L.A.'s Transit Force Awakens

What a difference a few years makes. It seems like just yesterday that a handful of Beverly Hills NIMBYs were fighting the best location for a subway station in Century City.

Well anyhow...

But we are in a new era. One in which L.A.'s transit loving forces have awakened and taken back the city from the villainous Army of NO.

And that is why I am optimistic about L.A.'s transit future and that the City will continue on the positive trajectory it has found over the past decade or so.

For an update on what is happening in LA transitwise, I go to the oracles. Last week, a bunch of them could be found at the Urban Land Institute -- Los Angeles (ULI-LA) conference at the Japanese American National Museum. While it wasn't the Star Wars opening at the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd, I wasn't disappointed.

Here is what I learned from Metro CEO Phil Washington, California High Speed Rail CEO Jeff Morales, LISC's Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, Metro's Jenna Hornstock, real estate developer Dan Rosenfeld and others.

Los Angeles now boasts the largest transit expansion project in the country. Five transit lines are under construction and two major milestones will be reached this Spring when Metro opens major extensions on the Expo Line and the Gold Line to Santa Monica and well out into the San Gabriel Valley.

The Crenshaw Line to LAX is nearing 50 percent completion and the Regional Connector which will sew together the two halves of our County transit system has reached 15 to 20 percent completion.

While we shouldn't be cutting Metro any slack for grossly underestimating the cost of utility relocation on the Regional Connector project, that's a lot of construction!

I say, don't cut Metro slack because this isn't the first time Metro has dug up the street in downtown L.A. to build a subway tunnel. I hope whoever negotiated that cost plus deal with the contractors is no longer working at Metro.

And there's more, including the buildout of the area around Union Station, a massive project that has the potential to create a second downtown in DTLA; the tying together of Los Angeles with the rest of the state through construction of the California High Speed Rail and Measure R, a transportation sales tax measure that may make it onto the November 2016 ballot. If it does, be sure to vote YES for this all important source of funding, the bottom layer of the lasagna financing, together with Federal dollars and private money, required for building the system we need now and for the future.

At ULI-LA I also learned how, with the community redevelopment agency six feet under, Metro is taking up the redevelopment mantle.

Transit oriented development. TOD. Fuhgeddaboudit. We're talking transit oriented communities.

And it makes sense. As CEO Phil Washington explained, we have to move beyond thinking about the development and focus on the impacts of our bricks and mortar at existing and planned transit stations. What is the impact of a station's construction on the two plus surrounding miles, asked Washington rhetorically. "We're not just the T in TOD, we have to be concerned about the neighborhood and the displacement effect and gentrification," not just because it's the right thing to do but because there's an "economic bottom line impact on Metro if the gentrification causes the loss of riders."

In other words, if we displace the working class, Metro's core riders, we just create the need to add another bus line out to where the displaced riders go.

Of course ULI-LA conferences are about more than getting a great primer on the topic du jour. They are also a chance to catch up with those thinking about LA and working to make it a better place to live.

Among those I spoke with over coffee at the break, it is the so-called Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that is on a lot of minds.

Christopher Hawthorne of the Los Angeles Times has already taken a well-deserved jab at The Coalition to Preserve L.A., the typically disingenuously named group that is proposing the anti-development November ballot measure.

The last thing L.A. needs is another NIMBY-backed effort to stifle L.A.'s continuing transformation into a world class city with appropriate residential density around transit stations.

Here's Hawthorne, putting a fork in The Coalition's opposition to L.A.'s new iconic structure: the mid-rise mixed-user. "Opposing this development bonanza are longtime residents, the NIMBYs, who decry the new focus on density as a shift in the fundamental values of a city seeking to find its identity and place in the Twenty-First Century. The battle now looks to be headed to a showdown at the voter's booth as one anti-development group has turned to a classic California method of change, the ballot measure."

Coalition members may never accept that L.A. is growing and ditch their car for a faster Metro train, but that doesn't mean the rest of us need to accept their increasingly obsolete vision of Los Angeles. The Coalition wants to impose a construction moratorium on projects approved by the City that increased some types of density until officials can complete review and update of community plans or 24 months, whichever occurs first.

That makes as much sense as saying we can't safely dig a subway tunnel under Beverly Hills High School.

It's time to send a clear message at the voting booth to The Coalition that its way of thinking doesn't represent the better city that L.A. has become.

Let's show them what we can do when The Force Awakens.

Yours in transit,
Joel