Where Do We Really Stand In Terms of Reaching CA's Climate & Clean Air Goals?

Climate change is a confounding problem requiring a global solution. California is a global climate leader, but where do we really stand in terms of reaching our state's climate and clean air goals? 

The truth is that we are falling short. Even with funding from the Cap-and-Trade Program we do not have the resources we need to get there.

This is why Move CA (a project of Move LA) and northern California partner SPUR have begun talking with climate leaders, advocates and experts about developing a statewide ballot measure to provide a major new funding source to invest in emission reductions. 



First we want to make sure the state has enough funding to make the investments needed to reach the greenhouse gas reduction goals set out in the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2018 Special Report on Global Warming—which are roughly equal to the targets California set with the passage of SB 32: to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions 40% below the 1990 level by 2030.

Second we want this funding to also enable all the state’s air districts to meet federal ozone attainment standards and ensure California’s air is clean by 2031.

To reach both these goals we were were told by leaders participating in our first Zoomposium—including California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, former State Senator Fran Pavley, former State Senate President Pro Tem and now LA City Councilmember Kevin de Leon, and former Secretary of CalEPA Terry Tamminen that our priorities should be to:

  • accelerate the deployment of clean transportation technologies, especially zero-emission technologies, and
  • aggressively reduce the highly potent but short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs)—such as methane, black carbon, tropospheric ozone and hydrofluorcarbons or HFCs—which the IPCC has said is our best path to avoid runaway warming: "Fast and immediate action [on SLCPs] can avoid over half a degree of warming in the Arctic by 2050, thereby significantly decreasing the chances of triggering dangerous climate tipping points, like the irreversible release of carbon dioxide and methane from thawing Arctic permafront."

And third we want social justice and major opportunities for disadvantaged communities to be hard-wired into the investment program—ensuring, for example, that there is a robust cash incentive program so that low-income people can purchase zero-emission vehicles, that charging infrastructure is built in disadvantaged communities, and that there are pathways for good jobs in the green economy.

So please consider joining us Dec. 3, 10-11:30 a.m. for a conversation on Zoom with climate and clean air experts including:

Rajinder Sahota, Assistant Division Chief of the Industrial Strategies Division at the California Air Resources Board: Rajinder Sahota’s responsibilities include management of the Cap-and-Trade Program, the AB32 Scoping Plan, Energy Policy, and she coordinates/collaborates with national and subnational governments pursuing climate mitigation. She also engages in the Low Carbon Fuel Standard and other fuel initiatives.

Steven Cliff, Deputy Executive Officer at the California Air Resources Board, oversees programs to reduce mobile source emissions and statewide monitoring and laboratory programs including the vehicle emissions testing and compliance programs, mobile source regulations, engine certification programs, the ambient air quality monitoring network, small engine regulations, and incentive programs. Steve worked on the first AB 32 climate change scoping plan, and led development of the Cap-and-Trade program.

Matt Miyasato, Deputy Executive Officer for Science & Technology Advancement at the South Coast Air Quality Management District: Matt Miyasato is responsible for the SCAQMD’s Technology Advancement Office, Mobile Source Division, and Monitoring and Laboratory Analysis Division. He identifies, evaluates and stimulates development and commercialization of clean air technologies, develops and coordinates mobile source regulations, and conducts ambient monitoring, source testing and laboratory analysis.

John Boesel, President & CEO of CALSTART: CALSTART is a strategic broker and catalyst, and includes more than 260 member companies, offices in four states, and policy directors in Washington DC and Sacramento. CALSTART works with its member companies and policymakers to make the air clean for all and to reduce GHG emissions from the transportation sector across the U.S. by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

Move LA Speaks with Metro Chief of Staff Nadine Lee: Fareless Transit and Much More!@

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. 

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Hardwiring a Commitment to Equity in Our Proposed CA Climate & Clean Air Initiative

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. 

Bill Magavern, Policy Director, Coalition for Clean Air: The vast majority of our air pollution problem, aside from the horrible wildfire smoke, is coming from transportation . . . What’s particularly toxic is diesel exhaust from the movement of goods, which is why the Coalition for Clean Air focuses much of our work on goods movement—including trucks, locomotives, and cargo-handling equipment.  We need to replace diesel with cleaner alternatives, including zero-emission engines wherever feasible and near-zero engines with renewable fuels everywhere else. 

We have strong regulatory standards and it is vital that we complement these standards with incentive dollars [as proposed in this ballot measure] because incentives have been crucial in advancing the technologies that we need and also crucial in accelerating fleet turnover—in both light and heavy-duty vehicles—by getting dirty old engines off the road.

We laid the foundation for equitable clean mobility with the Charge Ahead California Initiative, which establishes equity-based transportation projects at CARB, including Clean Cars for All, which is a scrap-and-replace program so low-income drivers can get out of their dirty old gas guzzlers and into advanced clean vehicles or get transit passes. Charge Ahead projects also include electric vehicle car-sharing and electric-vehicle financing.

But we also need to invest in charging and fueling infrastructure for battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell-electric vehicles. And we must reduce vehicle miles travelled by reforming transportation funding and planning.  We are currently funding the old paradigm by investing millions and millions of dollars into roads when we should be funding transit and active transportation, bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

Alvaro Sanchez, Environmental Equity Director, Greenlining Institute: We must do more than ensure that a percentage of our resources are invested in disadvantaged communities. Now, in addition to investing in those communities, we must also allow  the people who live there and are most impacted [by climate change and air pollution] to become core partners in the transformation we need to address both poverty and pollution at the same time. 

We really have to center equity so that it influences the process, implementation, and outcomes—so that the people living in disadvantaged communities receive direct, meaningful and measurable benefits. And we need an analysis and evaluation process related to the equity goal so we can ensure we’re making progress along equity lines.

We just published a report called The Greenlined Economy Guidebook, which identifies the barriers that currently get in the way of an economy that is cooperative, regenerative, democratic, non-exploitive and inclusive. And we put together a set of standards to make sure that equity is in the DNA of the process and isn’t just an add-on . . . We need to advance multi-sectoral approaches because communities are not failing because of just one deficiency—it’s not just a lack of housing, for example, but rather housing with good mobility options, green spaces and places where people can buy healthy food.

We need to build community-driven decision-making and establish pathways towards wealth-building, whether it’s good jobs or workforce development or educational opportunities or contracting opportunities—these need to be embedded in the approach. And we need to operationalize equity in the design and implementation and analysis of our measures.

Chione Flegal, Managing Director, PolicyLink: Our local, state and federal policies have created huge disparities in the experiences of communities. We are now a majority-of-color state, which means most of our population is set up to fail because of these policies. Until we undo the impacts of redlining and the legacy of disinvestment, and all the policies that have locked communities out of our economic systems . . . we are not going to be successful. 

New money is an important part of the solution but it’s not enough. We are spending billions of dollars as a state every year, often spending it in a way that is at cross purposes with the outcomes we are talking about today. There’s a lot of work to be done aligning existing policies and spending with the goals of a clean energy economy that works for everyone . . . 

Every time we write policy or spend money we need to ask: How do we protect people so they can stay in their communities and continue to access the resources they’re accustomed to and that help build resilience into their daily lives? How can we expand housing development in communities that are opportunity-rich and allow people to move up the economic scale? Our polices and investments need to address these questions or they will not lead to the change we need.

We see a huge need to invest in the training and preparation of individuals who have barriers to employment . . . small businesses are not on an equal playing field either. So we’re thinking about training for workers and training and capacity development for people of color-owned and women-owned businesses so they have the know-how and skills to actually participate in the green economy. People need resources to actually sit down and talk about the vision we are moving toward and what it’s going to take to get them there . . . And this cannot be done without bringing them in to the process. Folks need to speak to these issues directly.

Chanell Fletcher, Executive Director, ClimatePlan: I’ve been inspired by Gov. Newsom’s executive order to phase out gasoline-powered cars by 2035, by Black Lives Matter going deep on defunding the police, and by Gov. Newsom creating a task force to look at slavery and reparations and what that could mean. Those things may not seem connected to transportation but they are for me. Because when we are talking about these big climate goals and about phasing out gas vehicles I think about the transportation system that we’ve inherited, and the fact that the bulk of the funding is coming from gas and diesel excise taxes, which are funneled into state highways and local streets and roads—that has been our funding priority.

But priorities like these continue to facilitate segregation and racism because we built these highways so wealthier white communities could be built in the suburbs. We need to understand the structures that are currently in place and being funded—are state transportation agencies considering racial justice and equity when they spend that money? Do they have a planning process that focuses on the communities most impacted by their decision-making? 

So as with defunding the police, unless we start making changes now we’re not going to see anything change in the next 10 or 20 years. I think we have to look at the projects and programs that are getting the bulk of our money. How are we evaluating our current transportation funding? Are we considering changing the top-down planning process? 

If we have these very ambitious climate goals should highways and local streets and roads be getting the bulk of the money—shouldn’t gas and diesel excise taxes be our revenue source [to roll back climate change]?

Mary Creasman, CEO, California League of Conservation Voters: The game has changed . . . I never would have thought even a month ago that we’d see something like Gov. Newsom’s executive order [banning the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035]. We’ve just finished a legislative session with largely no action on the things being discussed on this call today. So it makes me wonder: What is politically possible?

If we are talking about raising $30 billion, that is just a down payment on the rate and the scale of the serious change needed for climate change and climate justice in a state of our scale and given how far behind we are . . . and I say that as somebody who has worked with people on this call on regional measures that have generated more than $100 billion in places like LA County . . . If we’re measuring ourselves against what communities are feeling and being burdened with right now and what science tells us we have to do, I’d say $30 billion is not nearly enough. 

The wildfires have thrown a wrench in our goals by radically increasing carbon emissions. [The forests and natural lands] we used to rely on as carbon sinks to clean the air could now turn into bigger carbon emitters than the transportation sector . . . 

We cannot prevent catastrophe unless every part of the state participates, including under-resourced communities and black, brown, and indigenous people of color, and our rural communities in the Central Valley, the Inland Empire, Coachella Valley . . . We just finished a poll that showed 79% of all voters are prioritizing the clean energy economy right now. We have the opportunity to shift public will and we need to think about who must be sitting at the table to design and innovate the solutions.

6 Climate and Clean Air Leaders Say YES!

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.”

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Vision 2022: When California Leads, the World Soon Follows

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.

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Victory over climate change is possible! Truly clean air can be ours!

Once again, California is leading the way. 

Gov. Newsom issued executive orders last week requiring every new car or pickup, off-road vehicles and equipment sold in California to be 100% zero-emission by 2035, and every medium- or heavy-duty truck by 2045!   

Join us and meet the California superheroes who have made California's successes possible and learn about a possible statewide measure to accelerate their successes. (From top left, Mary Nichols, Fran Pavley, Kevin de Leon, Nancy Skinner, Terry Tamminen, Randall Winston.)


We will talk with California's climate and clean air leaders about a statewide ballot measure that Move CA and SPUR are considering for the ballot in November 2022 to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and short-lived climate pollutants and to finish cleaning our air. Our superhero panelists include:

  • Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), is truly the superhero of California’s world-leading efforts to abate both air pollution and climate change. Initially an NRDC attorney, Mary was first appointed as chair of CARB by Gov. Jerry Brown from 1975-82, and again in 2010-18. She was appointed by Gov. Schwarzenegger from 2007-10, and by Gov. Newsom in 2019. She spent eight years as head of Air and Radiation at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton Administration.
  • Senator Fran Pavley (retired), served first in the California Assembly and then in the California Senate. Fran was the legislative author of AB 32 and SB 32, California's landmark legislation to set GHG emission reduction goals to fight climate change. Virtually all of California’s world-leading efforts have their origins in those two pieces of legislation. Another superhero, she now works as Environmental Policy Leader of the Schwarzenegger Institute at USC.
  • Kevin De Leon, now an LA City Councilmember, was the President Pro Tempore of the California State Senate from 2014-18. He was the author of SB 100 to make 100% renewable electric power by 2045 the law of the land, and SB 535 requiring CARB to spend at least 25% of cap-and-trade revenue to benefit low-income communities disproportionately impacted by pollution across California. 
  • Senator Nancy Skinner is California Senate Majority Whip and a former member of the California State Assembly, where she served as chair of the Natural Resources Committee. Previously she was a City Councilmember in Berkeley, California, from 1984 to 1992, where she authored legislation to ban styrofoam at fast food restaurants. She later became International Director of ICLEI's Local Governments for Sustainability/Cities for Climate Protection Program, which engaged cities worldwide to take action to stop climate change.
  • Terry Tamminen is President of 7th Generation Advisors, which empowers individuals and organizations to create and adopt solutions that protect our environment and fight climate change. In 2003 he was appointed by Gov. Schwarzenegger to be Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, and later became the governor's Cabinet Secretary and Chief Policy Advisor. He then became Director of the Climate Policy Program of the New America Foundation, a think tank that focuses on a range of public policy issues, and later helped then former Gov. Schwarzenegger found the R20 Regions of Climate Action to accelerate green infrastructure projects and regional sustainability.
  • Randall Winston, formerly Executive Director of the Strategic Growth Council, was appointed in 2015. SGC is a cabinet-level committee that coordinates the activities of state agencies to improve air and water quality; increase the availability of affordable housing, especially near transit; encourage greater infill and compact development; and assist state and local entities in the planning of sustainable communities and meeting AB 32 goals.

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: 

MISSION #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 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. 

MISSION #2: Finish cleaning California's air by dramatically reducing diesel emissions to ensure 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. 

MISSION #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. 


Join Climate Leaders Oct. 1 to discuss what California can do to roll back climate change!

The New York Times writes a new study has found the extremes of hot and dry weather have increased substantially in the American West. What can we do? 

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 Voters 

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Atlantic: A Boulevard of Equity and Opportunity?

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.

(You can read much more about the potential for Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity on Move LA's blog—scroll down—here. And/or you can register for our Oct. 1 climate discussion!)

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. 

"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.

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LA City Director of Planning Vince Bertoni on Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity

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.

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Kome Ajise on Boulevards of Equity & Opportunity

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): 

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