A Bad Hollywood Ending for Smart Growth — What’s the Sequel?

Judge rules the downtown plan for transit-oriented growth is fundamentally flawed

article-2344855-1A6990A3000005DC-714_638x428Smart growth advocates are lamenting a judge’s decision yesterday to toss out the environmental impact report (EIR) on Hollywood’s years-in-the-making plan for higher-density growth around the city’s subway stops.  Hollywood is one of the few communities in California willing to increase growth around transit stops and along transit corridors, and the demand for housing and office space there is apparently sufficient to accommodate new development without the need for public subsidies.  So in some ways it was a sad outcome that the city’s plan failed in court.  Los Angeles — and the rest of California — needs cities to step up and zone for compact development around transit, or else we are doomed to a future of more sprawl along the urban fringe and a perilous mix of high housing costs and increasing inequality in the urban core.

But the decision against Hollywood was not about stopping smart growth — it was about a bad EIR.  Hollywood had relied on outdated population figures in trying to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which required the EIR.  The 2010 census data were released just before the draft EIR, with figures that dramatically departed from the original population estimates and projections.  Yet the city refused to modify its EIR (perhaps understandably, as it would have meant throwing out years of work).  But without updated population figures, its assessment of basic impacts from growth on the water supply, sewer system, and electricity usage, among other areas, was fundamentally flawed.  Surely even smart growth advocates see the need for accurate infrastructure assessment and planning.  Without it, infill projects are bound to run into complications during construction and/or operation.

Yet while I see the value of CEQA review for infrastructure-type impacts from infill plans, I wonder how well CEQA functions in general for infill specific and community plans.  For example, analyzing parking and traffic impacts can be counter-productive for an infill plan.  More infill by definition creates more parking and traffic problems in that immediate area.  However, infill reduces regional parking and traffic problems, which is not often credited in an EIR (recent legislation may change that dynamic, at least for transportation impacts).  Similarly, an alternatives analysis that doesn’t account for the regional alternative may also fail to assess how one city’s infill plan can benefit the whole region.  After all, where will future residents who would have lived in downtown Hollywood buy or rent homes if there aren’t options in the urban core going forward?  Most likely they will have to live farther away from their jobs, leading to lost open space from development pressure, worse air quality, and more traffic congestion.  This is the consequence of making infill harder to build.

Hollywood now has an opportunity to revise its EIR with more accurate population figures and create a monitoring program for future development, as required to be consistent with the Los Angeles general plan.  I hope these revisions will not be too onerous and that the City can fulfill its vision to build around the multi-billion subway network its lucky to have.  But going forward, policy makers at the state level may need to take a serious look at how CEQA can better help cities plan for infill.  Analyzing more impacts at the regional scale — or not at all in some cases — may make the most sense if we truly want to accommodate future growth in our cities instead of on our open space and agricultural land.

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Reader Comments

6 Replies to “A Bad Hollywood Ending for Smart Growth — What’s the Sequel?”

  1. So the city spent so long in developing its EIR that the information in it was outdated by the time it was done.

    Somehow that story of bureaucracy creating its own obstacles seems like a modern California classic.

    1. It is a little more complicated than that. The data did not become out of data due to the long time which it took to do the update — the City used false data from the beginning in order to reach a preconceived result. For professionals in land use, the trends were established. What happened is that the 2010 US Census results were released in May 2011 and they verified what residents had been tell Garcetti since June 2005.

      Had the Update always used the best data as it was available, the release of the 2010 Census data would have created no problem as it would have been consistent with the data on which the HCP Update was based.

  2. Hollywood residents are in a fight for survival against misnamed “smart growth”. Forty-four neighborhood association and six neighborhood councils have aligned themselves behind five lawsuits to stop an increase of density in an area that is the locus of traffic congestion. Hollywood streets serve as the two freeways that were never built as part of the 1947 freeway master plan. More density would clog those streets to a stall. “Smart growth” has failed everywhere it has been tried. Once traffic reaches the breaking point people don’t transition to mass transit. They just move away to where they can continue to use their cars. There is a glut of vacant commercial and residential space in Hollywood. So much so that one of the lawsuits is from an existing development that is suffering from vacancies.

    The fight against the HCP is all about exposing the fraud of “smart growth”. The planning theory is fatally flawed. It does not account for time as a commodity or for the fact that areas that have tried it suffer from reduced competitiveness of their workforce due to increased transit times, increased air pollution from idling traffic and in areas that have tried to limit suburban development inflated housing prices. The real driver behind “smart growth” is developers who benefit from reduced parking requirements and increased floor space which allows them to maximize their profits. They don’t care about the planning concept. They would cynically align themselves behind anything that increases the bottom line even wearing a chicken suit if that what it took.

    The subway is a boondoggle that has consistently failed to meet its ridership goals. The planners try to cover this failure by forcing more development along the route but people flee these areas. According to the US Census the highest loss of populating was in census tracts around the station entrances.

    1. Mr. Abrahams adds a crcial concept which Smart Growth advocates oveerlook. Distance is measured in Time.

      As CalTrans said about just the proposed Millennium Eathquake Towers in Hollywood, the extra traffic which this project asserts it will generate will make the Hollywood freeway a bottleneck through the Cahuenga Pass thereby greating delaying reaching not only Hollywood, but downtown Los Angeles. Thatw as just ONE extra project and Garcetti wants to construct multiple projects. The saving grce is that the projects are a failure and cause more people to move away from Hollywood, but on the other hand, as more TODs are constructed the percentage of households owning cars greatly increases.

      As a result Hollywood ended up with fewer people and mroe cars causing worse traffic.

      Back to Mr. Abrahams, time measures distance equation. If Hollywood did construct all the super-dense highrises that Garcetti wants, the time between the San Fernando Valley to downtown could double or triple. No one knows as Garcetti refuses to conduct legitimate traffic studies.

      This situation re-enforces Mr. Elkind’s suggestion that community plans need to take into account the impacts they will have on other communities. The first step to any community plan is truth and the Hollywood Community Plan was based on myths.

      see CitywatchLA 12-17-2013 Thou Shall Not Lie; The Meaning of the Court’s Rejection of Hollywood Community Plan.” http://bit.ly/1bXP24C

      1. According to the US Census American Community Survey the average commute time for Los Angeles residents was 29.5 minutes and It takes 1.73 longer to travel by mass transit in LA area than by car. Even a person who makes minimum wage loses monitarily by the increased transit time.

  3. The questions about the impact one community plan may have on other “communities” is a good question,. The City of LA has 35 communioty p;lans and some of them also affect Beverly Hills, WeHo, Glendale. Thus, the idea that a community plan should not be too narrow in focus has merit.

    There appear to be some factual misassumptions in the article.

    (1) New residents are not coming to Hollywood. There appears to be a causal relationshiop betyween Hywd’s dramatic population loss and the subway and CRA projects. An analysis of the population exodus from the Flats shows that it is greatest in the census tracts contiguous to the subway stations and CAR projects.

    Since Hywd is facing an accelrting population loss which has been aggravated by the subway and Cra Projects, it is foolhardy to build more CRA-type projects.

    (2) The population data did not support the City’s preferred alternative to plan for an additional 62,000 people between 2010 and 2030. Because the population was in decline and all the demographic trends showed that there was no reason to believe that there would be a reversal and Hywd would gain people, there was no basis for the UpSizing-UpZoning Alternative. The only alternative which was consistent with the facts was a DownSizing-DownZoning alternative — which the city had refused to include in its EIR.

    (3) Subways will never function in Los Angeles. The mathematics and finances of subways have not chnaged in over 100 years and they will not chnage over the next hundred years. 2+2 = 4 and not 10; subways need to pay for operating costs either by high fares or public subsidy.
    http://bit.ly/cJh5BP 1915 Los Angeles Transit Study

    The city fails to take into account its own studies. Subways can function in Manhattan which is a 28 sq mi rectangle, but not is a 5,000 sq. mi circular uran area.

    (4) Related to the fact that subways can never function in Los Angeles is the distribution of Los Angeles population. Unlike NYC with low desnity suburbs, LA has the most dense suburbs, yet they are so vast that hey canno be served by a subway system. The very last thing an urban area like Los Angeles needs are Transit Oriented Districts [TODs]. TODs increase the rate of car ownership in the areas wher they are located. The rate of car ownership in Hwyd significantly increased after the subway opened aand the CRA projects opened. This relationship of TODs increasing the number of cars was noted in 2001 in the San Jose TOD stud, and teh 2001 San Jose study’s fnding have been vindicated by he results in Hollywood.

    A very important part of Judge Goodman’s decision is that the City should show the analytical path from accrate facts to conclusions and it may not assume the relationship it wants. In orer words, the City has to deal with the facts which shold that TODs casue serious harm to the area and solve none of its problems.

    Ironically, the city’s failure to provide the required analysis of infra-structure would have been a nullity had the City studied and selected the DownSizing-DownZoning Alternative. Based on the facts, there is no way the extreme harm done by the TODs can be mitigated.

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About Ethan

Ethan Elkind

Ethan Elkind is the Director of the Climate Change and Business Program, with a joint appointment at UC Berkeley School of Law and UCLA School of Law. In this capacity, h…

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