Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Public Private Partnerships - Laura Chick Report

On December 22nd, LA City Controller Laura Chick released a SPECIAL STUDY TO ASSESS OPPORTUNITIES TO DEVELOP PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS.

The report, which was prepared The PFM Group can be found at http://www.lacity.org/ctr/audits/FinalControllerP3_122208.pdf

What I find especially meaningful about this report is that it serves as the City's official recognition that P3's can potentially serve as innovative project delivery models and, furthermore, can provide the benefits of cost savings, more efficient services, access to the untapped market value of existing services, innovation, the implementation of new and emerging technology and the transfer of risk to entities that are better adept at managing that risk.

Architecture and infrastructure projects can no longer depend on the funding of ever-increasingly fiscally challenged municipalities, yet these projects must get built to serve the needs of the region.  Therefore, P3's provide a potential mechanism - a delivery model - that might indeed be applicable on a case by case basis.

In essence, Public-Private Partnerships provide a pathway to economic recovery.

An example of a section of the report:

VACANT AND UNDERUTILIZED LAND
The many underutilized buildings, parcels, and parking lots throughout the City offer excellent opportunities for joint development.  The key to capturing untapped market value is to change the land use designation and sell that asset at its highest and best use. 
   
For example, the City could sell a 100 space surface parking lot to the private sector for $1.0 million.  Alternatively, the City could entitle the land for mixed-use development, with a combination of retail, office, and residential (including affordable housing).  The land could be sold with deed restrictions regarding the number of parking spaces, office space, and affordable housing units.  This would allow the City to achieve a portion of its policy goals regarding: parking/density land use, transit-oriented development, and affordable housing.  Under this development scenario the parcel might be sold for $3 or $4 million, which would not only increase the City reserves, but also provide a greater and ongoing(property tax) revenue base.  
 
Proposals should encourage innovation and participation from the private sector; they should not be so rigid as to have a predetermined vision for development of the property. Allowing the private sector the flexibility (by providing general development parameters) to determine how the parcel would be best used will likely result in greater economic gain.  


LA CITY GREEN ALLEY PROGRAM

I am pleased to let you know that the City Council recently passed an initiative that is similar to the one in Chicago whereby alleys are retrofitted with environmentally sustainable road-building materials, etc. 
Council File 08-0102 was moved by Councilmember LaBonge and seconded by Councilmembers Janice Hahn and Bill Rosendahl.  The motion passed unanimously (10-0-5).

The LA City GREEN ALLEY PROGRAM originally inspired by the USC Center for Sustainable Cities  serves as an excellent paradigm for how an institution can provide the leadership to effect public policy.  The Green Alley program could serve potentially with providing the City of Los Angeles with more much needed public open space and includes recommendations for developing design guidelines, determining costs, building a detailed map of alleys and identifying project sites.

The LA TIMES has two small stories on the initiative, which can be found here:



Monday, December 22, 2008

Pittsburgh denies Digital Billboard

Zoning nixes controversial Grant Street billboard
Saturday, December 20, 2008

The electronic billboard that shocked city of Pittsburgh politics this year isn't allowed, according to a split decision from the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and likely will lead to a court fight between the city and Louisiana-based sign giant Lamar Advertising.

Lamar's argument that it could trade six vinyl billboards for the right to put one, glowing, 19-foot-by-58-foot sign on the Grant Street Transportation Center, Downtown, didn't fly with Zoning Board member Alice Mitinger.

Her 17-page decision released yesterday found that the swap effort -- coupled with a permit received without hearings or votes, and a lease granted without any competition -- "can only be viewed as an effort to circumvent the [zoning] code's prohibition against advertising signs" Downtown.

She also rejected Lamar's request to put a 2.5-foot-by-433-foot "ticker" on the Transportation Center. Both signs are bigger than any ad signs allowed in city code, and Lamar failed to prove that Transportation Center couldn't function without them, she wrote.

Lamar's attorney, Sam Kamin, said he had not seen the decision and could not comment.

Lamar built half of the sign based on a zoning staffer's approval, which was then appealed by five city council members. As part of a court settlement, Lamar agreed to go through normal public process, which included a public hearing. The matter eventually wound up with the ZBA because Lamar needed a zoning variance to put up a sign that large in that location.

Councilman Patrick Dowd who filed the appeal of Lamar's sign permit -- soon joined by four colleagues who later split from him -- said he was "delighted to see that the way that we reviewed the law and studied the matter turned out to be right, at least by the Zoning Board decision.

"I am sure that Lamar will appeal it."

The decision was by the slimmest of margins.

Board Chair Wrenna Watson wrote a two-page dissent, saying that the city had "a fairly well-established custom" of granting electronic billboard permits in return for the removal of a larger number of vinyl billboards. She wrote that the complaints of residents of The Pennsylvanian, an apartment building across the street from the sign site, were unfounded.

"I am empathetic with the other residents, but find that liking the LED board is very subjective and those who don't like LEDs are passionate and speak out," she wrote. Putting the electronic sign between the stately Pennsylvanian and Liberty Center is "an appropriate mix of the beautiful old, historic development with the exciting, new development" the city needs.

She also cited the "unrecoverable expenses by Lamar."

Ms. Mitinger wrote that the millions of dollars Lamar spent on the unique sign don't outweigh its incongruity with the rules, "particularly in the absence of due diligence to comply with the code."

The third board member, David Toal, did not participate because he has done legal work for Lamar. A tie vote "acts as a legal denial" of Lamar's claims, Ms. Watson wrote.

The billboard won an over-the-counter permit from a zoning employee a year ago, without the public hearings and votes typically required for a sign that exceeds size limits. At around the same time, the Pittsburgh Parking Authority gave Lamar a no-bid lease to put the sign on the Transportation Center, without a vote of the authority board.

When the sign plan became public in February, it set off a landslide of events that included lawsuits between Lamar and City Council members, revelations of Christmas gifts from a Lamar executive to then-Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director and parking authority board member Pat Ford, Mr. Ford's resignation from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration and allegation of "corruption," and a legal settlement between the city and Mr. Ford.

"I hope people don't lose the fact that this is the tip of the iceberg," said Councilman William Peduto, who along with Council President Doug Shields, and members Bruce Kraus and Ricky Burgess joined with Mr. Dowd, but then balked at his handling of the appeal. "The battle that the four of us took on was on a much bigger issue of what is happening in city hall: special rights for special friends. And this was just the most blatant."

Mr. Dowd said the key now is whether the city aggressively defends the zoning board's decision when the inevitable court challenge comes.

"Originally, the administration was not willing to enforce this matter," he said. "They were not on the right side of this issue before, and I would hope that they are and stay on the right side of this issue now."

Mr. Ravenstahl's administration had no immediate comment.

Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.
First published on December 20, 2008 at 12:00 am

link to article 
http://post-gazette.com/pg/08355/936506-53.stm


Friday, December 19, 2008

sign ordinance revision - public information meeting

The Department of City Planning will be hosting a public information
meeting for interested parties concerning a comprehensive revision of
the City of Los Angeles sign ordinance. The sign ordinance is located
in Article 14.4 of the Municipal Code. The purpose of the revision is
to rewrite the sign ordinance so that it is content-neutral and only
regulates the time, place or manner in which signs are displayed. The
public information meeting will be held as follows:

Date: Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Time: 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm
Place: Los Angeles City Hall, Room 1035

At the meeting, the issues that should be considered in drafting the
proposed revision will be discussed. Suggestions and specific
proposals for revising the sign ordinance are welcome. An RSVP
confirming your attendance at the meeting would be appreciated.

Also please note that the City Planning Commission will conduct a
public hearing on staff's recommended revision on January 22, 2009.
Copies of the staff report will be available for public review one
week before the hearing.

Sincerely,

Alan Bell, AICP
Senior City Planner
Office of Zoning Administration
Department of City Planning
(213) 978-1322
(213) 978-1334 fax
alan.bell@lacity.org

Support the Off-site Signage ICO

Dear Councilmember,

As President of the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects I represent over 3000 design professionals, affiliates, and students that are directly responsible for designing and building the future of Los Angeles.

Our Chapter Board has taken a strong position in favor of adoption of a strong off-site signage interim control ordinance and we urge you to support a strong off-site signage ICO when it is presented to you this afternoon.

 Our research indicates:
  1. Off-site signage is out of control in the City of Los Angeles.
  2. Off-site signage is a major cause of environmental degradation and blight, obscuring our beautiful natural and urban landscapes and exhausting and distracting us as we move about our city. Off-site signage not only makes Los Angeles as a whole less desirable as an environment but diminishes our City as an attraction and economic magnet in comparison to other cities that also treasure their views, their skies and their landscapes.
  3. Off-site signage technologies are expanding very rapidly and the City government is not anticipating the myriad ways that commercial advertising will be imposed into our public environments in coming months and years.
  4. Off-site signage is already illegal in the City of Los Angeles but nevertheless proliferating.
  5. Off-site signage is increasingly being understood through research as being a traffic safety hazard. A flood of research will be released in coming months that will demonstrate this.
  6. Off-site signage is increasingly intruding into Los Angeles' residential neighborhoods.
  7. The off-site signage industry uses every discrepancy in our laws and court settlements to push additional off-site signage into our urban and natural environments.
  8. Off-site signage is not protected free speech that is constitutionally guaranteed. Commercial speech can be regulated and the courts have consistently backed this up.
  9. Off-site signage has been  successfully banned or severely limited in cities throughout the United States including Houston.
  10. Limiting off-site signage does not mean that the environment of particular and unique parts of Los Angeles do not or can not accommodate creative commercial signage. The problem is that the off-site industry defines all of Los Angeles as fair game for new off-site signs.
We believe that it is paramount that the City Council and the City as a whole take this opportunity to pause and consider in a substantive way means and methods to anticipate and properly regulate all off-site signage in the City. We believe that until this is done and a well conceived off-site signage policy is adopted, no new supplemental sign districts should be adopted and no band-aid solutions considered.

Please support and vote for a meaningful off-site signage interim control ordinance when it is presented today.


Thank you for you consideration and time.

AIA/LA is always available to answer questions and lend design expertise to assist you in addressing environmental design issues in the City of Los Angeles.

If you need immediate assistance on this matter, please call or contact:

Will Wright
American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles Chapter
will@aialosangeles.org
  
(213) 639 - 0777 ext. #18  work
(310) 309-9580  mobile

As always we appreciate your service and hard work,

Best Regards,

John Kaliski, AIA
President
American Institute of Architects Los Angeles Chapter

--
John Kaliski, AIA
Principal
Urban Studio
3921 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1100
Los Angeles, California 90010
(V) 213.383.7980, #201
(F) 213.383.7981
(M) 213.400.0734

SOLAR LA: Greener City + Greener Economy


or cut and paste this:

The Solar Plan and the Sunrise Powerlink


I think one of the recurring LA TIMES myths that AIA/LA can help expel is that paying higher rates is entirely bad, when indeed it may actually be a marble of good, better and best.  If we pay higher rates for cleaner energy, and thus have a healthier environment, we are actually saving money in the long run that would otherwise be spent on the added expenses of healthcare, pollution mitigation, etc.  

I think we might need to present two fundamental ideas in 2009:

1.  Higher rates for cleaner energy is a 'positive' condition of paying for a healthier environment that inevitably results in a net cost savings.
2.  The cost of building a new transmission line to connect the City of LA to rural geothermal renewables in Imperial Valley or utility-scale solar thermal in the Mojave Desert may or may not be wise.  Instead, with net zero energy buildings  becoming a future State mandate, perhaps our City will actually require less energy than we do now.  Also, perhaps it really is a question of DISTRIBUTED POWER GENERATION v. A NEW TRANSMISSION LINE.  Maybe this is the line in the sand we should emphasize in 2009, once we better understand the subtleties of the issues.

I've been following the Sunrise Powerlink, which was approved yesterday by the California Utilities Commission.  Although this particular transmission line might be the right thing to do in 2010 (if and only if the line is committed to delivering 100% renewables as opposed to taping into the coal-fired plants in Mexico) -  Will building a transmission line from the Salton Sea to City of Los Angeles (as Mr. Nahai suggested at the December 5th AIA/LA POC breakfast) be the right thing to do in 2015 or is it more appropriate for us as a City to utilize feed-in-tariff's to foster a culture of distributed power generation with excess capacity facilities on net zero energy buildings.  Real #'s should be analyzed here.  If, in fifty years, we are expected to have 50% brand-new higher-performing building stock, then it would only be logical that our net zero energy buildings might not require the infrastructure of an additional transmission line.

I think this is the real question.  Do we need a new transmission line?  The focus on whether or not we should be paying higher rates is a distraction to the real issue:  If a healthier planet and a healthier City is what we desire, then we should be prepared to spend a little extra on our electricity rates now in effort to save money by spending less on the hidden costs of environmental degradation in the future.



____________________________________
Will Wright,  Director of Government & Public Affairs
American Institute of Architects / Los Angeles
3780 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 800, Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 639-0777 phone | (213)639-0767 fax

ΓΌ Please consider the environment before printing this email.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

City Council passes 3 month ICO on all off-site signage

Today, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed a 3 month Interim Control Ordinance on all off-site signage, which prohibits the installation of off-site and supergraphic signs or the alteration of existing off-site signs citywide.  The ICO has the possibility of one 3 month extension.  Council File #08-3422 is seen as a necessary first step by many of the Councilmembers and is intended to serve as a 'pause' while the City focuses on redrafting the Sign Ordinance, which is expected to be in front of City Planning Commission in mid-to-late January 2009.

Although, originally intended as a six month ICO, Councilmembers Weiss and Reyes offered a friendly amendment to shorten the ICO to three months and to limit it only to digital conversions and to supergraphics , with the hopes that that would win unanimous support.  However, after hearing concerns from Councilmembers Parks, Hahn, Zine and Huizar, who fear their districts are also suffering from the blight of 'out of control' billboards, the ICO was restored to apply to all signs (not just digital conversions and super graphics).

Representing the public in a favor of the ICO were the following organizations:  The Los Angeles Chapter of the  American Institute of Architects, The Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, The Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council, The Encino Neighborhood Council, The Westside Neighborhood Council, The Westwood South of Santa Monica Blvd. Home Owner's Association and several individual residents.

Going on record against the ICO were representatives from:  The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, The Central City Association, Allen Matkins, and several individual developers.  The unilateral thesis of their disfavor with an ICO is the sentiment is that the revenue 'certainty' of off-site signage allows important projects to secure financing.  They cited that it was often critical for a development to 'pencil-out' by having the added revenue stream afforded by off-site signage.

However, Vanessa Rodriguez, from the LA Chamber of Commerce welcomed the City Council's task of rewriting the present ordinance with a land-use based approach and welcomes the formation of a working group to guarantee that a policy can be developed that further encourages the growth of the sign-industry, factoring in consideration for its economic impact for the City.

Councilmember Reyes urged all of his fellow councilmembers to vote unanimously in support of the ICO because it would serve as an important first step and that the real focus was to develop a comprehensive sign-ordinance that would address the "TIME, PLACE & MANNER" of off-site signage and to iron-out all of the legal loop-holes presently beleaguring the City.  Councilmember Rosendahl indicated his 'hat's off to Dennis Hathaway' and also requested the new sign ordinance address a strategy for obtaining monetary sanctions on illegal signs.  This is an issue that Phil Michaelson from the City Attorney's office expresses discomfort with b/c of first amendment considerations (and therefor, is a matter where the AIA/LA should help lend some insight in an effort to correct this misunderstanding).

Councilmember LaBonge agreed with Councilmember Weiss that our City's architecture was being compromised & denigrated by supergraphics and billboards.  Per the digital conversions, he also reminded his colleagues that this is about safety, not about revenue.

Councilmember Hahn agreed with Reyes that revising the current sign-ordinance was paramount and that the focus should be on TIME, PLACE & MANNER.  

Councilmember Zine asked for clarification on the City's Inspection Program.  He also took a step further and wanted to know if Los Angeles could ban all signs and City Attorney Michaelson concurred that an outright ban could indeed be possible if, and only if, the City did not have discretionary exceptions.  Zine is against the digital conversions and, similar to Rosendahl, may explore outright bans for their own districts if that is legally possible.

Councilmember Huizar reminded his colleagues that illegal billboards effect all parts of the City and expressed his concerns with the City's lack of enforcement.  Chief Zoning Administrator Michael LoGrande replied that the intention of the revised sign-ordinance would be to create regulations that were legally enforceable and will create a process to better coordinate with LADBS to ensure a protocol of enforcement.  Huizar also asked about the status of LADBS inventory of all off-site signage (legal & illegal) and it was answered that this complete inventory would most likely take two years.

As the revised sign ordinance moves forward, I will continue to keep everyone as closely informed as possible.  There should be a draft available for further review in early January.