LA SKID ROW- Folks across the City of Los Angeles are now waiting for instructions on how to properly process all the recent political activity connected to homelessness these past few months. Well wait no longer. I’m pushing your guidance button now. (Adding machine sound effect here.)
NEW GEOGRAPHY--California may be the country’s most important and influential state for technology, culture and lifestyle, but has become something of a cipher in terms of providing national political leaders. Not one California politician entered the 2016 presidential race in either party and, looking over the landscape, it’s difficult to see even a potential contender emerging over the coming decade.
ANIMAL WATCH-After a rocky ride through Congress since 2013, Amtrak has finally announced, “Rover, Come On Over. Pets Welcome Aboard Amtrak.” The ‘Pets-on-Trains’ program is now permanent and allows Amtrak riders to travel with their cat or small dog to more than 500 destinations nationwide, including Los Angeles – Union Station, Pomona, Ontario and Palm Springs, CA.
GETTING THERE FROM HERE--Last week, members of the City of Los Angeles Joint Committee of Public Works and Gang Reduction and Budget and Finance Committee submitted a letter to the City Council with their policy proposals for the City of Los Angeles Sidewalk Program. Read the complete letter here.
SEE YOU IN COURT-Venice Coalition to Preserve Unique Character (VC-PUCC) filed a lawsuit last week against the City of Los Angeles, which the coalition website charges is complicit in development that is “destroying Venice’s quaint, historic neighborhoods and affordable housing at an alarming rate.” The coalition charges that the city’s actions violate the California Constitution, Coastal Act, as well as local land use protections.
RUSS REPORT--Last week, the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) introduced its Master Plan for the West Los Angeles VA (WLAVA) campus and dog owners are, once again, “up in arms” about the potential closure of the “community” dog park.
LATINO PERSPECTIVE-In case you didn’t know, more than a quarter of Major League Baseball players are Latino. What many more of you may not know is that engaging Latino audiences is now a priority for the MLB, as they make up almost half of some teams' fanbases.
DO SOMETHNG, I BEG YOU--As the writer, producer, and director of many of the Human Rights exhibits at the Museum of Tolerance in NY and LA (including one on the poisonous impact of hate speech) the silence of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in the face of the bigotry and intolerance sweeping our nation is both unconscionable and deplorable.
PAYING TO PLAY-Harvard-Westlake's motto -- Possunt Quia Posse Videntur (“they can because they think they can”) is about to be tested. The elite private school is about to run into a buzz saw of opposition from a Los Angeles public that does not appreciate being trifled with.
GUEST WORDS-A Committee of five registered voters in Los Angeles has gained a lot of traction in its effort to place a game changing initiative on the November ballot. The proposed “Neighborhood Integrity Initiative for a Livable Los Angeles” will give voters the power to stop over-sized development for the next two years.
BUTCHER ON LA-Everyone’s got an opinion about what needs to be reformed at the LA Department of Water and Power.
THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-The State Assembly has passed SB7, which raises the smoking age to 21, and SB5 which regulates e-cigarettes as tobacco products. Both bills, which passed on February 25, are expected to pass in the State Senate before reaching Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.
HOMELESSNESS THEN AND NOW-Been a lovely 2016 so far for Los Angeles. But not so much for Los Angeles’ homeless. For them, it’s a life without shelter, food, health care and a positive environment -- an environment that is freezing and often wet.
GUEST COMMENTARY-Because of the events surrounding the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak and its effect on the residents and businesses in my district, I know all too well what can happen when vital infrastructure is allowed to age to the point where it fails. Infrastructure cannot be neglected. It requires constant investment and updating.
COUNTERPOINT--This November, Los Angeles is going to hold a vote on the type of city it wants to be.
PERSPECTIVE-As I pointed out in Monday’s edition of CityWatch, the City of Los Angeles booked a $7.6 billion adjustment to recognize the unfunded pension liability owed to the beneficiaries of its public pension programs. It is an admission that the residents and stakeholders of the city are on the hook for very generous retirement benefits offered to municipal employees. For the record, the adjustment does not cover exposure to virtually free health benefits.
RECOGNIZING THE ROADBLOCKS-Housing developers – whether they specialize in market-rate properties or affordable housing – face tremendous hurdles in getting projects off the ground in California.
CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--What will the railroad bring us?
PLATKIN ON PLANNING-If you are concerned about planning issues in Los Angeles, then you have undoubtedly heard about the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, and perhaps a counter-initiative, the Build Better LA Initiative.
Affordable housing: You have may have also heard the repeated claims by the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative’s opponents that it would block the construction of affordable housing. Nice try, but it takes far more than repetition of a talking point to actually make it true.
This is why I still stand by my previous Citywatch articles: the critics have not yet presented evidence that LA's zoning laws and General Plan designations impede the construction of affordable housing projects. While Neighborhood Integrity Initiative supporters are already looking under every rock for any relevant data, we also invite those who make the “affordable housing argument” to back it up.
More specifically, I have repeatedly reached out for evidence, in particular the addresses and case numbers of affordable housing projects that required City Council legislative actions to pull building permits. Until advocates, experts, or CityWatch readers can furnish data such supporting these affordable housing claims, I will assume that the critics are only blowing smoke.
Filtering: A related affordable housing argument is called filtering. It is based on the parallel claim that new, expensive housing filters down to eventually become old and affordable, given enough housing construction and time. Ergo, we should open the floodgates for luxury housing construction in order to meet the housing needs of everyone else.
The State of California, through a recent report from the Legislative Analyst’s office, has argued that filtering takes a generation to actually work. Under perfect conditions this could be true, but I would go much further than the Legislative Analyst to rebut the filtering argument for Los Angeles. (Note photo above showing old housing in Angelino Heights --not yet affordable after a century.)
In LA, the price of older housing is going up, not down, and since 1980 the cost of LA’s housing has more than doubled in constant dollars. Even if we accept the caveat that filtering only works when there is substantial construction of new housing, it is still a phantom in LA. Porter Ranch is one of the few LA neighborhoods with substantial construction of new housing over the past 25 years, but where is the evidence that nearby communities with older housing, such as Chatsworth, Northridge, or Granada Hills, have, therefore, had a decline in housing prices or rents? For that matter, what about the vast stretches of post-war homes and apartments in the Valley that are now more than 50 years old? Has any of it filtered down to become affordable housing?
According to Appfolio, exactly the opposite has happened despite large amounts of aging housing. Apartment rents in the south Valley went up 9 percent in 2015.
To date I have only heard second-hand anecdotes about apartment buildings whose landlords let buildings deteriorate, especially those near USC. In these cases, however, landlords deliberately ran their apartments into the ground so existing tenants would voluntarily leave. Once they did, however, the landlords made basic repairs and then leased the same units out to students, but at a much higher rents. The result is filtering upwards, not downward.
But such anecdotes about such landlords are not hard data, and as we continue to look, we also patiently wait for the critics of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative to finally document filtering in Los Angeles.
Free market fables: So far, the claim about filtering, like the affordable housing argument, is just another free market fable thrown at the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative to see if it sticks. At one time this Pollyannaish belief in the cure-all properties of deregulated real estate markets was confined to the recesses of Ayn Rand and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. But, these myths have now oozed into the deep crevices of the Democratic Party, including nearly all elected officials at City Hall and even some affordable housing advocates.
Free market myths and fables, however, cannot substitute for hard evidence when it comes to setting public policy.
If the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative’s opponents were truly concerned about affordable housing – instead of using it as a weak stalking horse for the needs of real estate speculators to build luxury mega-projects -- their time might be better spent advocating for alternative affordable housing programs, such as these:
1) Inclusionary zoning. Many cities already have zoning requirements that force developers to include about 20 percent affordable housing units in all apartment and condo projects. LA only has a density bonus ordinance, and John Schwada has shown that it has produced few genuine affordable units.
2) Housing preservation. Each year LA loses thousands of affordable units to demolitions to clear sites for high-end projects, such as McMansions. This has to stop, but calls for the preservation of existing affordable and lower cost housing are sparse.
3) Rent control changes. At present landlords can automatically raise rents by 3 percent per year. This, too, must stop. Likewise, vacancy decontrol must go. This loophole allows landlords to raise rents to whatever level the market will bear when a tenant moves.
4) More resources from the Federal government. Affordable housing requires the restoration of Federal housing programs, as well as State programs, such as community redevelopment agencies. While a collection basket for LA's Affordable Housing Trust Fund is always welcome, it cannot substitute for well-funded public housing programs.
None of these approaches conflict with the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, offering further evidence that it does not stand in the way of affordable housing.
(Dick Platkin is a former LA city planner who reports on local planning issues for City Watch LA. Please send any comments or corrections to [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
GELFAND’S WORLD--While smaller cities such as Baltimore and Seattle were constructing tourist attractions to complement their harbors, the Port of Los Angeles (POLA) concentrated on developing itself as a working port. POLA and its adjacent Port of Long Beach became the leading traders in American overseas shipping.