A Housing Incentive That Actually Works

The February 9 Legislative Analyst Office report on California “serious housing shortage” ends on a decidedly depressing note: “Bringing about more private home building … would be no easy task, requiring state and local policy makers to confront very challenging issues and taking many years to come to fruition.” The report, which focuses on low-income housing, follows a a March 2015 companion that officially – if obviously – summarized the state’s skyrocketing housing costs. 

Los Angeles' Moral Failing

Whereas a Berkeley resident can cross from exuberance of Telegraph Avenue into the heart of the Cal campus in a few steps, UCLA is an auto-oriented campus surrounded by a moat of driveways, green space, and city streets. Its neighbors are some of the wealthiest and orneriest an institution could ever have the misfortune to live next to. The university, for all its academic heft, retreats from the city, and the city from it.

UCLA was an ironically illustrative venue for a talk by Michael Storper, lead author of "The Rise and Fall of Urban Economies," that I attended recently. Contrary to its expansive title, Storper’s study concerns only Los Angeles and San Francisco. Given that both are booming Pacific Rim metropolises, it may be hard to figure out which is the “rise” and which is the “fall.”

SGC Announces 2016 AHSC Schedule, Workshops

SGC has announced its timeline for applications for the 2015-16 Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program and has scheduled six statewide workshops.

 The schedule for the AHSC program is as follows: 

A 'Dislike' for Facebook's Housing Bonus

Boundless as cyberspace may be, the companies that rule the internet still have to take up real estate. And their employees still have to put their heads down somewhere at night. For whatever reason, the mysterious forces of the "innovation economy" have lured an outside share of those companies, and their employees, to Silicon Valley. 

With all those likes, stock options, and organic cafeteria items comes, of course, a housing crisis. As absolutely no one is unaware, rents in Silicon Valley have gone up like stock over the past few years. 

Last week Facebook announced that it was going to make an investment in the crisis. Not an investment in housing, mind you. Just an investment in the crisis.

CP&DR News Briefs, December 21, 2015: S.D. Climate Plan; Sale of ONT Airport; Coastal Comm. Sides with The Edge; & More

The San Diego City Council unanimously approved a new Climate Action Plan, one of the nation’s most ambitious plans to cut carbon emissions by creating legally binding mandates for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

CEQA Does Not Apply In Reverse

The California Environmental Quality Act does not apply in reverse, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Overturning the First District Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that, with a few exceptions, CEQA analysis must be limited to the project's impacts on the environment (and, by extension, the project's environmental impacts on its own population) but not the environment's impact on the project.

Among other things, the ruling would seem to suggest that a CEQA analysis cannot analyze and mitigate the effect of future sea level rise or other climate change effects on a proposed project. 

Can Jurisdictions ‘Play Nice’ to Reap New Tax Increments?

For the past three years, California's cities have been like beachcombers, waving metal detectors over miles of beach in the hopes of discovering $5 billion. They haven't had much luck -- until recently. In the past year, though, Sacramento has bestowed upon the state’s cities two new funding tools that, while they don’t replace redevelopment, have given cities, developers, and other institutions reasons to salivate. 

CP&DR News Briefs, December 14, 2015: New Zoning for SE San Diego; SCAG RTP/SCS Released; Group to 'Sue the Suburbs;' and More

The San Diego City Council is expected to approve Southeastern San Diego's first comprehensive set of zoning changes since 1987 with the goal of encouraging more development near mass transit.  Community leaders often complain that the area's lack of high-paying jobs discourages developers from building quality reta

Theater Review: Urban Planning Takes Center Stage in 'If/Then'

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, the American Planning Association's Burnham Award will go to Dr. Elizabeth Vaughan. She will be recognized for, among other accomplishments, forcing improvements to a mega-development on Manhattan’s West Side, elegantly creating more affordable housing, and making peace with anti-gentrification activists. 

Is This The Right Meeting? Really?

If NIMBYs are, proverbially, planners’ worst enemies, then planners are sometimes their own second-worst enemies.  

Monday morning I attended one of a dozen or so workshops and listening sessions, this one in Los Angeles, put on by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research to publicize and solicit input into the new draft General Plan Guidelines. It’s a momentous occasion for planners in California. Legislative, demographic, and cultural forces have forged a different world in the 12 years since OPR last updated the guidelines. 

Cities that update their general plans, usually to the tune of hundreds of pages, need all the help they can get. That’s why it’s so important for OPR to clearly explain what it has in mind and to hear what planners and citizens need to make the magic happen.  

Some citizens, though, see nothing magical about, well, anything that planners do.  

A Plan with 'Zero' Chance of Success

In 2013, 34 pedestrians died on the streets of Denmark. The city of Copenhagen, roundly hailed as the world's pleasantest city for walking and biking, has about 10 percent of Denmark's population of 5.6 million. We can extrapolate that exactly three pedestrians died in Copenhagen in 2013, for a rate of about 0.5 per 100,000.

To be sure, those three deaths deserve due lamentation, scrutiny, and sympathy. On the other hand, they deserve celebration. Copenhagen's pedestrian fatality rate is about as low as it gets. The lowest pedestrian fatality rate of any major American city is 0.76. Copenhagen's rate is a full five times lower than that of the City of Los Angeles, which, at 2.57 (pdf) is towards the high end.

If you divide Copenhagen's fatality rate by Los Angeles', you get 19 percent. The question that some in Los Angeles are now asking is, what happens when you divide by zero?

SGC Proposes Higher Caps for Developers, Jurisdictions

In draft program guidelines issued last week, the Strategic Growth Council staff will recommend eliminating the jurisdictional cap on funding, increasing the cap for individual developers from $15 million to $40 million, and setting aside 10% of the funding for rural projects. However, the SGC staff recommendations stop short – so far – of a setaside for each region, as some metropolitan planning organizations requested. 

Instead, the SGC staff has recommended that MPO staff should review full AHSC applications based on consistency with each MPO’s sustainable communities strategy and provide formal recommendations to the SGC as to which applications should be funded. However, more options may be presented to the SGC at its October meeting. 

The staff recommendations include a wide variety of other changes, including increasing the points awarded for deep housing subsidies on affordable housing projects. Overall, the SGC staff is recommending a 50-50 split in the scoring criteria between GHG emissions reductions and other policy criteria, such as affordable housing and collaboration between transportation and housing projects. Last year, the GHG reduction accounted for 55% of possible points, while policy objectives accounted for 30% and 15% went to “project readiness and feasibility”. 

Should Cap-And-Trade Program Rethink "Disadvantaged Communities?

On an unusually hot February afternoon in downtown Los Angeles, I conducted a field walk assessment to help a client identify potential sites for a bikeshare “mobility hub.” Standing on a  corner near the Convention Center, I noted that we were at the border between two Census tracts. Ordinarily, this border wouldn’t matter much—the neighborhood isn’t discernibly different on one side or the other—but in this case, I was helping the client apply for a state grant program that gives special consideration to projects located in “disadvantaged communities.” 

 If located on the south side of the street, the project would be located in a “disadvantaged” census tract, but not on the north side.  “Well, let’s clearly locate the hub on the south side,” the client advised, with some incredulous laughter. Humorous as it may sound, this decision speaks to the serious policy weight—and dollars—the State of California has put behind the concept of “benefitting disadvantaged communities.”  

Beating Boston at Its Own Games

Are there any two American cities more different from each other than Boston and Los Angeles? History vs. modernity, compactness vs. sprawl, chowder vs. kale, sun vs. snow, modesty vs. flash, intellect vs. entertainment. 

Back in January, Boston beat out Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., to become the United States Olympic Committee’s official pick to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Since then, civic leaders in Los Angles have been nearly salivating with every hint of disaffection on the part of the Beantown faithful. Concerns were legion: Boston doesn’t have room; Boston’s transit system can’t handle the crowds; Boston doesn’t have the facilities; Boston doesn’t want to spend billions; Boston, to be characteristically blunt, has better things to do.

Papacy Comes Down to Earth on Climate Change

It turns out that two of the world's biggest proponents of smart growth are Catholic. One of them is California Governor Jerry Brown, who once studied to be a Jesuit priest and, more recently, has promoted earthly initiatives like high-speed rail, the adoption of vehicle miles traveled metrics, and the most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals in the western hemisphere. 

The other is the Pope.