Monday, April 27, 2009

AIA/LA Urban Design Committee - Livable Boulevards: Transit.

AIA/Los Angeles Urban Design Committee
Green Streets/ Great Streets Series
Wednesday, April 22 2009
Livable Boulevards: Transit.  How the existing and future transit framework can link to planning, land use and urban design.
As part of our Great Streets series of discussions, the Urban Design Committee discussed how transit factors in to the design and use of our city.
The five panelists discussed how the transit network can work together with land-use, planning and urban design, to empower plans for TODs along with the creation of more livable boulevards.
Many committee members recognized that Los Angeles needs to have a more comprehensive system of public transportation not only to address growing transportation needs of the region but also to be considered amongst the world-class cities.  Much of the Committee's discussion was focused on the "Vision" for Los Angeles rail and the need to plan collaboratively and cohesively so that LA's transportation grows as a true network, rather than a bunch of isolated disjointed pieces.
While most of the conversation focused on Los Angeles' existing and proposed rail network, we also discussed the bus network and the importance of enhancing this massive system.  Simple things like shelter, shade, and attractive and thoughtful stations give riders dignity and encourage ridership.  The bus system is extensive and heavily-used and it should be continually developed.  Many participants acknowledged that there is potential for expansion of the Rapid Bus system through lane dedication.  By dedicating a lane to buses, the roadway is more efficient and has a higher capacity; thus an investment in roadways becomes exponentially more valuable.  Note that Measure R funds are not only going to fund rail projects, but are also going towards bus networks.
Challenges Discussed
  • Departments and agencies work separately and have separate goals and agendas.
  • How do we link modes of transit such as buses, high-speed rail, light-rail, cars, bikes, pedestrians?
  • We have things like Measure R, which will help create transit, but the public doesn't necessarily see the benefits or the need for this transit network. How do you get the public to get behind a comprehensive transit vision for the future?
  • There has traditionally been a disconnect between land use and transportation planning.
  • Funding. Sales tax is not sufficient to fund a coordinated and extensive rail and transportation network.
  • Timing. It takes a long time to get things done because of CEQA, public engagement processes, etc.  CEQA is not set up to encourage transit.
  • The code doesn't always support TOD.
    • We don't have to rework the code completely, rather we have to remake the street standards, parking and open space requirements, etc., in the key transit node areas.
Roundtable Panelists and notes on their comments:
  1. Diego Cardoso, Executive Officer, Transportation Development and Implementation, METRO, Los Angeles
Transit planning is "city-making".  Transportation always has a huge impact on urban development. Along with immigration patterns, transit has shaped and created our cities.  What is happening now is that we are going "back-to-the-future" when it comes to the transit system we are trying to put together (e.g. trolleys that are being planned and the plan for high speed rail which harkens back to the highway-projects of Eisenhower's time). What this means for Los Angeles is a future with an incredible infrastructure network.  The "new frontier" when it comes to transit planning is the recycling, reusing, and re-adapting of network models and of existing right-of-ways.  Rediscovering what's already there, what has been done before and how we can learn from it, is key.  It is smart to work with what we already have; the challenge then is for architects and planners to remake the old ROWs and concepts into new spaces and visions.

Measure R was a very important move forward; the City will increasingly function via public transit. 
Transit issues cannot be solved locally. They need support at the Federal and State levels. A sea of changes is needed; while highways are funded around 80% from federal money, much, much less is funded federally when it comes to transit.

  1. Jay Kim, Senior Transportation Engineer, City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation
In the long term we need to rely more on transit and indeed this is happening slowly. However people feel that it is not happening fast enough. The truth is, planning transit takes time. In the meantime, we have to focus on changing people's behavior.  Changing people's behavior, for example through financial incentives, has incredible potential to change the urban landscape.  The City has been working on this and there are currently incentives that exist that are underused, such as the Parking Cash Out.
You can also change people's behavior by offering them options.  Paris' bike share program, for example, is a wonderful program, but it reaches a limited audience.  A shared-use vehicle program that gave users a choice of travel modes, is an example of how to change people's behavior. 
Current methodology dictates that dedicating a freeway lane for transit causes a significant impact. This has to be adjusted if we are to seek transit options.
  1. Anthony Loui, Community Planner (Team Leader TPE-20) Federal Transit Administration
Under the new DOT secretary who brings a new vision to the department, the FTA is working to develop a new livability and transit-oriented-development green buildings initiative.  This will shift focus onto these important themes.
Systems like BART (Bay Area) and WMaTA (Washington DC) are both examples of transit agencies that looked for a grand vision and undertook "systems planning" for their lines.  These agencies worked to unify the system and make sure that it was coordinated regionally.
The idea that highway projects would also have to go through the New Starts process, would have a positive impact on shifting the focus away from highways and towards other transportation options.
Ultimately, it's not about getting out of your car, it's about reducing your emissions.
  1. Michael Metcalfe, Principal, Metcalfe Associates
Having poor public policy along with a mixture of jurisdictions with different agendas creates a patchwork of transit, rather than a unified multi-jurisdictional system.  The Regional Connector is a great example of synergistic development with a transit-oriented-development focus. 
It's important to address mistakes that have been made when it comes to planning policy to coordinate amongst jurisdictions and departments, and also to unify transportation and land use policy.  The General Plan framework in Los Angeles is good for coordination of land use and transportation.
  1. Ray Sosa, Principal, CDM
The future rail network planned in LA is extensive, especially with the addition of the regional connector, which connects the gold, expo, and blue lines.  The integration of transportation and land use is a key planning consideration that cannot be overlooked.
      6.  Michelle Sorkin, Community Planning, LA City Planning
Michelle Sorkin gave a brief update on the West LA Community Plan process and about the walkabouts that have been taking place.  The walkabouts are helping the process to move along quickly and the Planning Department has been receiving good feedback from participants about the process.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

April 21 Planning and Land Use Management Committee

On Tuesday, April 21 (2pm), the Los Angeles City Council Planning and Land Use Management Committee will hear testimony about the proposed revisions to the citywide sign ordinance.

The hearing will be at 2pm in Room 350, City Hall - 200 North Spring St., Los Angeles, CA  90012

To review the proposed revisions to the citywide sign ordinance FOLLOW THIS LINK:

This action is listed as Council File 08-2020

CPC 2009-0008  Negative Declaration, report from City Planning Commission and CA proposed Ordinance amending Sections 11.5.7, 12.05, 12.21, 12.22, Citywide  12.23, 13.11 and Articles 4.4 and 9 of Chapter 1 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code to establish total sign area limits for properties; establish area and height limits for individual signs; prohibit off-site signs, digital displays and roof signs; create new relief provisions for certain deviations from the sign regulations; establish administrative civil penalties for violations of the sign regulations; enact new criteria for the establishment of sign districts; and enact related technical corrections and other measures to reduce visual clutter and otherwise mitigate the potential impacts of signs on the visual environment. 

For more information, feel free to contact Will Wright, Director of Government & Public Affairs -

Briefly stated, the revisions address the following:

1. Roof signs are prohibited, except in Sign Districts. 
2. Comprehensive Sign Programs require a public hearing, with notification to owners and occupants within a 500 foot radius; and are only available to development sites with a minimum of 5 acres in addition to 100,000 square feet of non-residential floor area.  A new finding is added to ensure compatibility of proposed signs with residential uses within 500 feet.  Per existing procedure, Neighborhood Councils will be notified and receive a copy of any applications within the Neighborhood Council area. 
3. Appeals of Administrative Civil Penalties require 24 days notice of the hearing, with notification to owners and occupants within a 500 foot radius.  Per existing procedure, Neighborhood Councils will be notified and receive a copy of any appeal applications within the Neighborhood Council area. 
4. Right of Private Action is limited to owners and occupants within a 500 foot radius of an illegal sign. 
5. Sign Districts require mandatory sign reduction, so that every square foot of new digital or off-site signage requires the removal of more than one square foot of lawfully permitted off-site signage within the Sign District or an adjacent "sign impact area".  The community beautification finding is eliminated.  Relief from Sign District regulations is limited to a maximum 20% deviation.  A new finding is added to ensure that Sign Districts further the goals, objectives and policies of the urban form and neighborhood design chapter of the General Plan Framework. 
6. Only those proposed Sign Districts approved by the CPC as of March 26, 2009 will be "grandfathered".  The new ordinance will apply to all other proposed Sign Districts.

7. Sign Districts may be established for the purpose of prohibiting all new off-site signs.

8.  One of the purposes of a Sign District is to apply to areas that have unique entertainment of cultural attributes.

9.  A statement of intent is added to clarify that the ordinance's prohibition on digital displays applies regardless of any settlement agreements to the contrary.

10.  Other CPC recommendations separate from the ordinance:

- If the City Attorney so advises, the CPC recommends that the City Council include provisions in the ordinance to revoke business licenses of sign companies that repeatedly violate the sign regulations or do not pay penalties.

- Within six months of the ordinance's adoption, the CPC intends to adopt detailed guidelines for the review of Sign District applications.

- Within one year of the ordinance's adoption, the Planning Department will convene a task force to review the impacts of the ordinance and recommend any necessary changes.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Motion - Expedited Permit Approval Process

On Thursday, April 14 (1:00pm) in Room 350 of Los Angeles City Hall, the Planning and Land Use Management Committee will hold a special meeting to discuss (amongst other matters) a plan "to facilitate an expedited permit approval process for construction projects that require the least amount of departmental efforts and will generate tax revenue for the City."

I will plan to keep you updated on the status of this initiative as it makes its way through City Hall.

-Will Wright

Listed as Council File 09-0032  this expediting plan is the result of a January 6, 2009 Motion filed by Councilmember Wendy Greul and seconded by Councilmember Ed Reyes.

Motion (Greuel - Reyes) requesting that the Department of Building and Safety chair a taskforce comprising of the Department of City Planning, the Bureau of Engineering and the Chief Legislative Analyst and report back to the Council in 30 days on an ongoing plan that will facilitate an expedited permit approval process for construction projects that require the least amount of departmental efforts and will generate tax revenue for the City. 


Due to the faltering economy, the City of Los Angeles is facing serious financial challenges. The City has just made significant cuts to the budget to address the current shortfall and the shortfall is expected to increase to $400 million in fiscal year 2009. In order to balance the budget, the City needs to address procedural breakdowns whose inefficiency is costing the City necessary revenue. 

One such breakdown is the planning and building permit process for businesses attempting to reopen after a change in ownership or disaster, including fire. Other breakdowns include the challenges that businesses face when making small changes to existing facilities. Numerous commercial and industrial businesses experience significant delays in obtaining the required permits, especially in cases when the level of review is less than new construction projects. These delays cost the City in unrealized sales and business tax revenue and stagnant job growth, results that are counterproductive in correcting the economy. 

During past economic downturns, the City has made extra efforts to resolve procedural challenges that detract from business development. To increase revenues and promote job growth, the City of Los Angeles must solve the permit backlog by expediting the cases that require minimal effort from the Departments of Building and Safety, City Planning and the Bureau of Engineering. By bringing these businesses online faster, the City of Los Angeles will not only become more business friendly, it will also reduce the budget deficit through increased revenue and stimulate the local economy. 

These breakdowns in the City's permitting process must be addressed immediately. Whether the Departments select one day a week to directly address these issues or determine a more streamlined process, these changes need to be implemented without any delays. An inter-departmental taskforce should be created to expedite permit approvals and explore solutions to resolve this problem. 

I THEREFORE MOVE that the Department of Building and Safety chair a taskforce comprising of the Department of City Planning, the Bureau of Engineering and the Chief Legislative Analyst report back to the Council in 30 days on an ongoing plan that will facilitate an expedited permit approval process for construction projects that require the least amount of departmental efforts and will generate tax revenue for the City. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Green Infrastructure for Los Angeles: Addressing Urban Runoff and Water Supply through Low Impact Development."

Greetings all!

I am pleased to announce the completion of a report called "Green
Infrastructure for Los Angeles: Addressing Urban Runoff and Water
Supply through Low Impact Development." Sent with this email is a
link to the report, which can be downloaded from the site.

The report was prepared for the Board of Public Works by my very
talented summer intern, Haan-Fawn Chau. It is a comprehensive review
of this emerging and important national stormwater management trend,
which utilizes 21st Century designs to weave the textures of nature
into the urban fabric in order to cleanse urban runoff and recharge
the groundwater basin.

This work was made possible thanks to a grant from the Annenberg
Foundation, and the operational support of the Los Angeles and San
Gabriel Watershed Council; and of course, the countless hours and
well focused effort of Haan-Fawn Chau, who is completing her master's
degree in urban design at UCLA.

We hope you will take a moment to review the document and find it a
helpful resource in understanding and implementing these principles
throughout Los Angeles. The ideas are widely supported and have
received considerable media attention in both the local and national
press. Implementation on a large scale in this city would constitute
an important paradigm shift and provide lasting, transformational
environmental leadership.

Thanks for your interest, and please feel free to contact me with any

Commissioner, Board of Public Works
200 N. Spring St.
City Hall, Room 361
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: (213) 978-0255
Fax: (213) 978-0279

Summary of Hillside Kick-Off Meeting Public Comments

Greetings Interested Parties:


In February 2009 the City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning conducted five public meetings throughout the City in order to hear public comments, and discuss issues related to development in Los Angeles hillside neighborhoods.  The attached document provides a summary of the comments presented to and received from the general public regarding hillside development.


We are leaving the early comment period open until Thursday, April 30, 2009.  If you feel that something has been left off, or if you would like to propose additional issues/comments please send an email to (email preferred), or a letter to:


Erick Lopez
Department of City Planning
200 N. Spring St., Room 621
Los Angeles, CA 90012


If you did not get a chance to attend any of the five Kick-Off Meetings, this is your opportunity to review what was presented and submit early input.


Please keep in mind that there will be other opportunities to submit comments in the near future in the subsequent Public Workshop phase and Public Hearing/Approval Process.  Also, if you cannot get your written comments in by the current deadline, we will still accept them; they may not be a part of the early input, but will still be considered.


Our team would like to thank you for your time and attention to this project, and looks forward to working with you again in the months to come.



Erick Lopez
City Planner
Department of City Planning
Community Planning Bureau - West Coastal Division
200 N. Spring St., Room 621
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 978-1243
(213) 978-1226 - fax