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.