Move LA spoke with Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (Metro) Chief of Staff Nadine Lee in October 2020 about the state of public transportation in Los Angeles County. We spoke about fareless transit, recovery of public transit and public transit funding, the NextGen Bus Plan, Bus Rapid Transit, and active transportation. The interview lasted close to an hour!
Question 1: Metro CEO Phil Washington has proposed a fareless system and set up a Fareless System Initiative Task Force to explore options. This is a shift from the thinking of Metro just a few months ago. What do you attribute this shift in thinking to?
First, we believe we have a moral obligation to LA residents to pursue a fareless system to help our region recover from the pandemic and the increasing lack of affordability in the region. For example, 69% of Metro riders are low or extremely low income, and fare evasion penalties disproportionately impact low-income riders. Housing and transportation are the two biggest expenses for most households. If we can eliminate one of those big expenses, imagine how much that would help low-income families. A fareless system will help promote social equity and expand economic opportunities, especially for our low-income riders.
In terms of the change in thinking, several things have happened over the last few years. One, we have started to think more broadly about what we're trying to accomplish as an agency and a community, rather than just delivering the status quo. We've also been asked to provide discounts or free fares for a variety of different populations. So, instead of approaching this fareless concept as “death by a thousand cuts,” we think there is value in looking more comprehensively at what it would take to go fareless in the context of everything else we are trying to do. We also have so many people out there trying to hold on economically, while fear of COVID keeps people from conducting normal business in the course of their daily lives.
To put things in perspective, Metro collected on the order of $300 million annually in fare revenue, pre-COVID. Now, with rear-door boarding on our buses to protect everyone during the pandemic, we aren’t collecting much farebox revenue at all. We already make fares free on Election Day and Earth Day. Combined with all of the discounts we offer to specific populations, the entire approach becomes very piecemeal and reactionary. Instead, in the last few years, we've really tried to focus on making policy decisions based on the broader outcomes we are trying to achieve and not just piecemealing things together. We want to be more thoughtful about what we're trying to accomplish and use outcomes-based thinking as our guide to how we set policy and implement our programs.Read more
The scare from the worsening fire season on the West Coast (and in other parts of the world) combined with hurricanes in the east has sensitized many people to the fact that the climate emergency is here. Last week we told you Move LA is launching a statewide effort as Move CA, and with our Northern California partner SPUR are investigating the idea of putting a "California Climate and Clean Air Initiative" on the November 2022 ballot.
Our goal is to raise the funding needed to meet California's vital climate and air quality goals while also building a just and equitable economy, and the climate leaders featured at our event expressed much enthusiasm for the idea: Mary Nichols, Fran Pavley, Kevin de Leon and Terry Tamminen told us the great need—and big opportunity—to make dramatic near-term and lasting improvements are in accelerating the deployment of zero-emission transportation and off-road technologies—both battery-electric and hydrogen.
They also emphasized the need for major reductions in the emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs)—also known as "super pollutants"—including fugitive methane, black carbon and HFCs.
And they said hard-wiring a commitment to equity for disadvantaged communities should be a co-equal priority for this measure.
Below are the remarks made in response to the climate leaders by our nonprofit partners, who also focused on the importance of keeping equity in the forefront of planning for this measure. To listen to the two-hour conversation CLICK HERE, or there's a 30-minute version at the top of the page HERE.
Move LA is launching a statewide effort as Move CA, and together with our Northern California partner SPUR we are investigating the possibility of a voter initiative measure on the November 2022 ballot to raise the funding needed to meet California's vital climate and air quality goals while building a just and equitable economy.
On Thursday, Oct. 1, we were joined by 11 climate leaders and nonprofit partners and an audience of several hundred to talk about the ballot measure and the priorities that it should fund. The discussion was energetic, impassioned and very welcome, especially given the fires and high temperatures we’ve experienced in California so far this year.
Below are remarks made by our first panel of current and former elected officials and agency leaders, which we will follow up with remarks made by directors of several nonprofits. If you'd like to listen to the entire two-hour conversation CLICK HERE, or there's a 30-minute HERE. Over the next several weeks you will hear more from us on this topic.
Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board:
“When Denny asks me to participate in one of his convenings, I don't think I ever have said no. I believe that what he's about is what we need to be talking about right now and that is how to raise a boatload of money to facilitate the transition that we know needs to happen: The targets for greenhouse gas emissions must go 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. [We must] also set a goal for reducing our short-lived climate pollutant levels, which as was pointed out earlier is maybe even more important because it's something that we can accomplish faster.
So, the ballot initiative has to be really big and it also has to be long-term enough so that it will attract private investors because . . . nothing that we're talking about could be solely financed by public funds.”Read more
Move California and SPUR presented 'Vision 2022: When California Leads, the World Soon Follows' on October 1, 2020. Speakers included leaders who have been responsible for formulating California's world-leading climate strategies over the past decade as well as key environmental and environmental justice advocates. DOWNLOAD PRESENTATION DECK.
The program discusses the possible statewide ballot measure to finish cleaning our air and help roll back climate change. In just the first decade the measure we will talk about could generate $30 billion in funding to use for incentives and infrastructure investments—and it could generate $70 billion over two decades.
With this funding California could:
#1: Meet the challenge set out in the 2018 IPCC Special Report and within a decade halt the progress of global warming and turn climate change around by
a) Investing in the accelerated deployment of zero-emission vehicles of all kinds and other advanced technologies, and
b) Dramatically reducing short-lived climate pollutants. These "super pollutants" cause 40% of global warming but decay much more quickly than CO2.
#2: Finish cleaning California's air by dramatically reducing diesel emissions to ensure the attainment of federal clean air standards. Diesel technologies are the most prevalent source of the most harmful air pollution—which especially burdens disadvantaged communities near freeways and ports.
#3: Advance social equity and justice by identifying investments that can improve the health of people living in disadvantaged communities, and create jobs and opportunities that boost the economic vitality of these communities as air pollution and GHG emissions are reduced.Read more
We can do a lot! We are California, and when California leads the world soon follows!
It's already happening with our zero-emission cars and recently approved zero-emission trucks program. But we have to move faster and make the change bigger.
Join us next Thursday to talk with California's climate and clean air leaders about a possible statewide ballot measure in November 2022 to significantly reduce greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants (including black carbon, methane, ozone andhydrofluorocarbons or HFCs), and finish cleaning our air.
REGISTER HERE TO JOIN MOVE CA AND SPUR ON A ZOOM CALL THURSDAY, OCT. 1, 10 A.M.-NOON, TO TALK WITH: Mary Nichols, Chair, California Air Resources Board ° Kevin De Leon, LA City Councilmember-elect and former CA State Senate President Pro Tempore ° Senator Nancy Skinner, CA Senate Majority Whip; former International Director of ICLEI—Local Governments for Sustainability/Cities for Climate Protection Program ° Senator Fran Pavley (ret.), author of AB 32 and SB 32, California's landmark legislation to fight climate change and Environmental Policy Leader of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute ° Terry Tamminen, Former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency under Gov. Schwarzenegger and President of 7th Generation Advisors ° Randall Winston, Former Executive Director, Strategic Growth Council ° Alvaro Sanchez, Environmental Equity Director, Greenlining Institute ° Chanell Fletcher, Executive Director, Climate Plan ° Bill Magavern, Policy Director, Coalition for Clean Air ° Chione Flegal, Managing Director, PolicyLink ° Mary Creasman, CEO, California League of Conservation VotersRead more
Below is a fascinating account of the Gateway Cities communities in southeast LA County that dramatically illustrates how the shortage of affordable housing in LA County and across the state has meant that many families who live here cannot afford the cost of an apartment or single-family home—causing some families to share homes instead.
Much of the unmet housing demand reflects overcrowding like this, not just in the Gateway Cities but in other communities as well, many of which have primarily single-family housing stock. We believe there is an alternative way to provide significant affordable housing for renters on what we call "Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity," and that 36-mile-long Atlantic Boulevard, which traverses nine of the Gateway Cities, could provide an example of what can be done.
Building housing along commercial corridors like Atlantic is of special interest now because many are losing their vitality and businesses because of the popularity of online shopping, a trend accelerated by the coronavirus. These corridors could allow for the construction of mixed-use mixed-income multifamily development without displacing existing residents or businesses, and with improvements that turn them into affordable and appealing neighborhoods—with trees and urban greening, neighborhood services and jobs, and streets made safe for people on foot and on bikes.
Moreover, many of LA County's 2,100 miles of boulevards are already served by transit. Atlantic, for example, is crossed by the Blue, Green and Gold Lines, the 710 freeway (and LA River) and—some day soon—the West Santa Ana Branch light-rail corridor to downtown LA. Atlantic is also under consideration at Metro for a new bus rapid transit (BRT) project like the very popular Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley.
But change is hard and LA County's many cities are diverse. Nancy Pfeffer, Executive Director of the Gateway Cities Council of Governments—which represents 26 cities—was one of the speakers at our Zoomposium on Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity last summer. While she was interested in the concept she also listed some obstacles, such as the necessity to rezone the nine cities along the corridor to accommodate housing as well as commercial, and the difficulty of funding new services for new residents.
NANCY PFEFFER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GATEWAY CITIES COUNCIL OF GOVERNMENTS:
"I’d like to talk a little about the cities that are part of the Gateway Cities Council of Governments and about the Atlantic Boulevard corridor as it is today. The cities, in alphabetical order, include Bell, Commerce, Compton, Cudahy, Long Beach, Lynwood, Maywood, Southgate, and Vernon. When we talk about corridor planning we have to recognize that each of these jurisdictions has their own elected officials and their own general plan that has won support through a public process. So when you start to talk about regional plans or legislation to require re-zoning it’s very touchy.
"These are incredibly densely populated communities. New York City, for example, has a population density of 27,000 people/square mile; San Francisco has a density of 17,000 people/square mile. Six of the cities I just mentioned fall below the density of New York but above the density of San Francisco, and three of the cities—Lynwood, Bell and South Gate—are not far behind. As you drive through these cities you may see single-family housing, but in fact there are multiple families living in these homes, and the garages are all converted as living quarters, whether legally or not.Read more
You may remember that Move LA’s Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity Zoomposium in July was largely about the shortage of housing—especially affordable housing—in LA County and the City of LA, which prompted us to investigate the possibility of building housing along the county’s 2,100 miles of commercial boulevards.
We are particularly interested in the construction of housing in mixed-use, mixed-income development, along boulevards that are well-served by transit—as most commercial boulevards are—and can be improved with street trees and urban greening, made safe for walking and biking, and provide jobs and neighborhood services without displacement of current residents and businesses.
This led us to stage a very well-attended Zoom call with a dozen speakers and an audience of 600, and we have been posting the transcripts because each speaker addressed the issue from a different perspective. (You can listen to the discussions here—or view the transcripts on the blog on our website.)
Below are remarks by City of LA Director of Planning Vince Bertoni, who has worked on developing affordable housing near transit in the city, primarily through an innovative program called the Transit-Oriented Communities Incentive Program. This relatively new program encourages developers to build more housing units near bus and rail lines, and provides incentives (increases in height and density, for example, and reductions in parking) if the development includes affordable housing.
Vince expressed concerns about the potential for displacement, and the importance of involving communities in visioning and planning activities:
“We have been discussing the viability of planning for housing along LA’s many commercial boulevards. It’s important we keep in mind that planning is fundamentally about communities and people. As Metro CEO Phil Washington said earlier, building infrastructure and roads has often done great harm to communities—we must acknowledge the history of zoning as it relates to systemic racism and injustice.Read more
California’s latest Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA)—the state-required estimate of the need for housing for people of all incomes over an 8-year period—projects that Southern California will need to provide more than 1.3 million new housing units, almost 60% of them affordable to moderate and low-income households.
The RHNA claims that LA County alone will need a minimum of 800,000 new units to meet the housing need through 2029—about 470,000 of which must be affordable to moderate and low-income families—and that the City of Los Angeles will need about 500,000 new units, more than half of which need to be affordable.
This asserted gap in the number of units being produced and the number of units that will be needed, especially units affordable for people who make less money, is what prompted Move LA to invite Peter Calthorpe and Joe DiStefano, who had co-created an online planning tool called UrbanFootprint, to our "Zoomposium" earlier this summer: We wanted them to estimate the potential to address this housing need by developing mixed-use mixed-income housing along LA County’s 2,100 miles of mostly commercial boulevards, and to join our Zoomposium panel discussion with Kome Ajise, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments, and others.
These commercial boulevards are of special interest to SCAG and to Move LA for several reasons:
- First, commercial boulevards are already becoming obsolete with the shift to online shopping, a shift that is accelerated by concerns about coronavirus.
- Second, the pushback against new construction in existing residential neighborhoods is very strong, and for good reason. Building new homes where other people already live inherently means disruption, displacement, gentrification and also, probably, injustice.
- These commercial boulevards tend to be served by frequent transit, and provide the opportunity for improvements that could also make them safe for walking and biking, and enhancements including trees and urban greening to make them climate-safe and attractive.
Peter and Joe found that there are nearly 20,000 acres of land along streets zoned commercial in LA County, which would allow for the construction of up to 1.6 million homes—double the RHNA need even if development were limited to sites that are currently vacant or developed with just a one-story building on half the lot.
Here is what Kome Ajise, in his position as executive director at SCAG, which is responsible for the RHNA housing distribution, had to say about this potential (we highlighted key points). Or you can listen to him live on our Zoomposium HERE (about 1 hour and 4 minutes in):Read more
This is what Joe found:
"First let me go back to the statewide housing deficit, which exceeds 3.5 million new units. We know that more than 50% of California’s population cannot afford housing in the state they call home. That means that nearly 20 million people in the state are not able to comfortably afford a place to live. (You can watch Joe give his presentation here (about 45 minutes in) or just view his PPT here.)
“Southern California contributes to this challenge. From 2010 to 2017 the 6-county region added about 1.2 million jobs but just 160,000 homes. So the state’s latest Regional Housing Needs Assessment determined the need over the next 9 years for a staggering 1.3 million new units in Southern California—more than half to support moderate and low-income households. And just for context, the median home process across the region is about $600,000.
“This suggests a need in LA County alone for a minimum of 800,000 new homes to meet the need through 2029, about 470,000 of those in moderate or below-income categories. When you scale down to the City of LA, where the jobs-housing imbalance continues to apply pressure on the housing market, there is a need for about 500,000 new units in the city alone, and the median price is about $750,000—so well over half of the demand is for affordable housing.
“We applied our UrbanFootprint platform to estimate the development potential to address this demand along LA County’s pretty ubiquitous commercial corridors. It’s important to understand how much location and access to transportation options, transit access, and the ability to walk to services and access daily needs makes a difference in household and transportation cost burdens, and even energy and water use.