By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The "public-transit promoting" Parking Reduction Ordinance is not going over well with some of the very few Los Angeles residents who have heard of it.
The Silver Lake Neighborhood Council says that, among other things, the reduced-parking ordinance will eventually punish the working poor (who actually use public transit), helping to prod them out of neighborhoods where hipster, "transit-oriented" projects lacking parking would almost inevitably be paired with luxury rentals.
Developer Gilmore insists the parking-reduction waiver isn't aimed at "what's happening in Silver Lake today, but what it will look like in 20 to 30 years." Yaroslavsky responds, "I don't think Gail [Goldberg] has a clue as to the impact of what these 'incentives' will be."
When residents of Los Angeles hammered out 35 Community Plans to direct what should happen in the city's loosely connected villages, those plans did not include luxury apartments without parking or skyscraper apartments looming over neighborhoods.
"Good planning has to lead, not follow," Goldberg explains, of City Hall's quiet push to amend those Community Plans, a process she insists will emphasize the need to work together. "We need to get in front of the process with Community Plans, which we're creating right now."
Twenty years ago, Robin Kramer, then chief of staff to Eastside City Councilman Richard Alatorre, told The New York Times, in an almost identical comment, that the key question was how City Hall could "best manage the growth and lead it." Now Kramer is back, again as a chief of staff — but this time to Villaraigosa.
At 9 a.m., as Goldberg is preparing to greet members of the Downtown Planning Commission, she advises me of my civic responsibility as a journalist regarding the density debate:
"All I ask is that you don't scare people into paralysis."
The apartment-construction binge began in 2002 but dates to 1993, when the Planning Department, under newly elected Mayor Richard Riordan, rolled out the new-housing component of its General Plan. Although dozens of Community Plans attempted to mute its more dire effects, the General Plan claimed that two-thirds of the city — already the fourth most densely populated in the nation — was "underutilized."
Many found the General Plan laughable and unlikely to ever unfold. But then demographers from California's State Department of Finance and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) prophesied that an inevitable county population increase of 2.5 million people by 2025 had to be met in Los Angeles by the building of far more housing.
That's when city planners started redesigning the very DNA of Los Angeles.
Goldberg says that SCAG bureaucrats want to see 16,000 new housing units per year — in a city many residents view as already overbuilt and grossly congested. (City Hall listens to SCAG, but some cities are sick of SCAG's density drumbeat. Irvine is involved in a bitter lawsuit against SCAG; Palmdale and La Mirada tried to stop SCAG and lost in court.)
SCAG "population projections" of massive, inevitable growth in L.A. are notoriously unreliable, says demographer James Allen, professor emeritus of geography at California State University Northridge.
"I personally don't put any stake in the accuracy of projections from SCAG or anyone else," Allen says. In his college classes, Allen assigns his students to make such projections — showing them how easy it is to manipulate theoretical circumstances to get whatever "population growth" results they desire.
It's a game, Allen explains, with outcomes "all based on assumptions that can't be known." A crash in the local economy, the subprime mortgage debacle, a flood or earthquake, major job growth in the U.S. South — all can send hundreds of thousands of people to other regions.
"But let's say they're accurate," Yaroslavsky conjectures. "Are we being told that we need to rebuild the entire city to facilitate another 2.5 million people in the next 17 years? Good luck. It's not going to happen — economically or politically ... It's preposterous. The deal is that there are a number of developers who see an opportunity here to make a killing."
The actual growth statistics fly in the face of the luxury-apartment future envisioned by the Villaraigosa administration. The U.S. Census says that between 1990 and 2000, 400,000 more residents fled Los Angeles County than moved in from other states and California counties. And significantly, the people who moved here earn an average of $3,000 less per year than the 400,000 who fled.
Yet the population is expanding, and the two key causes are illegal immigration and the high birth rate among the poor and working poor. Local Latino birth rates are driving it, and in Los Angeles, that means families with a median annual income circling $25,000.
Who is going to snap up thousands of luxury apartments on the drawing boards, at $2,500 a month? A few foreign nationals from Stuttgart and London, Dubai and Moscow? Even if Villaraigosa's team comes up with 16,000 new units per year in order to please land speculators, developers and bureaucrats at SCAG, it's highly unlikely that L.A.'s new residents — not hipsters but low-income families — could afford them.
"There's never been the market to support what they've been building," says Joel Kotkin, who notes that L.A. planners mistakenly believe they are creating the next New York or Chicago, when, Kotkin believes, it's more likely they are erecting a dense new Third World city.