of the entire Metro Rapid system, Gephart says.
Eventually, the city will be forced to build special bus lanes on the big boulevards, says Gephart. And on that score, Gephart is thrilled with Villaraigosa’s leadership. “The mayor’s stepping up and saying, ‘I want a bus-only lane plan,’ ” Gephart declared during his talk.
To create a bus-only lane, Los Angeles has only two choices: either shave off 5 feet of sidewalk on each side of the street, a move that would infuriate smart-growth/pro-walking advocates, or gobble up one lane of traffic, almost certainly earning the wrath of angry motorists.
So far, the only street slated to have a bus-only lane is Wilshire Boulevard, the subject of two years of bickering between Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. Two other possibilities are Pico and Olympic boulevards. But for now, city and county officials disagree about how to reconfigure those streets.
Villaraigosa sent an envoy to the smart-growth conference — Mike Woo, a former mayoral candidate who served on the Los Angeles City Council from 1985 to 1993. Now a city planning commissioner, Woo founded the Smart Growth China Institute so that he could export the new urbanism to China, the largest developing nation on the globe.
Like many advocates of smart growth, Woo sounds like he is pinning most of his hopes on rail, not buses. Asked whether condos in Century City constitute smart growth, he voices doubts, saying that people with decent incomes, especially on the Westside, usually don’t take the bus. “Historically, it’s been harder for the MTA to win over a middle-class or upper-middle-class ridership — people who have the discretion to choose to take transit or drive a car,” Woo says.
Woo adds another wrinkle. Downtown Los Angeles, perhaps the one place in the city that accommodated density seamlessly over the last decade, has a lot of residents driving to work — frequently outside downtown. In other words, people changed their behavior, as smart-growth theorists had hoped, by moving into multistory buildings. Then they found jobs elsewhere, creating yet another traffic problem, Woo says.
“Finally, we’re getting the new [housing] units downtown, but it’s mostly going to people who don’t have jobs downtown,” Woo declared. “So if we have that problem downtown, I expect to have that problem even worse in Century City, Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles.”
Watch the Metro Gold Line roll into Pasadena and you will see a sight unlike any other in Los Angeles County: a train that stops right in the middle of a six-story apartment courtyard. In a region where the freeway is king, the arrival of the 8:52 a.m. train at the Del Mar Boulevard station – a sprawling series of structures that combine 347 homes, several still-vacant stores and a historic train depot — is positively unsettling. It’s like a piece of Portland sprouted up a few miles from the Rose Bowl.
No city in Southern California has embraced smart growth as enthusiastically as Pasadena, better known for its rows of Arts and Crafts bungalows than its transit-oriented development. The smallish city of roughly 146,000 has added 42 higher-density housing developments to its bustling business district, some of which literally wrap around train stations.
“They clearly have done one thing very, very well – they’ve created a vibrant, mixed-use downtown,” says former Pasadena Mayor Rick Cole, who left in 1998 and is now city manager of Ventura.
Pasadena is years ahead of its neighbors in pushing the major tenets of smart growth, placing new homes near transit and making life more pleasant for those who walk. While Los Angeles weighs the possibility of turning Pico and Olympic boulevards into one-way miniature freeways, Pasadena published the 165-page booklet “Getting Around Without a Car.” While Pasadena requires condo and apartment builders on certain streets to put shops or offices on the ground floor, many new apartments in Los Angeles still get built with cavernous parking garages on the ground — leaving an entire block of dead space for the poor saps who walk by.
By concentrating development at its core, Pasadena found a way to save its tree-lined single-family neighborhoods on the outskirts — places with names like Bungalow Heaven, Historic Highlands and Garfield Heights, says Robert Montaño, business district coordinator for the city of Pasadena.
“It means we’ve been able to preserve the character of our neighborhoods,” he says. “We haven’t seen the demolition of large homes, or the conversion of those homes to apartments, or the people who buy two large lots, tear down the homes and combine them into one project.”
Walk with Montaño down Colorado Boulevard and it’s hard not to share his enthusiasm. In the Civic Center is Paseo Colorado, an open-air shopping mall that stretches for two blocks and is topped by 387 homes. Further east is Trio, a mammoth 304-unit apartment house just north of the Pasadena Playhouse. And on Lake Avenue, a shopping boulevard, is the Pasadena Collection — 14 condominiums that are all sharp angles and glass. “We’re striving to create a downtown where you can circulate without a vehicle,” he says.
Nearly a decade before the Metro Gold Line opened, Pasadena’s seven-member City Council chose to concentrate much of its new housing — as many as 5,095 units — in anticipation of the rail that opened in 2003. So in the chicken-and-egg game, Pasadena ordered up the residential first, then the transit.
Not everything is tranquil along the foothills, however. Pasadena was caught off guard by the increase in traffic, Cole says. And design purists have voiced dismay about the look of many new buildings. “In general, the execution and the design and overall quality is disappointing,” says Sue Mossman, executive director of Pasadena Heritage, a historic-preservation group.
On a Thursday morning, Pasadena resident Barbara Hamilton waits on the platform next to the Del Mar station. One of nine commuters standing quietly just before 9 a.m., Hamilton has a look that screams elegance and precision: pink jacket, gray cocktail skirt, black leather gloves.
Hamilton makes transit part of her daily routine, driving her car four and a half miles to the station. And yet, she can’t imagine living in the apartments — at $2,030 for a one-bedroom — built above the railroad tracks. “They say the windows insulate them from the noise,” she declares. “But wouldn’t you want to open the windows now and then?”
If smart growth is about changing behavior, then Hamilton can be considered a partial success. She rides the light-rail line each day to Union Station, then transfers to the subway. But she isn’t ready, probably will never be ready, to put herself in a home near railroad tracks.
Hard by the I-5
To witness the struggle between smart growth and sprawl firsthand, talk to David Urrutia, a 28-year-old orthopedic technician trying to buy a home in Los Angeles County. Urrutia and his family spent an afternoon in April checking out Puerta del Sol, a 156-unit condo complex in Lincoln Heights built next to the Avenue 26 station of the Metro Gold Line.
Sitting behind the wheel of the family minivan, Urrutia says he likes what he’s seen inside Puerta del Sol, an enormous courtyard building with gated entrances. Urrutia, who lives in Historic Filipinotown, would prefer to stay in the city.
But his wife, sitting in the passenger seat next to a bag of Cheetos, makes it clear her preference is Palmdale, where a family of modest means can still afford five bedrooms and a huge kitchen.
“The homes are beautiful,” she coos of far-off Palmdale, as their twins fidget. You can almost see her imagining her dream home in the exurbs. Urrutia, on the other hand, hates the thought of driving two to three hours from the high desert to his job in Torrance. “It would kill me,” he declares.
What never enters the discussion is the light-rail station next to Puerta del Sol. Urrutia needs his car every day to reach patients scattered across Los Angeles County. He won’t be taking the light rail, even if he lives just 50 yards away from it. Instead, Urrutia is worried about the $400,000 price tag on a two-bedroom condo looming over a busy freeway. “I don’t want to trap myself into something I might regret later,” he says. “I’m the only one bringing in the income.”
Puerta del Sol sprouted up in just three short years, one of several multistory buildings to rise next to the Santa Ana (5) Freeway. It’s almost as if Wile E. Coyote got an eyedropper from his package of Acme Instant Urban Village, squirted a single droplet on Avenue 26 and — boom! — created a mini-city. Everything that surrounds it still looks like the old Lincoln Heights, an odd mix of stuccoed Victorian homes and wedged-in industrial businesses.
Inside Puerta del Sol, potential buyers walk through the model condo units, each of which looks like the “reveal” segment in an HGTV makeover show — granite countertops, tasteful earth tones, cookbooks with Nigella Lawson leering saucily on the cover.
But in real life, the A/C unit in the southernmost condo is on full blast, drowning out the roar of cars on the 5 freeway, literally a stone’s throw away from this new housing. Some of those cars are probably heading north to Palmdale, the place with the five-bedroom homes coveted by Urrutia’s wife.
In L.A. civic circles, Puerta del Sol is now a poster child for smart growth. Three Los Angeles public pension funds — two for retired city workers and a third for county employees — invested a combined $65 million into the group that financed Puerta del Sol.
One group of pension trustees even visited the Avenue 26 project, concluding that transit-based condos are a good financial bet for the city’s retirees. Villaraigosa also came to Puerta del Sol to thank the pension board members for their votes to invest in such housing.
Numerous investment funds have draped themselves in the concept of smart growth, attracting more than $200 million in L.A. government pension money. So by now, Los Angeles is facilitating smart growth from two directions — at the front end, by providing lucrative pension dollars to finance projects, and at the back end, by approving new smart-growth zoning that will allow such projects to get built.
Los Angeles is not just gambling that smart growth will solve its traffic and housing and livability problems. Though smart growth is still a tiny part of the city’s overall investment portfolio, the city is betting that such projects will bring big financial returns to retired employees.
The first place to take advantage of the city’s new smart-growth zoning was, oddly enough, in Westchester — a very suburban, very low-density neighborhood that gets soothing breezes from the ocean and jarring jet noise from LAX. Three years ago, the Furama Hotel obtained the first Los Angeles city permit for smart-growth zoning.
A big construction pit now surrounds the Furama, once a symbol of 1960s aviation glamour, where pilots, airline stewardesses and frequent business travelers once stayed. The 12-story Furuma will reopen as Playa del Oro, promising a mix of upscale shops, condos and a few dozen hotel rooms.
The No. 3 Big Blue Bus runs every few minutes past the Furama, carrying passengers from Santa Monica as far south as the Metro Green Line at Aviation Boulevard. On a hot afternoon in May, the bus is a standing-room-only experience, filled with weary rush-hour commuters, anxious moms trying to keep track of their children, and Saint Monica Catholic High School students listening to iPods and clutching skateboards.
Operated by the city of Santa Monica, the Big Blue Bus is painted with playful graphics, a marketing tool to lure middle-income commuters out of their cars. But on a Thursday afternoon, the No. 3 feels like any bus operated by the larger MTA: hot, crowded and slow.
Wearing a dark, pinstriped suit and a Sheraton Hotel lapel pin, hotel worker Ryan McGrath rides the No. 3, which is caught in the traffic jam that starts next to Playa Vista, where state construction workers are widening Lincoln Boulevard to accommodate traffic from and to thousands of new Playa Vista homes.
In 30 minutes, the bus has traveled less than six miles, or a deflating 12 miles per hour.
McGrath took buses and trains when he lived in France and Switzerland. But after riding the bus here for two months, the Playa del Rey resident is ready to buy a car. He is fed up with a six-mile ride that frequently takes an hour and 10 minutes, including two buses and walking. “I’m used to punctual, every-30-minute buses, punctual subways,” he explains. “I can’t deal with this.”
And so another L.A. resident is about to change his behavior. But instead of embracing transit, McGrath has decided to abandon it.
McGrath says the Rapid bus line offered by the Big Blue Bus is frequently as slow as buses with far more stops. And he is irritated that his neighborhood lacks the riders to support more frequent bus service. “Everybody in Playa del Rey is fucking rich,” he grouses.
The No. 3 bus rolls to a stop at Manchester Boulevard, right across from the construction pit that surrounds the Furama Hotel. McGrath can’t stay and talk. If he misses the No. 115, he says, he will have to wait an hour. McGrath runs across six lanes of traffic, dodging a Prius and avoiding the crosswalk entirely. Once he reaches the other side of the street, McGrath lights a cigarette and checks his cell phone. After a few minutes, he looks down the street and starts walking.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Developer ready to rework San Pedro housing project
By Donna Littlejohn, Staff Writer
With Bob Bisno out of the picture, developers of the proposed Ponte Vista housing project in San Pedro say they are ready to launch a new push to find community consensus on a revised plan.
The 1,950-home development has been in limbo since late last year when Bisno, the head of the development team, was asked to step down.
Ted Fentin of Credit Suisse, Bisno's largest investor, is taking the lead in a move to find a compromise the community will accept.
"(He) is committed to working with you in developing a revised plan," development spokeswoman Elise Swanson told members of the Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council on Monday night.
"There is a spirit of cooperation. We are moving forward with community outreach."
The project, likely in a revised form, is tentatively scheduled to go before the Los Angeles Planning Commission on April 9.
In a related action Monday, the neighborhood council approved a letter to the city's Planning Department criticizing the Ponte Vista process and the most recent plan still in place. Criticism centers around the project's density and traffic impacts on Western Avenue.
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn said she has met with Fentin and believes the developer is willing to take a second look at the housing plans.
"He told me that they're now willing to come back and work with the community," said Hahn, who addressed the neighborhood council this week. "He has agreed to focus groups as a way to hear more about what the community wants and to get more input."
Swanson said the meetings will be with "key stakeholders" in the community. The format of the sessions - which could be with individuals and groups on some occasions - is being worked out this week, she said.
Ponte Vista began with a proposal for 2,300 homes and was scaled back to 1,950 to be built on former Navy housing land along Western Avenue. City planners gave the plan a thumbs down, however, setting the stage for a showdown before the Planning Commission.
That now has been pushed back until April, giving developers an opportunity to revise the proposal.
"It's got to be a way scaled-down project," Hahn said in remarks to the neighborhood council. "I'd like to see something built there, but it has to be a project that will not devastate Western Avenue. I'm encouraged by what I've heard so far."
Swanson called the upcoming period one that will offer a "fresh, new approach."
"We're going out in a good-faith effort to re-engage the community to find a compromise," she said. "And we hope that the community will engage with us in a good-faith effort."
Not everyone is optimistic, however.
"This is not new management or a different outlook," said Pat Nave, a staunch opponent of Ponte Vista.
"He ( Ted Fentin) told me that they're now willing to come back and work with the community," said Hahn...
Now doesn't Ms. Hahn's quote suggest that Bob was never willing to work with the community?
"(He) is committed to working with you in developing a revised plan," development spokeswoman Elise Swanson told members of the Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council on Monday night.
I truly hope so Ms. Swanson. I guess this proved what so many of us knew that Bob was not really willing to work with the Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council and it was not the fault of the Council that the two entities could not work together.
I guess hand picked focus groups that were used as the basis for the Advisory Boards may actually become a thing of the past.
Just who are "key stakeholders" in the community? I think residents of R.P.V. who have any view of the Ponte Vista site are "key stakeholders". I also feel I am a "key stakeholder", too.
Surely residents living along Fitness Drive fit the status as well as folks with kids attending Mary Star High School.
We must not forget several thousand San Pedrans being "key stakeholders".
If it seems not enough people are deemed to be "key stakeholders" by entities setting up focus groups and other forums, then we will certainly see which side of the toast is buttered on.
Caution when dealing with any new development team should be considered elemental in the future.
Bob took so much trust away from thoughts about developers, Mr. Fentin and many others are going to have a pretty tough time gaining my trust and the trust of many others.
Trust it is something that should be considered when you look at what is published at www.yourpontevista.com. If that site continues to produce posts that clearly are not trustworthy then why would anyone believe that the new development team can be trusted?
It is time for the writers of that site to stop advertising or mentioning what "will" be at Ponte Vista at San Pedro. It is time for figures based on a 1,950-unit project be removed from that site and to not appear again.
If Ted and Elise are to be trusted and listened to, then they should provide a forum at www.yourpontevista.com that reflects only the truth, and honesty and refrain from the fiction they continue to produce.
This may be the first real step that can tell all of us whether they are really providing a new approach that uses honesty, believability, and truthfulness or if they are just going to continue with the same old thing as in the past.
I continue to wish for some senior housing at the site and I hope to be as involved as possible in helping to create plans that benefit the entire community.
I am willing to give the new development team a chance, but now I have to keep the leash on because of so many past misdeeds, incorrect posts, and Bob.
They need to earn our respect and our trust because of what the Outreach Team has done up to now and what Bob did to all of us.
I am neither hopeful or hopeless with regards to this new outlook by Mr. Fentin and the Outreach Team, but cautious is what I will be and I suggest everyone else use caution as a primary concern.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Friday, January 09, 2009
It appears that another person has issues with me using the 'yourpontevista.com' blog as a source of good humor. I guess it is something I just can't seem to help but do.
Let me allow you a glimpse of some of the newest posting on that site and I will then answer the challenge places on some of us by the Outreach Team.
With the building of 'you know what', over 5,400 construction jobs will be created, generating $325million in salaries. 915 local permanent jobs will also be created along with $39.1 in salaries. O.K., gotta stop here.
Just how does anybody really know what will happen when the Outreach Team is still using numbers based on a plan that won't ever occur?
Where oh where do these numbers come from unless they came from information based on a 1,950-unit project that will not be found in northwest San Pedro.
Probably hope seems to be eternal or far to long for the folks for the members of the Outreach Team.
Whenever the Outreach Team publishes what they claim as being current facts and figures, they should put an asterisk next to each and every figure they publish.
The asterisk would denote that the figures purported to be factual are based on a project containing 1,950 condominium units which as WE all know, will never be found on the site.
How do WE know this? Because Janice Hahn, the Planning Department, others within city government AND the Ponte Vista Outreach Team have in as much, admitted it.
The WE stands for just about everyone INCLUDING Ms. Elise Swanson, the leader of the Outreach Team.
May I remind them that a continuance to the February 12 Planning Commission has been requested by higher ups in whatever new organization is now in place, IF there really is a new development organization in place.
Aside from providing much needed housing with modern amenities, Ponte Vista would provide a much needed booster shot to the Harbor Area’s economy. Salaries would be pumped back into the economy in tax revenue and increased sales for local businesses.
Actually Outreach Team, it can be factually demonstrated that revenue coming from residents of 'you know where' will not only NOT add sufficient new revenue streams into the San Pedro area of Los Angeles, they will actually create higher revenue streams in communities outside San Pedro and 'you know where' will cause the San Pedro area to request more infrastructure funding and be supported from other areas in Los Angeles, including the San Fernando Valley!
When the Outreach Team can provide all of us with the addresses of new vehicle dealerships, large furniture outlets, major Department Stores, multi-plex theaters, and any mall within the 90731 and 90731 zip codes, then I will gladly admit that revenue generated by the residents of 'you know where' will flow in great amounts into local businesses.
I don't know the percentages of residents of 'you know where' that will travel farther than our new Target, but nobody does because nobody actually knows how many residents of 'you know where' will eventually live inside that project.While some opponents to the Ponte Vista project may dismiss the positive economic impact that the project offers, one is left wondering what kind of stimulus or economic alternative they have planned for San Pedro. The number of new homes built has long been an economic indicator, and Ponte Vista will add economic vitality, while providing housing for seniors, working families, improving traffic, and utilizing the latest green technologies.
Hey Elise and the rest of you on the Outreach Team, thanks for the challenge. I'll be glad to help all of you out.
First, San Pedrans and others will continue to work on ways of revitalizing downtown San Pedro. There are already published items that speak to improving the downtown area and Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council is working on the issues as I write.
Maybe the Outreach Team has not heard that the Port of Los Angeles' Administration is continuing to work, along with many community members on the Waterfront Development Project. I know it has been and will continue to be a very rocky issue, but I still hold out hope that the improvements will come along and we will all benefit if the final products come to pass.
I bet members of the Outreach Team might not know that San Pedro contains the largest fountain in the entire State of California. Not only does that spot attract visitors who sometime spend a few bucks in the area, it is also a gathering place for neighbors and an element that cruise ship passengers see as a stimulus to look further into downtown.
Recently the Los Angeles Unified School District's Board of Education approved the construction of a new campus in San Pedro. That approval means that jobs will be created, construction-related revenue will come into San Pedro, hopefully new teaching positions will come along, more transportation costs will be generated because so many of the new students will come from outside San Pedro and attend the new campus.
It is very true that I continue to oppose construction of SRHS 15 on the Upper Reservation of Fort MacArthur, but that certainly does not mean I don't realize that there will be new revenue created and more money will eventually come to San Pedro because of the construction and use at the new campus' site.
If Elise and the gang want more avenues of stimulus, then perhaps the recent approval of a new set of berths for pleasure craft near the outer harbor is something that might interest them in.
With more boats in San Pedro, more boat owners paying berthing charges, purchasing goods and services in San Pedro, and more folks visiting San Pedro as part of more boats being berthed in San Pedro, it looks like there will be more money flowing into San Pedro than the Outreach Team currently believes.
"One" which I believe means the writers of that other blog feel "they" refers to me. I believe if "one" reads what I have written so far, "one" should find more facts that state that more stimulus will come into San Pedro, according to "they" than "one" is willing to accept.
Now I still support some housing specifically set aside for seniors at 'you know where' even I have to understand what the Planning Department stated matter of fact whether folks representing 'you know where' are willing to accept it or not!
Also, I guess that few members of the Outreach Team have not been by the corner of 20th and Walker recently. If the Outreach Team members believe new construction helps the local economy, here is a little item; New housing construction might help the local economy IF people actually purchase the new housing. If the new housing can't sell, you have a brand new blight to deal with.
Case in point, Outreach Team, just drive over to El Segundo Blvd., west of the 405 and take a gander at "360". it is an entire project site that has some new housing constructed there that not only did not sell, but it also didn't attract new residents using leases or rentals.
I don't know what is more sad, the older blight along Western Avenue or the very sad new blight along El Segundo Blvd. Both projects will not be completed using plans originated by the first development teams and nobody knows what will happen to both project sites.
So in summary concerning stimulus, new berths have been approved, a new high school campus has been approved, the Waterfront Development continues to chug along, POLAHS continues to grow, visitors come into the area to look at the new fountain, China Shipping will afford more work because of its expansion, community members continue to look for ways to improve downtown San Pedro, Target opened last October and ALL if it happened in San Pedro!
Think Prime opened in Rancho Palos Verdes, thank you very much.
Perhaps I am enjoying being challenged by the Outreach Team a bit too much.
How about a suggestion?
If the Outreach Team could co-sponsor a forum along with Councilwoman Hahn's office, perhaps we could all attend and speak at a gathering titled; O.K., now what?
It might be a good idea for members of the community gather and provide individual comments about what individuals would like to see built at the Ponte Vista site.
If the Outreach Team can be believed, it looks like they may actually want some community input, hopefully to assist them in further talks about what can be included at the site.
If community members attend the gathering and offer their personal opinions about what they think could be successfully placed on the 61.53 acre site, it may also provide Councilwoman Hahn and other civic leaders the opportunity to learn what members of the community think and want without filtering from organizations like R Neighborhoods Are 1, the Neighborhood Councils, the Chamber of Commerce, Ponte Vista Advisory Boards, or any other group.
Individuals could be listened to for their personal opinions. Gee, what a concept.
Of course we all would first have to trust the Outreach Team in their call for community involvement into areas that would lead to a new set of plans for Ponte Vista. I am willing to allow them that amount of trust.
My proposal could happen just about anytime and I bet if Councilwoman Hahn asks, a meeting place could be found where several dozen folks could gather and offer their opinions.
The gathering would be held for the individuals within the community. Both R Neighborhoods Are 1 and the Ponte Vista Advisory Boards would be asked to not do any organizing to support their members attending.
So, what do you think?
I really have to raise the issue of the Outreach Team contending that they know all the facts and they provide all the facts on their blog. I also have to contend that much of the information they have published, even on January 8, 2009 is erroneous, contentious, and factually incorrect.
I think I have some credibility when I contend that I provide a better source of facts, details, and opinions than the Outreach Team and their blog attempt to claim.
One thing you might want to do is look at the number of comments published on their blog since it began compared to the number of comments published on this blog since it began.
You may also wish to note some of the names that appear on both blogs. Guess what? I have comments from just about everyone that has posted comments on the yourpontevista.com blog, even though the Outreach Team has failed to post a number of comments submitted to them on their blog.
In truth and in fact, every single one of the comments posted to this blog appear on the Internet on this blog or another blog. the folks who produce yourpontevista.com cannot make that statement and be found to be factual.
If the Outreach Team wishes to continue dueling with me and this blog, I'll have to respond. But I do not want this to continue.
I feel it is reasonable to request that the Outreach Team forgo information that was created to support attempts to build 1,950-units at Ponte Vista and factually report that nobody know how many units might be built at the site and NOBODY can factually rely on the numbers presented by the Outreach Team on their site without the informed knowledge concerning what could be built at the site.
If the Outreach Team wishes to generate facts and figures based on the maximum number of units the Planning Department suggests be built at Ponte Vista, I certainly would not have any problem with any and all facts and figures based on a project containing no more than 1,196 non-age restricted condominiums, with a density bonus included.
The Outreach Team is also very welcome to create and distribute any and all information based on the Planning Department's guidelines for the maximum number of units that they suggest in a non-density bonus situation at Ponte Vista.
Either way, those new facts and figures, based on the guidelines published by the Planning Department would be more believable than the information the Outreach Team continues to supply based on a project that will NEVER HAPPEN in northwest San Pedro and THEY KNOW IT!
I somebody wants to come up with figures based on the Planning Department's guidelines and allows me to compare what they produce compared to what the Outreach Team is using based on 1,950-units, again something that will never happen, I would be happy to publish more relevant figures than what the Outreach Team continues to spew.
It is good to see both the newly remodeled Chevron Station and Think Prime opening up on Western Avenue.
My sources tell me that Think Prime has fabulous food, it is all a la carte, and fairly pricey. I also have been told that it is packed every night. Good luck and good fortune and a long stay is hoped for with Think Prime.
Again, I have to admit something. I am one of the believers in the curse that has surrounded the site where Think Prime is located, since the old Tasman Sea Restaurant closed for good.
I do wish them all the best, though.
I have begun yet another blog. www.eastrpv.blogspot.com provides me the opportunity to attempt to get more eastern Rancho Palos Verdes residents involved in the government and affairs of their city.
Both www.sanpedroissuestoponder.blogspot.com and www.eastrpv.blogspot.com can be thought of as complementary to each other and helpful to everyone in learning and commenting about our two communities forever close together both in heart and mind.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Ms. Elise Swanson, the leader of the Outreach Team informed me on Monday morning that the Outreach Team had problems over the holidays, with the blog.
There is much more information provided on the home page of the blog.
The post that FINALLY announced that things were different with plans for the Ponte Vista project was edited from its original posting on December 27, 2008 and now appears somewhat different today.
I wasn't the only one, it turns out, that had some regret we didn't save that older version of the post. I guess the other person I talked to about saving that post and I will just have to save the post and leave it at that.
I think the Outreach Team's claim that the Your Ponte Vista blog is the "official" blog of the project should mean it is the official blog in support of whatever the developers want for the sight.
This blog has never claimed to be the 'official' blog for any project and it certainly has contained many posts opposing just about everything that has gone on with plans to over develop the site.
I do wish to point out though, that our two blogs should not NOW be considered to be opposing each other.
As long as both of our blogs contain posts that propose working together with the entire community and using many avenues of discussion to provide the best outcome for members of OUR community, then I don't feel we need to have opposition.
I will, of course, read their blog and make comments to their posts. Some have already provided some real humor and I am looking forward into 2009 with hopes they will provide more humor for me and the rest of us and posts we can truly create discussions about.
Welcome back from holiday, Outreach Team.
Saturday, January 03, 2009
You can find his blog, "RPV 2009" at: http://rpv2009.blogspot.com/
It is my feeling that sources of information and opportunities to comment should be afforded in the widest possible ways and to as many people as possible. Knowledge is power and having more and different information bases available is very good for everyone.
I welcome new blogs onto the scene and I feel it allows everyone a wider range of instruments to share their knowledge and opinions.
I also believe that blogs do have some power in 'advertising' to government officials and bureaucrats what the residents and others feel about how cities and elected officials are viewed.
Mr. Lewis is an attorney and he has offered his opinion on at least one of his posts. I hope he continues to offer his opinion and shares the opinions of others.
I have already added a link to Mr. Lewis' blog. I wish him good fortune in 2009 and beyond and happy writing and posting.
Friday, January 02, 2009
I was pleased to finally read at www.yourpontevista.com that the Outreach Team has created a post that acknowledges that changes have occurred.
Sometimes that site goes down and during the time of the creation of this post, www.yourpontevista.com was down. It happens from time to time, this isn't the first and probably won't be the last.
Personally, I don't feel it is an us versus them type of stances we should now all take. I feel that we still need to all work together to find the best solutions for OUR community, whatever those solutions turn out to be.
In writing this post, we all must be reminded that there is a new development team on board and it is being run by a very large corporation backed financially by an international institution that hasn't been as affected (yet) by so many other banks and financial intuitions.
Also personally, Terri and I are doing quite a bit of research in what we will do now that the checks that are forming my I.R.A. have been deposited.
This is certainly not the best time to retire, but ATT forced me out and now we are looking over information from what seems to be a ton of companies, and investment sources to try and make a really lousy retirement package into something that we will live on.
All of this makes us concentrate more on what has happened, what is happening right now and what MAY happen in the future.
Currently I am following an opinion by some analysts that suggest that the housing market still has about another 15% of value to lose before it hits rock bottom.
Some analysts suggest there may be a turnaround in the financial markets in the second half of 2009, while other believe there may be some sooner gains and then some further pull back in the second half of 2009.
I am also thinking along the lines that the housing market will lead the fall to the bottom and then the movement upwards about 6-8 months prior to the stock market coming back into some kind of reason.
We are doing some of the steps the folks at Credit Suisse and DLJ, their Real Estate arm are doing in trying our best to consider what should be done in our respective arenas.
The minds at Credit Suisse are much better off that we are at looking at everything and looking into their crystal ball. Our crystal ball is very cloudy right now but both crystal balls probably have the same inability to really predict what will happen.
What might any stimulus package from President Obama bring to our local area and might if have effects on what could happen at Ponte Vista?
The Outreach Team has announced that the developers, planners, and others working on plans for Ponte Vista at San Pedro will ask, once again, for a continuance of the L.A. City Planning Commission and their dealings with the current application.
It is still regarded by many more knowledgeable people that the current application must be scrapped and everything begin anew, including all studies, plans, vesting tentative tract maps, and all other items. It should become a brand new process based as if there were never any other applications, studies, processes, or considerations before November, 2008.
Not only has the Chevron Station on the corner of Crestwood and Western opened, but Think Prime has opened up.
Andrea Adelman has a good piece about Think Prime and another upscale restaurant opening soon on her blog, San Pedro News at: http://www.sanpedronewsonline.blogspot.com/
Having lived so close to the location where Think Prime is, I cannot help but start my own personal mind-clock and wonder how long that restaurant will last at the location of the former Tasman Sea.
I do admit that I am one who believes the location of Think Prime is a cursed location for finer, upscale restaurants, after watching so many begin and fail far too soon.
We all should wish them the best of luck though because R.P.V. needs another fine restaurant and when I scrape enough non-fifty state quarters together, I will trade them in for 20 Dollar bills and Terri and I will try out what we hope could become a regular feasting facility.
( Here, I need to put in a plug for Admiral Risty's. It is another great R.P.V. restaurant and I hope all of you find both Think Prime and Admiral Risty's wonderful places to have great meals.)
If your read the January 1 edition of The Daily Breeze, and its editorial page, you may have glimpsed a portion of a comment I made about New Year's resolutions. I was surprised when Terri showed it to me.
I need to set something very trivial to rest. If you read that blurb, you might have thought I considered a Yugo similar to a leather-covered bulldozer. I do not, have not, and will not in the future.
The editor intentionally left out many of my other resolutions which can be found on the San Pedro Issues to Ponder Blog.
Here is a reminder about an upcoming hearing you may wish to attend if you are concerned about traffic on Western Avenue and/or college students living at 24th and Cabrillo Avenue, in San Pedro.
Monday January 5, 7:00 PM, Hesse Community Park, the Rancho Palos Verdes Traffic Safety Commission will be holding a public hearing in support of that city's Planning Commissions deliberations concerning the expansion project for Marymount College.
If the expansion occurs about 65%-70% of that school's students, faculty, and staff would utilize at least part of Western Avenue.
Supporters of the expansion project want to have on-campus dormitories built for students and some faculty and staff members and that would allow the college to sell an apartment building it owns at 24th and Cabrillo, in San Pedro.
An alternative to the proposed expansion is to have the Palos Verdes Drive North-off campus housing facilities enlarged to allow more students, faculty, and staff to live there and have the college's Athletic Department, basically, be housed at that location.