LA’s Biggest R-2 Hurdle: Common Decency

TRANSIT POLITICS--Having just returned from Charleston, Savannah, and Atlanta for a weeklong family vacation, I can assure you that cities both small and large do what they can to encourage a local economy, encourage proper neighborhood preservation and densification, and create jobs and affordable housing.  

A walkable and attractive Downtown, preserved upper- and middle-income neighborhoods, spending megabucks on both mass transit and public parking, and a respect for the taxpayers does exist:  of course, this is the South, where (contrary to the opinions of many) "common decency" dominates Planning and Transportation.

In those cities, there is but ONE Downtown, with perhaps 1-2 focal business centers, and that is IT. No conundrum of multiple Downtowns, or "Regional Centers", or whatever cynical, contrived, or even theological terminology the usual suspects can come up with to pull the wool over Angelenos' eyes.

And LA's Urban Planning has become "theological", has it not, with its dogmatic and supernatural/faith-based beliefs?  After all, the myriad of "walkable streets", "affordable housing", and "transit-oriented development" has resulted in just the opposite of those otherwise-venerable goals.

Atlanta has spent megabucks developing a mass transit system with airport access, and its streets are as walkable as they come--with an inner/central city park and a host of gigantic tourist attractions.

The historical neighborhoods, both black and white, are fought to be both preserved and with access for more affordable housing.  Charleston and Savannah have parking structures and multiple parks/squares to get people out of their cars and walking in a beautiful environment.

Yet at this juncture, LA is set to finish its efforts to upgrade its transportation network with an "epic fail" this November unless it gets its act together:

  • The "Planning Cult" of "the car is the Anti-Christ" still focuses its mass transit network for a few--the transit-dependent--and not for the majority of middle-class and even upper-class taxpayers who are paying for it.

Having met these folks at Planning meetings (and a few transit-advocacy groups), they are for the most part dominated by single, childless males who couldn't even have a clue as to the what children need, and what any self-respecting woman would need, when it comes to convenient, efficient, realistic and safe transportation.

They all collectively give automobile commuters--who desperately want to get out of their car to access mass transit--the middle finger and find joy in making others change their lifestyles (no matter how much reality dictates those lifestyles) rather than find ways to make it easier for car commuters to switch from their far-flung car commutes to access the urban core via trains and/or buses.

Those who can afford it, drive...but want the rest of us to somehow not be able to drive.  All the while telling us that if we complain we're just being selfish.

  • Most Angelenos don't distinguish between City and County government, especially with so many being on both levels of government. 

While the suburban portions of L.A. County want to have access to mass transit to avoid freeways hassles and access the currently-inaccessible L.A. Downtown region, they're also represented by governments in touch with their citizenry (common decency).

In contrast, we have LA City government dominated by "the 1%"-type developers who have figured out a way to fund the coffers of our City Council to get US to pay for the transportation/infrastructure of THEIR uber-profitable developments.

Update Community Plans to establish neighborhood preservation?  Forget that.
Focus all the very-high-rise developments Downtown and Wilshire Blvd. (and perhaps 1-2 other critical commercial corridors)?

Forget that!  Folks want to live in those single-family neighborhoods, so let's jam in a few developments to have focal height and density 50% or more to make some money!  And if that ends up changing and ruining those neighborhoods forever...well, money was made so that's someone ELSE's problem!

Because it's all about the winning, and if you make the money, you WIN!

And when the money for basic, obvious, common sense/common decency City services goes elsewhere (LINK: http://www.citywatchla.com/index.php/la-watchdog/10784-whoa-city-employees-compensation-package-explodes-to-175-000) and when public officials feign helplessness to fix the problem (LINK: http://www.citywatchla.com/index.php/the-la-beat/10739-wesson-don-t-blame-electeds-for-dwp-mess), that just covers the tracks of the lawbreakers...who, of course, have used enough euphemisms to make US apologize for calling out THEIR law-breaking to (again) WIN.

  • The City of Los Angeles' "regional hubs" and misuse of cherished transportation projects are squashing the desire of Angelenos for more transportation spending.

Don't shoot the messenger if he/she tells the truth.  Many are angry at how the "create mass transit to centralize traffic and commuter flow" turned into a diffuse densification that was merely going to repeat the original problem of the City of Los Angeles.

Do Angelenos rise up in revolt for Downtown or Wilshire Blvd. developments?  Hardly--that's what Downtowns are for.

Do Angelenos rise up in revolt when their suburban neighborhood is turned into another "Manhattan"?  Of course.

What the devil was the point of creating a revitalized Downtown, anyway, if even little trolleys like the Expo Line (which, because of its sharing tracks Downtown with the Blue Line, has a defined cap on its passenger capacity) is suddenly turned into a mechanism for explosive new growth that is entirely out of character with the surburban neighborhoods through which the line traverses?

Densify around the entire Expo Line, and not just the stations?  We're to believe that Expo Line riders will jump on the train like hobos when it rolls by?

No parking, or at best insufficient parking, to access the line?  When there's NO Metrolink for commuter trains and the Expo Line is supposed to be an alternative for the I-10 freeway for far-flung Valley, South Bay and Westsiders to access the urban core?

...And so there you have it, folks.  With at best naive, and at worst corrupt, intentions, the City of LA's leaders will kill November's Measure R-2 initiative.
Will this November's transportation initiative be the vehicle to fix L.A.'s sidewalks?  No, that'll be ANOTHER tax!

Will transit-adjacent projects be limited to 3-5 stories and Community Plans be updated to ensure that suburban neighborhoods stay that (with some appropriate compromises along major surface streets and bus corridors)?  Of course not.

Will developers be forced to pay for the transportation/infrastructure impacts their projects will create?  Again, of course not!

But you need not go to the South, Friend Reader.  Just go to Culver City, or Burbank, or any local city adjacent to the City of the Angels.  

In those cities, the heights of development will be much lower to avoid a sense of feeling caged.  Parks will be created for families to enjoy their lives (kids, too!).  Residential neighborhoods will be...residential.  Driving through town will allow one (if he/she is thinking about it) to see commercial, industrial, and differently-zoned neighborhoods to be separated appropriately.  Yes, there will be some mixed-used development, but it will blend in and be so aesthetically-pleasing that it will lead to the obvious question of why Angelenos keep putting up with this nonsense.

So on a final note, perhaps the City of LA's leaders can ask themselves, as the goal of a 2024 Olympics gets blurred with the horrific images of major worldwide cities exposed to terrorism, why they would further want to abandon their goal of uniting City taxpayers and residents to create a modern, economically-vibrant Los Angeles.

Just keep patting us on the head and telling us WE need to evolve and keep eating the dirt while paying more taxes.

And perhaps, if Measure R-2, an initiative with a lot of very good features to it, goes down this November you'll ask yourselves why you didn't choose Common Decency as a ruling paradigm to run the City of the Angels.

(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  [email protected].   He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)