Posts tagged with "California":
This year, aside from deciding who will become the 45th President of the United States, voters across the West will consider several important statewide ballot races that will directly impact the region’s urban landscapes, ecological future, and transportation infrastructure. In California particularly, the philosophy of direct democracy via ballot proposals promises to bring many contentious issues to election day.
Charter Amendment C
San Francisco’s municipal lawmakers are taking their debate over affordable housing directly to the people. Consensus in the Bay Area is to raise the minimum inclusionary housing requirement from its current 12% level. Partisans, however, can’t seem to agree on whether to raise the minimum to 25%, as proposed by Supervisors Jane Kim and Aaron Peskin. Their ballot measure will be up for a vote in this June’s California primary. With details of the plan still to be hammered out and as a development boom rumbles through the city’s South of Market district, the city government must act soon if the area is to contain a better-than-average affordable housing stock.
Measure R 2
Voters in L.A. are potentially looking to cement their growing rail legacy with a 40-year capital improvement campaign funded by a round of tax increases. Thanks to the passage of 2008’s Measure R, two light rail extensions are opening in L.A. this year. In March, Los Angeles Metro put forth a wish list of projects to be funded by Measure R 2, the transit agency’s plan to raise L.A. County’s sale tax by an additional $.50. The increase, coupled with an extension of 2008’s hike, is expected to raise $120 billion for transportation related projects over 40 years. Metro is looking to avoid a repeat of 2012’s slim defeat of the similar Measure J, which garnered 64.72% of the vote, just shy of the 66.6% supermajority needed to pass. When asked about how Metro plans to broaden support within the electorate, Pauletta Tonilas, Chief Communications Officer, told AN, “Our goal is to plan for future growth and provide ways to better the way we get around the county. The draft plan we’ve released shows we are delivering projects in every area of the county and that has been a big part of our support.”
Anticipated projects include fast tracking the long-delayed westside Purple Line subway and South L.A.’s LAX “people mover” extension of the Green Line, as well as a third extension to the northern arm of the Gold Line to Azusa in the eastern reaches of the San Gabriel Valley.
Neighborhood Integrity Initiative and Build a Better L.A. Initiative
The NIMBY-driven Neighborhood Integrity Initiative (NII) is battling the Union-supported Build a Better L.A. (BBLA) measure for a say in the city’s growth. The NII takes aim at booming-Los Angeles’s outdated city plan, by forcing the city to update all supplementary community plans while changes to the General Plan can be agreed upon. Simultaneously, the bill puts a moratorium on all spot-zoned projects for two years. Because many of the city’s most ambitious construction projects require these spot-zoning measures—due to the outdated nature of the code—the NII effectively halts development city-wide. The BBLA initiative is fighting to instead fast track projects requiring spot-zoning variances if those projects employ union labor and include construction of affordable housing units.
In perhaps a sign of things to come this November, two large, density-oriented projects recently won approval in very different parts of L.A. County. Koning Eizenberg Architecture’s 249-unit, 32-foot tall mixed use complex at 500 Broadway won enthusiastic approval from Santa Monica’s City Council. The scheme’s approval centered on its addition of 64 off-site affordable housing units as well as its proximity to the soon-to-be-opened Expo Line extension. In Hollywood, the Stanley Saitowitz / Natoma Architects-designed Palladium Residences, two 30-story towers with 731 units, won approval from L.A. City Council. Although the project is comprised solely of market rate units, council members praised its location near public transit, in this case, the Red Line subway a few blocks north.
How can innovative design achieve zero net energy?
This is the challenge put forth by Chester “Chet” Widom, FAIA, State Architect of California, in the “7x7x7: Design, Energy, Water” initiative for the state’s education system. California has the largest population of any state in the union, yet it is strapped by a 5-year long drought that threatens the state’s economy and way of life.
In light of these concerns, Widom examined the geography and geology of California and determined the state is made up of seven distinct ecologies. He selected seven of the state’s leading sustainable design firms (WRNS Studio, Aedis Architects, Lionakis, Ehrlich Architects, DLR Group, Hamilton + Aitken Architects, and HGA Architects) and gave each an educational institution to study. Faced with unique instances of geographic and demographic diversity, the seven architecture firms were each asked to develop a conceptual case study that could form the foundation for a major state-wide campus design revolution.
In February, the California Division of the State Architect (DSA) completed a new initiative called “7x7x7: Design, Energy, Water,” that highlights ways to “improve the built environment while simultaneously greening California’s aging school facilities.” Widom pointed out that California has 10,000 campuses serving students from Kindergarten through community college. He postulated that each campus has an average of five buildings in need of renovation, meaning 50,000 buildings must be adapted, state-wide; a staggering challenge, indeed. But, if the state could use energy and water reductions to save $3,000 per year per structure over ten years, it could save $1.5 billion overall, money that could be put back into young people’s education.
That ambition inspires the seven imaginative projects dispersed across the state.
WRNS Studio and Ehrlich Architects were challenged by the harsh, tight urban environments of their sites in Oakland and South-Central Los Angeles, respectively. Both elected to use the energy and water challenge to totally transform their campuses. At Lincoln Elementary School in Oakland, dubbed “a place of asphalt” by Pauline Souza of WRNS, the team connected the students to nature by developing what Le Corbusier called the "5th facade," the roof, into outdoor, PV-powered energy-efficient classrooms. Souza said they would achieve 45% energy and water reductions by creating more natural environments for their “harshest critics,” 6-11 year-olds. Ehrlich Architects, with Mia Lehrer + Associates landscape architects, transformed the entire site—ground plane and roof—into a learning garden. Through xeriscape landscape interventions they would divert 200,000 gallons of water annually to be used for irrigation, education, and to teach students the value of the local watershed. This would ultimately turn, said the architects, “the entire campus into a learning tool.”
Embracing advanced technology in diverse climates led DLR and HGA to bring us back to the future. Working at the Bubbling Wells Elementary School in hot and windy Desert Hot Springs, DLR explored ideas to conserve energy and water, like “Water Harvesting.” This concept uses the wind to run a series of compressors that collect condensate from the humidity in the air, essentially capturing water out of thin air. DLR is now exploring a test of this technology with the Palm Springs Unified School District. In downtown LA, HGA was asked to study Los Angeles Trade Technical College. Rather than seeking to achieve Zero Net Energy, the firm instead suggested changing the question: What would happen if the project “started at zero” and moved toward the positive? With an integrated approach using cloud-based computer analysis and parametric modeling, HGA analyzed 640,000 combinations of design strategies to improve the healthiness and energy-efficiency of the school. One impressive result was the reduction in carbon emissions. The current building currently produces 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide per year, the equivalent of the CO2 produced by 191 cars annually, but with a cluster of design interventions, the team would reduce carbon emissions to zero.
“DSA is proactive in meeting Governor Brown’s directive to achieve Zero Net Energy by 2030” and that, “7x7x7: Design, Energy, Water, is just the beginning of a process that has the power to transform 10,000 campuses and help teach millions of California students how to become stewards of their own environment,” Widom explained.
Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley Reseda neighborhood is poised to spend $23 million in reactivated excess bonds as a result of post-redevelopment bills signed late last year by Governor Jerry Brown.
The action came last September after a series of legislative moves that in 2011 began to wind down and ultimately dissolve all 400 of California’s local city and County Redevelopment Agencies (CRAs)—entities originally conceived to funnel tax increments into blighted areas to promote economic development and affordable housing projects. Leading up to the dissolution, much criticism had been directed to community redevelopment agencies, citing waste and corruption.
“The only way to mend it was to end it and cut out abuses,” said L.A. city councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who was serving in the California State Assembly at the time of the 2011 CRA dissolution and now represents the Third District, which spans the northwest portion of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley, including the communities of Canoga Park, Reseda, Tarzana, Winnetka, and Woodland Hills. His district contains three of the nine CRA-owned properties that must be developed within a certain frame of time, as set forth in the governor’s bills. “If we don’t put together an acceptable development deal within three years, the nine properties get sold off. Having said that, we have the potential with these three lots in our district to generate catalytic investment that we think will create a domino effect of more development.”
Reseda’s plans for the reinvestment of funds in Los Angeles consist of two key vision plans related geographically and culturally along the historic portion of Sherman Way. The Reseda Theater Adaptive Reuse Project (for which the RFP phase is underway) hopes to spur commercial oriented development, including entertainment, dining, and other services, to activate the street and generate more foot traffic. The “Reseda Rising” project is a larger revitalization project for Sherman Way’s historic commercial corridor and would include two non-contiguous CRA properties as lynchpins in the effort.
For other parts of Los Angeles, the city was able to transfer a pipeline of affordable housing projects, as well as some unspent affordable housing and general redevelopment purpose bonds. Once those projects are completed, however, there will be no more traditional tax increment funds to devote to redevelopment. Los Angeles is currently gearing up to establish a new type of agency that will take the place of the former redevelopment agencies. This model, provisionally referred to as Community Revitalization and Investment Authorities (CRIAs), would provide a minimum 25 percent work programs for affordable housing, with the intention to put a focus on challenged neighborhoods. Unlike the former CRAs, CRIAs would be run by separate boards composed of elected officials and at least two public members.
But the new agencies would be working with nearly 70 percent fewer funds under the CRIA model in accordance with restrictions governor Brown has set out in AB107 and other respective bills. When asked, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office couldn’t give benchmark dates or a timeline for this kind of reorganization, but re-emphasized the mayor’s strong desire to get 100,000 new housing units built in the city by 2021 (Under the mayor’s plan, outlined in 2014, 30,000 new building permits for housing have already been issued as of September 2015.)
Meanwhile, San Francisco will use its reinstated funds to finance a few key housing projects, but the city also negotiated to spend a portion of reactivated funds to implement the Transbay Redevelopment—a large-scale neighborhood and transportation redevelopment atop derelict and demolished highway ramps that were damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Currently used for parking, the mixed-use, transit-oriented neighborhood will comprise approximately seven million square feet of residential, office, retail, hotel, and park spaces, but 1,200 new units reserved for very low, low, and moderate income households (befitting SB 107 requirements). The project between the South of Market Street area and Rincon Hill on San Francisco’s east side also features a 1,100-foot tall-skyscraper by Pelli Clarke Pelli—the Salesforce Tower. San Francisco was able to continue with the Transbay Redevelopment in part because it is a continuation of funds originally allocated through a CRA, and also because of sheer political will and a big lobbying effort.
Other cities continue to fight for what they view are their legal rights to the property taxes and accrued interest that made up their local CRA funds. Watsonville and Glendale’s lawsuits against the California Department of Finance were settled in the municipalities’ favor, but hundreds of others remain unresolved.
Back in Reseda, councilmember Blumenfield is looking ahead to the economic development opportunities in his district, despite the looming questions about what kind of new agency might accommodate such projects in the future. “If we don’t spend the excess bond money from a development perspective, it’s just gone,” he said. “In my district we need market rate housing and affordable housing. We might be able to use some of the bond money to build affordable housing. Instead of traditional redevelopment funding, there are other options, such as borrowing on future tax revenue or subverting funds back into a project—these are just another shade of the same color.”