Join us to hear about generation-defining challenges...and opportunities

Globally, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, and nationally, the challenge to ensure racial justice, are all challenges that present us with generation-defining choices. 

Locally, our need to provide sufficient affordable housing without displacing current residents and to end homelessness also presents us with generation-defining choices. And, as noted on Metro’s The Source blog this week, mobility in LA County is “at an intersection” and the choices before us "could be generation-defining.”

Black Lives Matter and the rising up for racial justice has brought a “renewed focus on the failures of our public systems, the disparate outcomes they produce, and the power structures and privileges that entrench them,” Nolan Borgman wrote on The Source.

Transportation is at an intersection, he also noted, because four months after the coronavirus forced California and LA County to virtually close down our economy, traffic is greatly diminished and many more people are walking and biking. 

In this context, we offer a proposal we call “Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity” to help address the challenges before us, especially the need for affordable housing and for ready mobility.

Please join us, an impressive roster of speakers, and 400 registrants next Thurs., July 16, at 3 p.m. for a Zoomposium to discuss creating Boulevards of Opportunity. You can see who will be speaking, find more info, and REGISTER HERE.

(Note If you did register this is just a reminder—we've cancelled and rescheduled this event twice, once because of COVID-19 and a second time to keep the focus on racial justice during the protests. Email marisa@movela.org if you have questions.)

“Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity” is a public program. To succeed, it will require a commitment of public resources both to build the affordable housing our communities need and to build and operate a robust transit system to serve those communities. Happily, LA County voters have already provided sufficient resources for these transit improvements with Measure M (2016). 

We believe we have very good ideas for how to fund the affordable housing development as well, and there is little doubt that Angeleno voters will have a role to play.

Our proposed Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity program seeks to address both our affordable housing and mobility challenges at the same time by providing communities not only with affordable housing, but also with local services that community members can get to safely on foot, by bike, or by local and regional transit service.  

All these objectives can be joined in mixed-use, mixed-income communities in LA where we have only just begun to see that there are genuine opportunities for creating neighborhoods—in the increasingly underused commercially zoned land along our many boulevards and in downtowns. These locations could also provide opportunities to greatly improve bus service, and perhaps introduce bus rapid transit (BRT).

We see LA’s many boulevards as a real opportunity to create community, equity, opportunity and sustainability.

In Europe mixed-use, mixed-income communities along boulevards are common. Paris, one of the world’s most admired cities, abounds with such boulevards, including Boulevard St. Germain (below).

There are several reasons for this new and growing interest in building affordable housing and enhancing bus service along commercial streets where there’s very little housing now:

  • There’s little land left to develop in LA County’s residential neighborhoods without displacing current residents, especially near transit. What land there is can be very expensive, making it difficult to build affordable housing there.
  • Many of our commercial boulevards have been in decline for decades, having lost their place in the marketplace to shopping centers. The sudden popularity of online shopping and the coronavirus pandemic have worsened this condition.
  • New housing—both market-rate and affordable—can be built on commercially zoned land without displacing current residents. Special provisions should be adopted to also avoid displacement of small local businesses and to create opportunities for new ones.

We think Angelenos will be eager to live in quality neighborhoods in close proximity to robust bus service and streets that have been improved for walking and biking. 

Two of our Zoomposium speakers—Peter Calthorpe and Joe DiStefano—have used their urban planning software, UrbanFootprint, in many cities to determine the benefits and feasibility of various community development programs. Join us, them, and ten other panelists at our Zoomposium, to talk about what can be done in LA County. REGISTER here.

 


Why Boulevards? Why BRT? Why Now?

We’ve told you about our program to re-imagine stretches of commercial property along some of LA County’s underutilized boulevards—we call them “Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity”—with the addition of high-quality transit, especially bus rapid transit (BRT), and new moderate-density neighborhoods comprised of mixed-use, mixed-income, multifamily development.

Why boulevards? Because they offer significant opportunities for affordable housing without the displacement of current residents or businesses. Displacement is a major challenge when housing is built in existing neighborhoods, but most boulevards aren’t zoned for much housing. We believe that wherever there are homes or businesses, however, they must be protected.

Protecting against displacement and building robust affordable housing will help ensure that this development helps remedy rather than exacerbate historic racial injustices and concerns about equity. Building these neighborhoods near transit also addresses the problem that the people who ride transit the most are often priced out of neighborhoods with high-quality transit.

Join our online Boulevards of Equity & Opportunity Zoomposium JULY 16 at 3 p.m. to talk with an impressive line-up of transportation & affordable housing experts re: if, how, why & where Boulevards of Equity & Opportunity are feasible. REGISTER HERE. Speakers include Metro CEO Phil Washington & UrbanFootprint co-founders Peter Calthorpe & Joe DiStefano. All speakers are on the registration page.

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What's Been Done & What Can Be Done: LA County Transit & Affordable Housing

The world has become more challenging for all of us these past several years, especially recently. Move LA started building a campaign in 2007 to address LA's then soul-crushing traffic congestion. But we did not know then how deep our community's affordable housing crisis would be become nor how severe would become our crisis of homelessness. We knew climate change would be a generational challenge, but we did not know an IPCC report in 2018 would say we had but a decade to turn things around. 

The important question for Move LA now is what can we do, together with allies and coalition partners, to help make progress on important issues related to clean transportation, affordable housing and smart land use over the next couple of years? Below are our priorities for the next decade.

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Let's Expand Bus Rapid Transit in LA County: Answer Metro's BRT Survey

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Last week we emailed you about the opportunity expand Bus Rapid Transit in Los Angeles County because it will create jobs, help get our economy moving, and it could just be part of the solution to our impending climate crisis (less than a decade away from irreversible harm).

LA Metro understands all this and has been conducting a “Vision & Principles Study” to develop an overall vision, goals, and objectives for BRT in LA County. They have analyzed the top 30 highest performing corridors (see image) and are working on assessing these corridors to shorten the list to 3-5 priority corridors for recommended BRT implementation. These are in addition to the BRT projects already funded and in planning in the North San Fernando Valley and the NoHo to Pasadena lines.

Please visit MetroBRTstory.com and take 5-10 minutes to complete the survey and provide your input. The survey will be open for responses through May 31, 2020.

The website also provides an incredibly detailed map of corridors analyzed by the Study Team. Your input to the survey and your feedback to the opportunity to expand BRT throughout Los Angeles County will be critical for Metro as they move forward with this important effort.


Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity—This Can Work!

Los Angeles and every urban area in California is looking for solutions to transportation challenges as well the affordable housing crisis.

Fortunately, a big part of the solution to one—where to build new housing without threatening existing neighborhoods, for example—is part of the solution to the other. These solutions have been taking root here over the past few decades. We need to encourage, even accelerate, them. 

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Mixed-use development with multifamily housing on commercially zoned land has become popular in many communities in Los Angeles County. We believe that if we are going to help solve the affordable housing crisis in the aftermath of COVID-19, this is the type of development we need to encourage and accelerate by making it easier to build throughout the county, especially along commercial streets well-served by transit. 

Many of these streets—or at least stretches along these streets—are in need of revitalization and and redevelopment. We propose enlivening them and giving them new purpose by turning them into “Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity”!

If Metro were to choose a few of these streets for their planned zero-emission bus rapid transit (BRT) projects and work with cities to develop attractive neighborhood plans, these streets are likely to attract investment, development, renters and riders. BRT costs less and takes less time to construct than light rail lines, operates on dedicated lanes so it provides better on-time service than regular buses, and Metro has set aside money to build several BRT lines.  

Our goal would be to encourage investment in mixed-income, mixed-use, moderate-density development (maybe 4-5 stories) in order to create these new urban neighborhoods by first improving them with BRT service, making the streets and sidewalks better and safer places to walk and bike, and adding street trees and urban greening—a key ingredient to success. Another key ingredient: new state and local funding for affordable housing (more on that in another email).

We aren’t the only people talking about using what are currently "moderate-density” commercial corridors to address the housing crisis. Peter Calthorpe, renowned architect, urban planner and a founder of the Congress for the New Urbanism, and Joe DiStefano—co-creators of UrbanFootprint, web-based urban planning and mapping platform—used this tool to evaluate the housing potential along El Camino Real, a 45-mile mostly commercial roadway through the heart of Silicon Valley.

Join us on Wednesday, June 10, for a Zoom webinar from 1-3 p.m. with Peter Calthorpe and Joe DiStefano, who will use UrbanFootprint to help us understand the potential for BRT, housing and community development on select boulevards in LA County. Register HERE.

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Zero-emission Bus Rapid Transit is a Critical Mode for the Future

You may have heard of EcoRapid Transit, the Sepulveda Pass Line, or the Green, Gold, and Crenshaw Line extensions projects. These new rail projects, along with dozens of others being completed or in the works, will all have transformative benefits throughout LA County. And all of them were included in Measure R (2008) and Measure M (2016) and supported by voters.

But as we settle into the “new mobility normal” with fiscal austerity necessary to ensure transit continues to provide vital service to lifeline riders, it is now more important than ever to appreciate LA Metro’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) vision.

BRT is a high-capacity bus transit service that operates on dedicated lanes and has speed, reliability, and capacity much greater than regular buses, though less capacity than light rail.  But BRT is far less costly than light rail to create.  

And, BRT will create jobs and can help get our economy moving again. It is one part of the solution to our impending climate crisis (less than a decade away from irreversible harm).

And we already have BRT of our own.  Metro’s Silver and Orange Lines are BRT and arrive on-time around 90 percent of the time. When Metro launched a bus-only lane on Flower Street in May 2019 during the temporary Blue Line rail refurbishment, the 1.8-mile lane was carrying 70 buses per hour with zero complaints. It is still carrying 45 buses per hour through one of the most traveled corridors.

The Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley (with a dedicated BRT lane) had 22k-25k daily boardings last year, which exceeded Metro’s projections of 20,000 by 2020. And when the Orange Line opened in 2005, it more than tripled Metro’s initial projections. Metro is currently converting this route to an all-electric Bus Rapid Transit corridor, making it cleaner and improving air quality in the San Fernando Valley.  And Metro is evaluating 30+ corridors for Bus Rapid Transit in LA County based on the criteria in this image (and Metro website).

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Response to a Critic: Fortune Favors the Bold

Move LA has always worked with a wide range of civic leaders and organizations to “dream big” and identify strategies that address fundamental community challenges. Our motto has long been "Fortune favors the bold."

But last week when we shared our plan to make it possible for voters to vote to end climate change we got some feedback we would like to respond to here.

In one response, we were told that our Vision 2022 plan was “crazy overreach”  and that we'd better "rethink our priorities." (If you didn't read our e-blast on May 7, you can read it on the blog post below.)

Maybe this respondent didn't know about our victories, with the help of voters, over the last 12 years. So Move LA Executive Director Denny Zane replied: 

That is exactly what we heard in 2006 when we put on the table the proposal for what became Measure R in LA County in 2008 and Measure M in 2016. Voters said YES to both—to Measure M by more than 70%. Before COVID these measures together were projected to provide $120 billion in funding for transportation over 40 years to enhance and modernize LA County transit systems. 

That is what we heard again when we proposed to LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas that that the county ask for voter approval of a sales tax in a 2017 special election to provide $350 million a year for housing and services for people who are homeless. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas led the way and voters said YES again to Measure H by 67.4%. Imagine the county dealing with the homeless during COVID without that funding!

I guess we have learned not to underestimate our voters, or ourselves. The U.N.’s International Panel on Climate Change wrote in a 2018 report that we had a little more than a decade to start to reverse climate change. So a sense of urgency joined with greater confidence in voters—than perhaps you may have—makes a regional or statewide measure seem both necessary and winnable.

I believe that a half-cent sales tax in the pre-COVID economy would have generated over $130 billion at an average per voter cost of less than a dime a day. With that revenue we could fully implement the California Air Resources Board’s AB 32 Scoping Plan to reduce GHG emissions and fight climate change as well as most of the adopted plans of the regional commuter rail agencies.

Are we ambitious? Yes. Are we crazy? No.

Denny Zane

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We Can Vote to End Climate Change! But Regionally or Statewide?

Yes, we meant it when we said maybe we could vote to end climate change in 2022 or come pretty close. It is very important that we try – especially since the 2018 IPCC report said we had maybe 12 years to turn climate change around.

And with the need for serious money to recover from the economic shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic and the need to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs quickly to get people back to work, what better way to stimulate the economy, clean up our air and environment than to invest in modern transportation? Of, course the revenue source matters.

Here’s how:

clean_vehicles.pngMission Critical #1: Dramatically reduce, or capture and use, Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, a.k.a. “Super Pollutants” such as biomethane, black carbon, and ozone from landfills, wastewater treatment facilities, dairies, livestock, from diesel uses, fireplaces and wildfires. These gases are the most powerful climate forcers and drive 40% of global warming. Fortunately, they decay in 12-15 years or less. Dramatically reducing these emissions is a strategy that can actually roll back global warming. 

Mission Critical #2: Accelerate the rollout of zero-emission cars, SUVs, and pickups in the most significant transportation marketplace in the world – California! With the possible need to social distance, we don’t want people getting back into their pollution emitting vehicle or, even worse, purchasing a new or used pollution-causing vehicle.

Mission Critical #3: Accelerate the rollout of zero and near-zero emission trucks, trains, ships and planes in the most significant transportation marketplace in the world – California! Such vehicles are the largest source of smog in California.

Mission Critical #4: Transform our regional commuter rail transit systems into a zero-emission, high-velocity, regional express systems – in Southern California, perhaps in San Diego County, the Bay Area, even in the Central Valley. Even connect them up to create a statewide high-velocity system (do we dare call it high-speed rail?)

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Our Thoughts on Metro and the "New Mobility Normal"

Photo by Olenka Kotyk on Unsplash

The stay-at-home orders have shown us what blue skies, singing birds, and clean air can look like in Southern California. But this is only a temporary side-effect of these extraordinary times. Will all this change when we return to a "new normal"?

We have to put this all into perspective. Two months ago we were embarking on an effort to change the tide on declining transit ridership. The decline began in 2010, just after voter approval of Measure R. During a historic recession, the LA County Metro Board of Directors voted to increase fares and reduce Revenue Service Hours (RSH) for LA's bus network. Since then the demographic data shows LA County has experienced a dramatic loss of its low-income workforce, likely displaced by rising rents (more on that later). The low-income workforce is a large share of the transit user base here and in nearly every American city. Lose 20% of your base, lose 20% of your riders.

But, since that time, Metro operating revenues have soared. In 2016, LA County voters supported Measure M with 25% of its revenue dedicated to bus and rail operations. Then, California voters rejected Proposition 6, and preserved the gas tax in SB 1 that provided additional funds for public transit operations. Then the State of California committed cap-and-trade funds to transit operations. As such, Metro has seen its transit operations budget increase by at least $400 Million since 2015 with new revenue for transit operations.

Despite this increase in operating revenue, budgeted bus Revenue Service Hours has remained constant at 7 million hours per year.

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What Recovery Could Look Like: Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity

Everyone knows there isn’t enough affordable housing in LA County and that too many people live on the street. How are we going to expand the supply of housing for our low-income workforce and for people likely to become homeless as the economy flounders and more jobs are lost due to COVID-19? 

Moreover, how can we rebuild transit ridership in urban neighborhoods served by transit when the people who use it the most can’t afford to live there anymore?

Move LA has a proposal about how to do this. We call it “Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity.”

First, we need sufficient land with good access to frequent transit where new neighborhoods can be built without requiring the demolition of existing housing or the displacement of residents. Second, we need policies in place and/or sufficient public capital to build housing affordable to low and moderate-income households in these new neighborhoods.

Below we discuss where we think we can find the land on which to build sufficient housing without displacement. Next week we will write about where we think we can find the resources to build a significant amount of affordable housing on this land.

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