Friday, October 28, 2005

Turning Around the Housing Crisis

I've been pleased to see that Mayor Villaraigosa's proposal of a $1 billion housing bond has been favorably covered. I'm excited to go out and talk to the public and my colleagues about the large vision and the crucial details that such a plan would entail.

I had the honor of addressing the Los Angeles Business Council forum at UCLA where the Mayor made his announcement. In addition to speaking about the need for financial commitments to turn around the housing crisis, I spoke about the slightly thornier issues around zoning and planning for growth.

Let's make no mistake: we've tried to prevent growth by not planning for it, and that's no solution at all. Instead of growing up in skyscrapers, we've grown out, in "yardscrapers"—plots of land, often zoned for only a single family, on which every bit of yard has been appropriated into an overcrowded dwelling. It's the nightmare flipside of the original Los Angeles dream, where we wouldn't have to build parks because every house had a backyard. We ignored our urban status, and we crammed whole neighborhoods into those precious backyards.

But Angelenos are getting the point. With hope and hard work, communities have recognized the problem and have organized to change the dialogue from "Not In My Back Yard" to "Yes In My Back Yard." The Hollywood Interfaith Steering Committee (now LA VOICE) assembled 2,000 constituents to ask me and then-Mayor Hahn to help build 500 units of affordable housing there in Hollywood. People Assisting The Homeless (PATH) have convened Project YIMBY to bring together people who want to solve the homelessness crisis and are willing to being by working in their own communities, not by pointing fingers elsewhere.

Remarkably, the Central Hollywood Neighborhood Council, led by president Debbie Wehbe, has supported increased density along major thoroughfares in the Hollywood Community Plan Update. Neighborhood Council skeptics said that the councils would only voice NIMBY sentiments, but CHNC has championed a smart growth vision for Los Angeles development.

For my own part, I have gone on record in support of a smart-growth solution. Sometimes planning for increased density is unpopular, but as I said above, we've seen the alternative, and it doesn't work.

SCAG estimates that with smart planning, we can accomodate our region's growth on only 2% of our land. With the Hollywood Community Plan update ongoing, I have supported the 2% strategy, requesting that the Planning Department work towards that goal.

This week, the city approved the first RAS zone change in CD13. That planning tool alone, which allows for mixed commerical/residential zoning in underutilized commercial corridors, has generated applications for 3,000 new units of housing.

Developers need to do their part. They must build transit-friendly apartment buildings, investing the money that might go to digging out extra parking spaces into making the housing more affordable, building green, or improving the quality of pedestrian life in the project. Investors and lenders must change their requirements of developers to enable smart buildings that enhance our urban fabric rather than repeat the mistakes of the past.

Our planning tool kit has come a long way in my four years on the council. My colleague Ed Reyes has tirelessly promoted a smarter vision for our future. As I said with reference to the housing bond, we've learned a lot about what works. Now we need to enact it on a scale large enough to change our whole city.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Silver Lake Triangle Park

See a set of pictures from this event.

Today, with a little help from my (little) friends, I cut the ribbon on Sunset Triangle Park, at the corner of Griffith Park and Sunset Boulevard. The park is truly an oasis restored: green grass, new trees, a working fountain, a printed crosswalk, seating boulders and bicylce racks all make this patch of grass one of the most attractive places in Silver Lake.

Getting here was hard, but it was also fun. My office hosted community design charettes to formulate a neighborhood-level vision for the park. My staff located the funds to execute that vision, winning $95,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds. We added $11,000 from our office’s limited discretionary funds to hire Kathy Cerra, an independent design consultant who worked with community members.

The Silver Lake Neighborhood Council was key in bringing this to fruition, especially Tom Blanchard (who's since moved out of town, but came back to see the park today) and Lorraine Kells. And Michael McKinley and Sunset Junction have been the park's stalwarts; it was their hosting of the Saturday morning farmer's market that really brought focus to the triangle park once again. Thank you to all and enjoy the park.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

One Billion Dollars for Housing

At the Mayoral Housing Summit at the UCLA Anderson School, sponsored by the Los Angeles Business Council, Mayor Villaraigosa announced his support of a $1 billion bond to finance solutions to the housing crisis. I've discussed the idea of a housing bond with my colleagues, with housing advocates, and with business leaders—the business community has been especially creative in promoting a bond. I was thrilled today to hear the mayor's support.

I have no doubt that the time has come for dramatic solutions. Just look at the statistics around housing costs in Los Angeles:

  • Average home price in Los Angeles County, September 2005: $494,000
  • Monthly payments on such a house, assuming 10% down, 6% interest, and 30-year fixed rate: $2,665/month
  • Maximum portion of income under federal guidelines that should go to housing needs: 1/3
  • Salary required to afford such a house under that guideline: $96,000/yr
  • Average rent for an apartment, Los Angeles County, September 2005: $1,441/month
  • Full-time wage required to afford such an apartment under federal guideline: $27/hr
  • Occupancy rate for rental housing in Los Angeles: 97%
So how can a billion-dollar bond help us out of our housing crisis? The fact of the matter is, Los Angeles is a proven leader at financing innovative affordable housing projects. We've demonstrated that we can build new projects to house working families in a mostly-built out city. We can invest wisely and we can design 'smart'.

Investing funds from our city's affordable housing trust fund in tandem with the Multi-Family Housing Project funds from Proposition 46, we have funded more than 3,500 units of affordable housing in the past three years.

$100 million in city funds have leveraged $600 million in outside funds combining county, state, federal and private sources.

Although Los Angeles holds only one-tenth of California's population, our ability to add our own financing won us one-third of of the Prop 46 funds at stake. We demonstrated the need, we demonstrated the means, and now we're seeing the product.

And is $1 billion too high a number? Just considering the homeless problem alone, I can tell you that it is not. (With $100 million a year over ten years, we could begin to house the 91,000 people who nightly sleep on the streets of Los Angeles County.)

The Mayor led on homelessness today too, promising to increase the housing trust fund by $50 million. This money would go primarily into projects serving low-income and formerly homeless individuals. These are the people who live in the cold borderlands between however tenuous a hold on a home and the cold, hard streets. With targeted attention to these projects, we can increase the options that have disappeared between the $494,000 home and the shelter bed. We can give people hope.

Money isn't the only thing we need, and I will follow up with a post on how we can change our zoning laws and our building practices to build a city for a future that has already come to pass. As with financing, this is an area where our city has taken the right steps, has figured out some of the answers, and needs to commit to them on a broader scale. From what I've seen, I know we can do it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Red Car Mural

Luis Lopez from the Friends of Atwater Village sends in this beautiful photo of the new mural, seen from the Red Car River Park. FOAV is painting this mural with assistance from the Community Beautification Grant, which is a great way for community groups to get their neighborhood beautification projects off the ground. I can't wait for the scaffolding to come down so we can see the mural in all of its glory.

Update: A writer at LA Voice stumbles upon the mural in this eloquent musing.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Mentoring at Foshay

I had the honor of joining Daphna Ziman on Tuesday for the launch of a program sponsored by her organization, Children Uniting Nations. The newly launched Foshay Academic Mentoring Center at the legendary Foshay Learning Center will offer academic mentoring for foster youth in a partnership with USC.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Farmers' Insurance

I joined Councilmembers Wendy Greuel, Jan Perry and Tom LaBonge as well as Kevin Kelso of Farmers' Insurance at an announcement just below the 1st Street Steps of City Hall. At the event, Farmers' announced that it has become the first auto insurer in the nation to offer a five percent discount to customers who drive hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles. I have driven an electric car since taking office, pausing only to try out a hydrogen fuel cell prototype (the city has three of the $1.5 million vehicles on a $500/year lease from Honda). More importantly than my personal choice, the city has converted the vast majority of its fleet to hybrid vehicles, which has paid off in huge savvings as prices at the pump have shot up. Let me know if you've lessened your dependence on the dinosaur.

Baydsar, honored

Senior Field Representative Baydsar Thomasiangot honors (and top billing!) in a very tony celebration by the Hollywood Police Activities League. Baydsar, whose service to CD13 predates even my own (she started her work in Hollywood under my predecessor), has been the go-to deputy for the Hollywood PALs for years. I'm proud of her. Inspector Robert Gladden from the Los Angeles Fire Department was honored the same night. My congratulations to both.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Survey says: CD13 is on the right track!

It came as a great vote of confidence in the work that we are doing together that I was permitted to run unopposed for a second term as City Councilmember. The lack of an opponent freed me up to try out some new ideas with my campaign, such as spending funds on a voter registration drive instead of on fighting an opponent.

One of the projects my campaign undertook was an in-depth survey of how CD13 residents feel about the issues confronting the district. We received hundreds of responses to the survey. They came in from every neighborhood. I'll post the full results to the survey later this month, but here's a teaser:

  • 49.87% of you feel that the city is on the right track (48.82% feel that the city is on the wrong track)
  • 64.18% of you feel that your neighborhood is on the right track (33.58% of you feel that your neighborhood is on the wrong track).
Although my work in City Hall addresses all of Los Angeles, I'm proud to see that we've won results by starting in our own backyard.

You ranked the issues confronting the district in this order:
  1. Addressing crime and gangs
  2. Cleaning up graffiti, trash and illegal dumping
  3. Improving neighborhood services (i.e. street paving, sidewalk repairs, tree trimming)
  4. Providing affordable housing
  5. Improving education and schools
  6. Relieving traffic congestion
  7. Cutting wasteful government spending
  8. Attracting jobs and economic opportunities
  9. Cleaning up the air and water
  10. Building new parks and libraries
And you considered some issues individually:
  • 83.16 % favor a proposal that requires developers to set aside 10% of all new construction for affordable housing, 16.84% oppose
  • 87.47% have a favorable impression of the effort to clean up business and shopping areas, 11.43 % have an unfavorable impression
  • 82.74 % feel that graffiti is an important problem, 16 % feel that graffiti is not a major concern
  • 52.19% favor a plan to raise trash fees or city sales tax to boost public safety initiatives, 47.18 % oppose this plan
Lastly, the survey itself was useful for spreading information about city services:
  • 43.93 % were aware that you can report bulky trash and graffiti by calling 311, 56.07 % were not aware
There's more to be told, including the neighborhood-by-neighborhood breakdown. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Clean Money on the Move

The Los Angeles Times reports that a majority of the Ethics Commission supports a clean money policy for Los Angeles. Wendy Greuel, Bill Rosendahl and I first proposed this publicly this summer, and I am pleased to see the proposal gaining traction. Our City Controller Laura Chick has also made many supportive statements.

Los Angeles already has an election matching funds program; for the money that we've already allocated, we could fund a good part of an initial clean money program. The Supreme Court has objected to laws that entirely prohibit political donations (Buckley v. Valeo), but the beauty of a clean money system is that it is an "opt-in" program. Anyone can elect to continue raising private funds. But the candidate who foregoes private money receives the necessary funds to run a campaign. The voters are assured that he or she is in no one's pocket, and the candidate can spend his or her time talking to voters, not to special interests.

The Ethics Commission has decided to take up the matter at their November 8th meeting. I'll let you know what happens.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

September's E*news (with a little bit of October) is online

You can read all about September here, and if you don't get the e-news delivered to your inbox, sign up for it here. Remember: blog readers get the news first, but e-news readers get the whole story. This month's edition contains never-been-blogged items about at-grade crossings in Atwater, (edible) salsa competitions, Hollywood Reporter Boulevard and the L.A. City Council's resolution to urge renewal and expansion of the Violence Against Women Act. Enjoy, and don't hesitate to tell me what you think.

Bulky Items Pilot Program

I joined Councilmember Tom LaBonge to announce a pilot bulky item pick-up program in two new neighborhoods of Los Angeles. We chose neighborhoods that were blighted with high concentrations of household items left on the streets or on the parkway. Couches, mattresses, refrigerators, you name it: if it doesn't belong, it's going to the dump.

Under the pilot program, city truck crews will routinely survey the streets to collect items left at the curbside. (You can still arrange a bulky item pickup by calling 3-1-1 from anywhere in the city, of course.) The target areas are in the Wilshire Center/Koreatown /Beverly-Kingsley area and in Little Armenia. The program will be in effect through the end of the year.

My hope, which I share with Tom, is that we can expand this program city-wide, possibly establishing a collection fee to help defray the costs of the service. Nobody wants this two-ton litter problem. Tenant advocates, renters, property owners, city unions and private waste haulers have all worked with us to find a solution.

So, today, whether you're inside or outside of the pilot area, why not make a note of that errant sofa you see on your commute? Let's get that seat off the street.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Take back Lemon Grove Park

Last week, a young man was tragically murdered in Lemon Grove Park by a suspected gang member. The victim was playing basketball when the gang member missed his intended target and hit this young man instead. I would like you to join me next Saturday, October 15th, to reclaim the park as a place for our community to gather, eat, and play. A park full of people is a safe park.

At the same event, we will honor our UNTAG Block Captains who have helped reduce graffiti in CD13 by 62% in one year.

Bring your families and enjoy an afternoon in the park. Food and beverages will be provided. It will be a great opportunity for you and me to get to know each other better.

RSVP by emailing or calling Arsen in my field office, (323) 913-4693, before Wednesday, October 13th.

Saturday, October 15th, 2:30-4:00PM
Lemon Grove Park in Hollywood
4959 Lemon Grove Ave.

I hope to see you there.