Single family homes and the quest to build housing near transit: HWR, March 25

Plan to dramatically increase development would transform some L.A. neighborhoods (LAT)

No shortage of single-family neighborhoods along the Expo Line, seen here from just east of Farmdale Station to Westwood/Rancho Park. Photo by Steve Hymon.

The LAT does some fine reporting on SB 827, the bill that seeks to allow much more housing to be built near transit lines in California:

The impact could be huge. A Times analysis found that about 190,000 parcels in L.A. neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes are located in the “transit rich” areas identified in SB 827. Residences in those neighborhoods could eventually be replaced with buildings ranging from 45 to 85 feet, city officials say.

“While we are still evaluating the full effects of the bill, close to 50% of the city’s single-family homes would be impacted under SB 827,” said Yeghig L. Keshishian, spokesman for the Department of City Planning.

Less clear is SB 827’s effects on neighborhoods that already have apartments and condominiums. The bill could increase height limits and eliminate parking requirements in those locations, but have fewer impacts in areas such as downtown, which already allows high-density development.

I think most readers here likely agree on this: Many parts of the state have seen soaring real estate costs and there is a shortage of affordable housing. Many cities could support more density, especially near transit, but don’t.

The part where I’m guessing readers will disagree: whether single-family neighborhoods near transit should be rezoned. Before we go further, a disclosure: I’m a single-family homeowner (well, me and the bank) that might be impacted by this bill. I think it’s also safe to say that single-family homeowners and their elected officials will be taking a hard look at this bill and could help determine its fate.

The political difficulty is this: homes tend to represent peoples’ nest eggs. And there are likely a fair number of homeowners who purchased their properties without realizing their parcels be rezoned via state law and the bungalow next door could become a much bigger multi-unit building, as the LAT reports. This could, I suppose, actually increase property values because a parcel that could support (for example) 10 units is more valuable than a parcel with a single house.

Which raises the question: Are there other ways to get more housing built near transit that are perhaps more politically palatable? I live in Pasadena, where more than 2,000 units have been built nearish to the Gold Line, mostly on parcels that were formerly zoned commercial or light industrial. That’s the upside. The downside: prices in Pas are still very high.

This bill may certainly mean well. But meaning well doesn’t mean much if the bill fails to gain enough votes. Again, I repeat: I’m a single-family homeowner so I have skin in this game. What do you think about SB 827? Are single-family neighborhoods in a region such as ours a good thing? Or a relic?

Metro to study which properties could house facilities for the homeless (LAT)

The Metro Board of Directors at their meeting last Thursday asked Metro to produce a study looking at whether any Metro properties — including bus divisions and stations — had space for temporary housing as well as, reports the LAT, “showers, storage for belongings, parking lots where people could sleep in their cars overnight, or other facilities.”

This was part of a broader discussion on homelessness in our region at the meeting and the impact it’s having on transit. Click here and go to item 14 to listen. Several Board Members made it pretty clear they understand the scope of our region’s crisis and the urgent need to do something.

Human driver could have avoided batal Uber crash, experts say (Bloomberg)

The video released by Tempe police last week shows the moments leading up to the fatal collision last week between the Uber test car and a woman walking a bike across a four-lane road outside of a crosswalk. The human driver — there to serve as backup to the car’s software — was looking down until it was too late. The car was in the far right lane. The woman with the bike had already crossed one lane going in the same direction although that lane was partially in the shadows.

Bloomberg says an expert it spoke to concluded a human paying attention had time to slam on the brakes and narrowly avoid a collision. Others questioned why the car’s sophisticated sensors didn’t detect the woman to at least slow the car. My hunch is different people will see the video and come to different conclusions.

Again, it bears repeating: the companies developing self-driving cars are touting safety as their primary benefit. As far as I know, none of them are saying 100 percent safe and collision-proof — and I don’t think anyone can realistically expect that. But this crash calls into question those statements and raises questions about how safe these vehicles are at this time.

Why he kayaked across the Atlantic at 70 — for the third time (NYT Magazine)

Aleksander Doba, looking not unlike Tom Hanks in “Cast Away.” Photo credit: Maciej Śmiarowski / KPRM, via Flickr creative commons.

Great read alert! Sunstroke! Sharks! Boredom! Lack of food! Wet clothes and rashes! All of which are part of the appeal for Aleksander Doba of Poland.

10 replies

  1. How about rezoning for businesses and retail close to transit stations so people can take a metro directly for shopping, eating, or work without a transfer. Along the outside of the transit stations should be housing. Many stations don’t currently have stops at malls since retail don’t want commuters to clog up their parking lots. The problem is it’s really hard to get to the stations without a way to get there and then to their jobs. At least one side must give, but not both sides of the equation. It makes so sense to take a train to go from one residential area to another. How about Metro building more park and ride lots and adding additional coverage with light rail lines into the residential areas. Nonetheless, zoning should change as a general principle. LA needs more housing.

    • Your point about how “one side must give, but not both sides of the equation” is part of what makes LA so complicated to plan transit and transportation improvements for. Not everyone commutes downtown for work and our activity centers are spread far and wide. The benefit to this is that trains don’t need to be packed to the brim when bound for downtown just to be emptied on their way back out. There’s little benefit to running empty trains, so if we could maximize our ability to capture riders traveling in both directions by densifying areas near transit centers, I’m all for it. I think constructing more park-and-rides would choke the efforts we’ve made in ramping up transit thus far, unless we’re talking about terminus station areas.

  2. I’m a mere renter, in LA’s Tier 3 TOD zoning overlay, car-less, pro-development resident, and even I have concerns about the bill.

    My problem with development, specifically in Los Angeles, is that the city claims to be a champion of sustainable density, yet does so on a completely suburban (car-oriented) foundation. A true TOD would challenge the occupants to rely primarily on transit, that can’t happen when you build a monster like Ivy Station with 400 units and 900 parking spaces… These developments become neither affordable or sustainable AND design sensibility suffers as these structures grapple with disguising and financing these enormous car-holes/street-life destroyers.

    That being said, there is no place that California should be accommodating new growth, outside of rail/transit adjacent stations lest we continue the planning failure of car dependency that has absolutely crippled and devastated much of Southern California.

    In LA, the only transit line that I have a soft spot for is the Gold Line, I always encourage visitors to take the Gold Line from Downtown to Pasadena, as there is no other transit line that I’ve ever ridden that is so varied, like a calm roller coaster weaving through hillsides and trees; it’s so lovely. If there was a way to protect that environment along the Gold Line and cram density along the Blue, Green, Expo, Red, Purple, Orange, Crenshaw and SILVER line, I would be all for it!

  3. The question current Single-Family-Home owners need to really be asking themselves is “Who will be able to buy my house?” and, if applicable, “Where will my Children/Grandchildren be living as adults?”.

    In the Bay Area, there are multiple examples of stations surrounded by nothing but parking lots, even underground stations that have been that way for almost 5 decades now.

    Further, what is Metro doing, or what can it do to prevent cities (deliberately?) zoning and building excessively-low density housing at the same time or after Metro, or its construction partners, build expensive rail transit to points all over the county? Case in point: Glendora zoning for maximum 3 units per acre across the street from the APU-Citrus station, on a line extension that had been slated to end in Irwindale under long-range plans ($ was found to extend to the Azusa/Glendora border). Those are going to be lovely Transit-Oriented McMansions when they are finished, but they could have housed so many more people had the area even merely been “up zoned” to townhouses.

    • Hi Erik;

      Those are fine points. I like the phrase Transit Oriented McMansions and may borrow that, with attribution.

      I see some of the prices homes are selling for in my neighborhood and wonder the same thing: who can afford this? But they do sell — not always for the inflated asking price, but often at prices far higher than I would have ever imagined. I think there is still money coming in from overseas (China mostly as far as I can tell) or maybe people are making lateral moves.

      As for this bill, I think most people agree the goal is good to get more housing built — and to ensure the housing is near transit — but I just don’t know if it’s politically viable or not.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  4. Steve: Welcome home.
    Regarding the Uber crash, please don’t repeat the claim that “The woman with the bike … was partially in the shadows.” The victim of the crash wasn’t in any “shadows”. The darkness that you see in the video from the Uber vehicle immediately before she is struck and killed is caused by the low quality video settings of the camera, and possibly by the positioning of the vehicle’s headlights.
    Please refer to the YouTube video at the following URL: Steve: Welcome home.
    Regarding the Uber crash, please don’t repeat the claim that “The woman with the bike … was partially in the shadows.” The victim of the crash wasn’t in any “shadows”. The darkness that you see in the video from the Uber vehicle immediately before she is struck and killed is caused by the low video settings of the camera and possibly by the positioning of the vehicle’s headlights.
    Please refer to the YouTube video at the following URL: https://youtu.be/CRW0q8i3u6E Scroll to the 0:34-0:35 mark in the YouTube video to see what the crash location really looks like at night.
    The YouTube video clearly shows that the location of the crash is very well lit, and that there is a streetlamp within 40 feet of the point of impact (which can also be seen illuminated in the video from the Uber vehicle). You’ll have to ask Uber why the quality of their video fails to capture the victim until she was within 60 feet of the Uber vehicle, approximately one second before she was hit and killed. The victim was struck at the 0:34-0:35 mark in the YouTube video. Notice how there are no “shadows” in this video. Scroll back to the 0:30 mark and judge for yourself whether you would have been able to see the victim and avoid hitting her.
    One common claim that I’ve seen in media, police and “expert” reports is that “It is difficult to know if a human driver would have hit the victim, given the speed of the road and the poor lighting”. I strongly disagree! If I was driving my car at 38 MPH, with the combination of the streetlamp and my car’s headlights, I would expect to see the victim much earlier than is apparent in the video. When I drive my car at night my headlights allow me to see 200-300 feet in front of my car. That gives me between 3 and 5 seconds to see hazards in front of me, and to react to avoid collisions. I’m not bragging: I’m a normal driver with normal reactions and normal vision. to see what the crash location really looks like at night.
    The YouTube video clearly shows that the location of the crash is very well lit, and that there is a streetlamp within 40 feet of the point of impact (which can also be seen illuminated in the video from the Uber vehicle). You’ll have to ask Uber why the quality of their video fails to capture the victim until she was within 60 feet of the Uber vehicle, approximately one second before she was hit and killed. One common claim that I’ve seen in media, police and “expert” reports is that “It is difficult to know if a human driver would have hit the victim, given the speed of the road and the poor lighting”. I strongly disagree! If I was driving my car at 38 MPH, with the combination of the streetlamp and my car’s headlights, I would expect to see the victim much earlier than is apparent in the video. When I drive my car at night my headlights allow me to see 200-300 feet in front of my car. That gives me between 3 and 5 seconds to see hazards in front of me, and to react to avoid collisions. I’m not bragging: I’m a normal driver with normal reactions and normal vision.

  5. SB 827 doesn’t force anyone to stop living in a detached house. Individual property owners can maintain that on their property if they want to. It allows people to build more densely and with less or no parking, near good transit, if they want to. The demand for housing is unquestionably there. The only question is will we allow the housing the market wants to build in the most logical places or will we continue to drive millions of people into poverty and out of the state.

    The housing crisis is so bad the political winds are starting to shift. A bill like SB 827 would have been unthinkable ten years ago. The fact that it is even being seriously considered is significant. It should be a wake up call to cities who have failed to allow enough housing.

  6. Aside of turning our whole zoning practices upside down and destroying older established single family residences R1 neighborhoods. It will stop any new LRT lines since no one will want a station near them knowing that this would mean high density where they now live in comfort like the Westwood and Military stations on the Expo line among many other stations.

    Alan

  7. Some towns or cities simply don’t want to be dense, and while I agree that it makes sense to allow higher density next to transit, the state making this decision instead of the counties or cities undermines the democratic process for citizens to decide what development density is appropriate for their area even if it’s imperfect. I just think this is a bit of an overstep on the state’s part, and it isn’t even a proposition that the public can vote on.