By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Nonetheless, the agendas of builders, land speculators, the chambers of commerce, the Planning Department and elected leaders have produced a virtually nondebated tectonic shift since the residential real estate turnaround of 2002, much increased under Villaraigosa. The shift is pushing L.A. from its suburban model of single-family homes with gardens or pools — the reason many come here — toward an urban template of shrinking green patches and multistory buildings of mostly renters.
To be sure, not everyone sees this in the negative light that people such as The New Geography author and social critic Joel Kotkin ("We remain an increasingly suburban nation") and Yaroslavsky do. Downtown developer Tom Gilmore scoffs that Kotkin and other defenders of suburbia and single-family dwellings "take that notion of urbanism and say, 'Oh my god, they're going to do that to your neighborhood too! They're going to make everything a "heat island"!'"
To Gilmore, the attitude in Ventura County and cities such as Santa Barbara, Rohnert Park, Sonoma, Healdsburg, Tracy and Dublin, all of which have enacted residential-growth limits to stop urbanization, denies the inevitable.
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“Oh my god, they’re going to do that to your neighborhood!” —Developer Tom Gilmore, mocking those who are worried
"Growth is not an option," says Gilmore. "We can grow with care, with thought and creativity, or we can grow the way we've grown for 150 years. I don't think the Planning Department has got it all right, but I'm happy they've got a template we can argue about."
But his notion of a grand civic debate under way is a faÃ§ade. The public have little idea what is being allowed even in their immediate area. Downtown insiders such as Ed Reyes — a city councilman and chairman of the powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee — working with Villaraigosa's handpicked department heads like Goldberg and mayoral appointees like former Councilman Mike Woo (on the Planning Commission) aren't engaging Angelenos in any serious discussion of their "template." And the mayor is assiduously avoiding a public debate in which he might be forced to justify his vision.
Their template could force urbanism onto all but the most protected enclaves of Los Angeles. The truly protected spots are "R1-zoned" — or single-family-residential only — 318,602 of the city's roughly 1.4 million housing units. The other 75-plus percent of housing units in Los Angeles — including thousands of homes in single-family neighborhoods that residents assume are R1 when they are not — could potentially be "up-zoned" for apartment towers and condos. Some of the most vulnerable areas are the eastern and western ends of the San Fernando Valley — the last quadrants containing some open space.
Of 16,874 housing units built the year after Villaraigosa was elected, 86 percent were multifamily — the vast majority of those rentals. Established homeowner neighborhoods — the glue that historian and former California State Librarian Kevin Starr once noted helped hold L.A. together, even in bad times — are an afterthought; the Brookings Institute reports that L.A. is suffering a middle-class decline more pronounced than in any other urban area in America.
To be fair, some of the mayor's focus has been on truly "underutilized" areas — nearly 100 developments of 100,000 square feet or larger are proposed or approved on sites like the old Sears warehouse in Boyle Heights, land in Marlton Square in South Los Angeles, and the aging Valley Plaza in North Hollywood. Councilwoman Gruel and Council President Garcetti tout this "proactive lead from the mayor."
But there's another side: Around Vanowen and Balboa in the San Fernando Valley over the past decade, ranch homes on spacious lots have made way for apartments, condos or McMansions. Hillsides from Hollywood to Mount Washington are so overbuilt that cars are ordered off the streets on "red-flag days." Along Miracle Mile, beautiful Spanish Colonial duplexes that since the 1920s have housed middle-class families sit unprotected from the urbanization steamroller.
Zev Yaroslavsky is a shrewd, politically left-of-center politician and a "slow growth" advocate with two adult children. Now 59, he's been married to health-care and child-care activist Barbara Yaroslavsky for 36 years. Born in Boyle Heights, then home to Jewish immigrants, Yaroslavsky grew up in the Fairfax District, ran track at Fairfax High, and put himself through UCLA (he has a master's in British imperial history) by teaching Hebrew in Long Beach — and playing professional poker.
He knew the gambling had to stop when he was elected to the City Council in 1975. Before he was sworn in, he paid a last visit to his favorite Gardena casino, the Normandie, sidling up to a group of Jewish matrons who said, "Zev, we know you're going to be an honest politician because you never bluff." He remembers thinking, "No, I just look like I never bluff."
Today, he says Los Angeles desperately needs a subway to the sea. But 23 years ago, he and others raised safety concerns about tunneling under the Westside after a 1985 explosion of naturally occurring methane gas ripped through the Ross Dress for Less near Fairfax. Although Yaroslavsky is sometimes blamed for halting federal funds for the line, he called for further safety studies, while Westside Congressman Henry Waxman led the fight to stop federal funds.*
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