What’s Wrong with the Hollywood Plan?

In a Nutshell

Community plans must be based on facts, but the Hollywood Community Plan [HCP] is based on myths.

The Plan misrepresents that Hollywood is growing so fast that by 2030, we will have 250,000 residents. (249,092 rounded off to 250,000 source HCP DEIR p 4.2-5, 4.2-7)

The Plan says that we had 224,426 residents in 2005 (source HCP DEIR p 5-2) In reality in 2005, we were down to approximately 204,000 (source US 2010 Census). Rather than our population increasing to 237,000 people in 2010, our population had dropped to 198,228. (source US 2010 Census) A factual population projection for 2030 based is around 190,000 residents. (Source US 2000 and 2010 Census population and trend) That’s a 60,000 person discrepancy between US Census facts and The Plan’s myths.

In order to reach 250,000 residents by 2030, the downward trend of 6% over the prior decade would have to reverse itself and increase by 25.4%. No fact suggests our population will increase. We are in a 20 year decline from 213,883 in 1990, to 210,794 in 2000, to 204,000 in 2005, to 1998,228 in 2010. (Source US 2010 Census and HCP FEIR chart p 3.3)

What’s the Harm?

The entire Hollywood Community Plan is based on the myth of an increasing population– garbage in, garbage out. Thus, the Plan’s new commercial zoning standards bear no relation to reality, allowing developers to build anything they want without obtaining approvals. The Plan must be re-written and re-circulated so that we can plan based on facts and not on myths.

People are working very hard to have the City do the right thing and re-write the Plan based on actual population trend and population data. On Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 2:30 p.m. the City PLUM Committee is set to adopt myths as if they were true. People need to tell their councilmembers:

Community Plans must be based on facts; not on falsehoods

The Hollywood Community Plan Update – From Bad to Worse

Feb. 25, 2012 – published in Ron Kaye’s L.A.

By Dick Platkin*

LA’s Vanished History of Population and Economic Expansion:  In lieu of updating the General Plan Framework Element, the legally adopted citywide plan for the entire city of Los Angeles, based on the latest 2010 census data, the Department of City Planning is slowly updating 35 local community plans on a scattershot basis, based on old census data.  While this a methodologically shoddy approach to planning Los Angeles in an era of economic hard times, budget cutbacks, certain natural disasters, peak oil, and climate change, this choice does not result from politicians who snuck out of workshops on municipal governance or planners who skipped a critical lecture on urban general plans.  In both cases, sloppy planning should not be confused with lack of knowledge.

The real reason for this piecemeal approach to planning Los Angeles for the early 21st Century is that the old data still depicts Los Angeles as a young, growing metropolis.  These data portray a city that has decades of expanding population and employment ahead of it.  The only limitation to this vision is LA’s finite land and the reluctance of residential neighborhoods to be further bulldozed or hidden by nearby mega-projects and McMansions.  Therefore, recent citywide plans, in particular the General Plan Framework Element, called for new commercial and residential real estate projects to be concentrated in commercial centers and on the major mass transit corridors connecting these centers.  This vision, which attempted to please all parties, is the essence of the original General Plan Centers Concept plan of the 1970’s and its reincarnation in the General Plan Framework Element of the 1990’s.

Annual Monitoring Program:  The General Plan Framework Element, however, ratcheted up the Centers concept by focusing on all categories of infrastructure, not just transit, to serve an ever-growing city.  Furthermore, the Framework insisted that the city’s population, housing, and employment trends, as well as all major infrastructure categories, must be carefully monitored on an annual basis to ensure that the Framework’s citywide policies and programs performed as anticipated.  If the annual monitoring report indicated that the General Plan was not unfolding as intended — such as population growth that was higher or lower than expected or infrastructure user demand and capacity that was unforeseen -– then the Planning Department was to revise to the Framework’s policies and programs in response to these changes.

While this approach is admirable, it is important to examine what has remained the same and what has changed since the Los Angeles City Council adopted the Framework in 1996.  One thing that has remained the same is the rhetoric of the old plans, that Los Angeles needs to accommodate future population and employment growth -– should it occur — through large scale commercial development in centers and major transit corridor.  This approach, in fact, is part of the political and press campaign to heavily promote the proposed Update of the Hollywood Community Plan, despite massive opposition from Hollywood’s residents and their many civic organizations.  For example, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held a special press event on the roof a Hollywood apartment building on Monday, December 19, 2011, to promote the proposed Update of the Hollywood Community Plan based on this exact premise.

While the rhetoric of the General Plan has not changed, its underlying basis is now much different.  Unlike the post-WWII era, Los Angeles is no longer a growing a city.  According to William Foster, author of The Reluctant Metropolis, Los Angeles is now an older city, similar to those in the east coast or mid-west, and it gave up its boomtown status at least a decade ago.  In recent decades, in fact, Los Angeles has lost much of its industrial and financial base.  It no longer hosts the headquarters of any Fortune 500 companies.  Entertainment production has migrated to many other cities, such as Vancouver, British Columbia.   Major employers of well paid, unionized, blue-collar workers, such as auto, metals, and even aerospace, have largely vanished.  Even low wage industries, like the garment industry, have seen flat to declining employment.   Overall, LA City and LA County have had no employment gain in the past two decades, the 1990 base year for the General Plan Framework, which was supposed to be replaced or updated when the new 2010 census data became available.

Two Changed Features:  Furthermore, at least two other features have also changed.  The population boom never appeared, and, in fact, most Los Angeles neighborhoods had static or declining population between 1990 to 2010, especially during the past decade.  Hollywood, for example, lost 15,000 people during this period, while the number of housing units in Hollywood barely increased.  These latter figures, furthermore, are inflated because they reflect new housing construction, not the number of housing units lost to demolition or taken off the market due to disrepair or alternative uses.

Another important change is in the status of public infrastructure and public services.  Waves of public sector budget cuts have resulted in significant reductions in maintenance across all categories.  As a result, the second part of the Framework’s comprehensive approach has been undercut.  Not only has anticipated growth in population, housing, and employment been much lower than predicted, but investment in public infrastructure and public services to maintain existing levels and upgrade them to meet increases in user demand have not appeared.  This development, of course, is critical because even a static population can have increased demands for automobile use, electricity, water, sewage, recreation, and related infrastructure categories.  For example, a family moving into a new McMansion will use far more resources and generate far more waste than a similar family living in a traditional single family home or apartment.

The contrast between these recent trends and those predicted for the same time period in the Framework is substantial.  For example, the Framework predicted that Los Angeles would have 4,300,000 residents in 2010, 550,000 people higher than the actual 3,750,000 people counted by the 2010 Census.

Los Angeles is stagnant city:  Rather than being a perpetual motion machine, Los Angeles has been overtaken be entropy.  Everything is slowing down or declining, yet the City’s Plans are based on the old growth model.  A city that was predicted to grow at historic rates and provide the necessary services and infrastructure to serve this growth has achieved neither.  It is stagnating on both fronts.

Instead, we are left with a hollowed out vision.  Tinsel town is old and tired.  Furthermore it had two major civil disturbances, and one, in 1992, was the most destructive such event in the United States since the Civil War.  And, not only are the socioeconomic conditions which gave rise to that upheaval still present, but Los Angeles is still ripe for a killer earthquake dubbed “The Big One”, while climate change is also bound to exacerbate the floods and fires that periodically threaten Los Angeles.

If this is not an overall scenario for returning to basics and fundamentally update the city’s outdated General Plan Framework Element, based on actual trends carefully extrapolated into the future, and then confirmed through a comprehensive monitoring program, then it is hard to imagine what other conditions would trigger an update of the citywide General Plan.

Into this snake pit the City’s elected officials have pushed hard for the Update of the Hollywood Community Plan, followed by similar updates for other community plans.  While the proposed plan ignores the trends outlined above, it nevertheless is a plan based on economic stagnation.  While one hand denies stagnation, the other hand attempts to alleviate it through yet another real estate bubble.  This is why the Hollywood Community Plan Update fails to consider any of the demographic or infrastructure trends noted above, and instead resorts to large scale up-zoning and up-planning of Hollywood’s commercial corridors, as well as some residential neighborhoods.

The proposed Update is based on the neo-liberal premise that if real estate investment is deregulated, developers will pursue what their business models recommend, resulting in private sector mega-projects and skyscrapers whose economic benefits will then ripple across the entire local economy.  Stripped of its boosterism, the proposed Hollywood Plan Update is nothing more than the application of Reaganomics and Clintonomics to municipal real estate.

 

Will it work?  Only time will tell.  There are, after all, mountains of cash warehoused around the world searching for profitable investment outlets.  Plus, we know from the still ongoing financial crisis that began in 2008, that there is no shortage of institutional and individual investors who are willing to take a chance on highly risky real estate projects.  Furthermore, we know from the current crisis, as well as the Savings and Loan Crisis on the 1980’s, that the Federal Government has a rich history of bailing out bad real estate deals when their failures reach epidemic levels.  Few people are ever prosecuted during these busts, and most of the bad projects were sold back to the investors who initially lost them at a dime on the dollar.

Replicating the Hollywood Plan throughout Los Angeles:  But, what will happen in Hollywood, as well as the rest of Los Angeles, if the Hollywood Update model is replicated?  Will a city that can already accommodate 8 million people based on existing plans and zones suddenly boom if it is up-planned and up-zoned to accommodate 12 or 15 million people?  The answer is that this strategy is doomed to fail.  Even if hundreds of thousands of new residents streamed into Los Angeles, the city’s already strapped infrastructure and public services would be overwhelmed.

While no one’s crystal ball is fool proof, the Miracle Mile on Wilshire Boulevard is an indication that most of the mega-projects that would appear in Hollywood when the zones and plan designations are relaxed will be fiascos.  Anyone who drives on the Miracle Mile in the day will see half a dozen new mid-rise, mixed-use projects.  They are large buildings, with apartments or condos stacked on top of ground floor retail.  So far, so good, but take the same drive at night, and you will notice that few lights are on.  Most of the residential units and many of the storefronts are vacant.

Is it any wonder?  In a city with a hollowed-out economy, poverty and inequality appear in lieu of new jobs.  Meanwhile City Hall’s reluctance to engage in any economic planning and monitoring, as well as adequately invest in public services and public infrastructure, ensures that there will be few high end consumer to buy, lease, rent, or shop at the new stores and residential units.  While the now famous 1 percent, or the less well-known top 10 percent, possess enough consumer power to support luxury stores in Beverly Hills and new shopping centers, like The Grove, there just are not enough of these well off shoppers to fuel another real estate bubble.  Just because there is enough idle cash, lobbyists and publicists, compliant politicians, and in-house zoning technicians to inflate a real estate bubble, does not mean there are enough affluent consumers to sustain it.

Furthermore, what will give Los Angeles an edge to attract these new residents consumers, when it fails to maintain or improve its infrastructure, or even its appearance?  In the final analysis, there just is not much that is appealing about high unemployment rates, traffic congestion, pot holes, unreliable and uncomfortable buses, 20 miles of subway, bad air, bill boards and supergraphics, treeless streets and boulevards, overhead utility lines, buckled sidewalks, cracker box apartments, and rundown parks and schools.

The chance that a city whose long-term approach to municipal governance is based on low regulation and low public amenities can successfully revive itself through a real estate bubble pitched to high end consumers is not good.

The prospects that the Hollywood Community Plan Update, alone or expanded to the other 34 community plan areas, will actually lead to a revival of the quality of life in Los Angeles, or even to an authentic, sustainable urban expansion that will not implode on itself, is minimal.

Instead the chance that it will boomerang and accelerate the deterioration of already stagnant city is nearly certain.  Since these outcomes are so obvious to so many people — at least those out of the City Hall orbit –- the really tough question is what drives this folly?  Until those making these decisions reveal their phone logs, release their financial records, report on their private close door meetings, or dictate their memoirs in their gated and gilded compounds, we will just have to assume that they had more change jangling in their pockets downstairs than common sense upstairs.

*        Dick Platkin teaches, writes, and consults to community groups on city planning issues in Los Angeles.  Please send any questions or comments on this article to rhplatkin@yahoo.com.

 

 

The Dilemma

By James O’Sullivan

The update to the Hollywood community plan is posing a real dilemma for neighborhood councils. Long used to dealing with liquor licenses and individual projects in their areas, this update deals with the entire community plan area and many Neighborhood Councils are stuck within their self-imposed boundaries while others are not. The issue will be whether to approach the plan update from their individual boundaries or examine the plan holistically to determine the impact up zoning will have on the entire area. An extra added challenge is that what happens in Hollywood doesn’t stay in the Hollywood! The impacts of this plan for better or for worse will not be contained within the Hollywood boundary.

If these neighborhood councils follow the charter, there will be no dilemma. The charter is very clear in that it gives to neighborhood councils the responsibility to monitor city services. However there is already friction between neighborhood councils primarily in the hills and those in the flats. This is unfortunate because city infrastructure is not separated that way. When a water pipe breaks on Hollywood Boulevard, there is a good likelihood that it will affect service in upper Beachwood Canyon as well as Melrose Avenue. If you need an ambulance up on Outpost and the roads down below are clogged with commuters or partygoers, the fact that your streets are passable may be of little consequence if the ambulance is delayed.

 

High winds up in the hills or fires that race up the canyons threatened power services of those living far below. So individual neighborhood councils may on paper experience very little change in this new Hollywood community plan update but they still have to look at basic services and how this new update will affect police, fire, water, power, sewers, streets, libraries, parks, and all of the components of the city’s infrastructure system. I would argue that the Hollywood neighborhood councils have an obligation not only to their residents and businesses but also to the plan areas beyond their boundaries. Already some of Hollywood’s infrastructure services are not self-sufficient and the city cannibalizes resources from other community plan areas to service Hollywood. A recent Case in point is the rescue ambulance removed from Rancho Park and placed in Hollywood for 3 days during Halloween 2011. This effectively left sections of Century City in the West Los Angeles community plan area without a rescue ambulance. Hollywood’s neighborhood councils must monitor city services.

This is the heart of the debate over the Hollywood community plan update. It is not about tall buildings, transit oriented districts, the CRA, or any number of other issues being debated today. They are important issues but the core issue is our infrastructure. Do we have enough? Do we need more? Are serious environmental impacts adequately addressed in this new plan update or is the city taking the field of dreams approach? Build it and they will come! Or not.

Sadly this is the Field of dreams with no good ending. If you read the Statement of Overriding Considerations (SOC) in the Final Environmental Impact Report, you will see that this plan acknowledges that it will cause an increase in Green House Gasses in Hollywood but blames that on commuters traveling through Hollywood and not all the new development this plan endorses. The SOC acknowledges that there could be issues with police, fire and other services and promises to do nexus studies and hire more police and fire should there become a need. Does anyone seriously believe the City has the money to do that? Or to build new facilities if needed? Listing mitigations for serious environmental impacts without funding is a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act. The City knows this but typically they take the position that they can do whatever they want and if you don’t like it, sue them! We don’t want to do that. What we want is a government that is responsive to the people and not special interest.

So this is the crux of the of the dilemma Hollywood’s Neighborhood Councils will face. The Charter created them and charged them with bringing government closer to the people and monitoring City services. Will they do that or take the approach – we got ours, you need to get yours?  I honestly don’t know. Each Neighborhood Council will have to choose between approving this plan with all its Environmental deficiencies or tell the City to go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that protects the lives and safety of those that live, work and play in Hollywood.

Posted at FixLosAngeles.com

Hollywood Community Plan Fiasco

Written by James O’SullivanTuesday, 24 January 2012 22:16

As the Hollywood Plan Update inches through the planning approval process it should give people all over Los Angeles a preview of what is planned for their neighborhoods, and it ain’t good! Tired of complaints from residents over quality of life issues and having their dream of Manhattan in Los Angeles stymied by people that don’t want to live in Manhattan the Mayor and City Council are going for the planning Kill Shot. Having chipped around the edges with large and small tweaks of the Municipal Code they are rolling the dice on a plan so outrageously flawed that if it is allowed to stand will ruin every neighborhood from San Pedro to Sylmar and all points in between.It is one thing to dream big as long as that dream includes all the elements necessary to promote a quality of life we require and deserve. It is not alright to drop 50 story buildings right up against the Hollywood Hills and not mitigate the environmental impacts the increase density will bring. It is not alright to claim that 5 subway stations make a transportation system that can tolerate up to 50,000 additional residents. It is not alright to admit that this plan will increase Green House Gasses but by building in Hollywood it will preclude others from building elsewhere in the region. It is not alright to claim that the City will provide more police and fire service if necessary when the City is beyond broke and is losing first responders not gaining them. Already on Halloween a Paramedic Ambulance from Rancho Park was positioned in Hollywood for several days leaving the area around Century City without a Paramedic ambulance. Hollywood will only be able to provide adequate police and fire resources by cannibalizing resources from other area’s. Yours will be next.

This Community Plan Update uses flawed data and timelines and provides no funding for mitigations the California Environmental Quality Act requires. If you are wondering how this affects you since you don’t live in Hollywood, your area is probably next for an update. If this plan is unchallenged in the courts and is adopted then when they come to your area you will be up the creek without the proverbial paddle. You probably won’t be legally time barred from filing a lawsuit but for all practical purposes the precedent will have been set.

One group is organizing to file a suit once the Council adopts this plan and the Mayor signs it and others are also seeking council to mount a challenge. None are against development, what they are against is an unresponsive government that thinks it knows best, that would put their way of life and lives at risk.

Stay tuned, they will not go quietly into the night.

Published in FixLosAngeles.com