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Wed, Jun

Livable Communities: Developer Giveaways In A Slick And Deceptive Package

PLANNING WATCH LA

PLANNING WATCH - It is hard to keep up with the developer scams welling-up at LA’s City Hall, and this week I learned about another one: “Livable Communities.”  The name is deceptive, but the content is familiar: developer giveaways that are supposed to reduce homelessness, but which actually degrade the quality of life for most Angelenos.  

This proposal is based on a 2012 Livable Communities report, utilizing 2008 data, from the Los Angeles Business Council, to: 

  • “Invest in the development of livable corridors along transit.
  • Foster private development – and capitalize on it: Modify land use policy to reduce obstacles for quality, mixed-income or true mixed-use housing near transit. Create zones where private sector developers encounter little to no entitlement risk, and provide incentives to reduce unit cost, such as parking reductions and density bonuses. 
  • Emphasize development of mixed-income housing near transit.
  • Plan for employment-generating land uses, and: 
  • Empower public agencies to act as development agencies.”

Livable Communities resurfaced in 2022, through a City Council motion regarding LA’s Housing Element Program 131.  The motion instructed the Planning Department to implement Livable Communities by rescinding adopted zoning laws regulating mid-scale development on major transit corridors, to allow these giveaways:  

  • “Waivers or reductions of setback, unit, floor area, and other development standards to . . . permit the redevelopment of smaller commercially zoned lots;
  • An inclusionary housing requirement . . .;
  • A minimum density requirement to promote smaller, more naturally affordable multifamily and mixed-use development;
  • Provisions to encourage greater lot density such as allowing for micro-units, shared housing, or increasing floor area ratio (FAR) allowances;
  • The elimination or reduction of parking minimums in “high quality transit areas” or transit-rich areas;”
  • Exclusions and/or mitigations for lots located within a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone (VHFHSZ), an identified historic district, or areas designated as open space.” 

The latest efforts to advance Livable Communities is a detailed implementation report submitted to the City Council on May 24, 2024, from the Director of Planning, and the General Managers of Transportation, Street Services, and Economic and Workforce Development.  Their report elaborates the 2008 Los Angeles Business Council’s proposal to justify the allocation of City funds to these four departments. 

LA City Planning has identified these actions, all of which build upon existing or proposed City programs: 

  • “Initiation of an LCI (Livable Communities) pilot work program to begin the identification of communities and potential corridors that align housing opportunities and public improvements.
  • LCI Staffing for LACP, Department of Public Works, EWDD, and LADOT to develop, manage, and execute a work program that focuses on identifying holistic transportation and green infrastructure priorities through community engagement, conceptual planning, the development of corridor design alternatives, a priority project list, and identification of funding strategies. Public realm improvements will include mobility improvements within the roadway(planned by LADOT) and improvements to the sidewalk, ADA access ramps, street trees, street furniture, and street lighting to create more walkable, bikeable, safer, and greener streets.” 

This memo took 22 pages to say, “Show us the money.”  Without an allocation of $14,470,000 for 20 additional positions in the four implementing municipal departments, a Livable Communities pilot program will die on the vine.  Furthermore, if this pilot program is funded, it will only recommend – not build -- public improvements on 50 transit corridor sections, not the entire city. 

Will it work?  The barriers to successfully implement Livable Communities in Los Angeles are enormous.  Even if the requested staff positions materialize, the capital improvements required (ADA access ramps, repaving, street trees, street furniture, street lighting) for the Livable Communities program remain unfunded.

 


More like a crater than a pothole.

 

Furthermore, when City Hall upzones commercial parcels on LA’s long transit corridors, the value of these parcels also rises, along with the cost of housing when private sector developers build on them.  This makes the city’s housing crisis even worse, pricing more people out of housing and causing homelessness to rise.  

With so many barriers to overcome, don’t hold your breath for Livable Communities to appear.  Instead, you should brace yourself for unlivable communities with more homeless people sleeping on broken sidewalks, next to dilapidated streets.

                                                                                                                                

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