Manville on the California Housing Crisis

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to Reason about the California housing crisis. Manville attributed the crisis to severe constraints placed on building new housing. “The hallmark of a housing crisis is not that your new housing is expensive. New housing has always been more expensive than existing housing. The hallmark of a housing crisis is when a junky-looking bungalow in Venice costs $1 million that was built in 1985,” Manville said. He explained that “we don’t allow enough new housing to sort of contain this price appreciation.” The article notes that the relationship between cities and developers is complicated. If local governments stop limiting new housing development, they will lose the ability to gain concessions, often in the form of community spaces and services, from developers, Manville said.


 

Manville, Monkkonen Investigate Roots of Animosity Toward Housing Developers

UCLA associate professors Michael Manville and Paavo Monkkonen were recently featured in an article on Sightline highlighting their research on neighborhood opposition to new building. Even more than perceived harm and self-interest, Manville and Monkkonen found that “the most powerful opposition frame is about the developer,” specifically when a developer “is likely to earn a large profit from the building.” Despite the apparent motivation to “enforce community norms of fairness” by reining in developers who strive to maximize personal profits, Manville and Monkkonen note the potential flaws of this approach. Manville and Monkkonen illustrate the potentially “vicious cycle of regulation and resentment” as a result of anti-developer attitudes in which “punishing developers … [risks] thwarting affordability, punishing people who need homes, [and] discouraging all but the least likable, deepest-pocketed and most aggressive developers from building.” Despite the foundations of a moral argument against profit-driven developers, Manville and Monkkonen propose a shift in focus to the accessibility and affordability of “homes of all shapes and sizes [for] neighbors of all income levels.”


Manville Comments on L.A. Traffic, Public Transportation and Potential Solutions

UCLA Luskin transportation expert Michael Manville is featured in a podcast and short film about traffic and public transit in Los Angeles. Besides negative impacts on drivers’ health, wallets and mental well-being, traffic is a large issue for people living near large roads, who may suffer harmful consequences from pollutants. In the NPR podcast, “The One Way to Reduce Traffic,” Manville, an associate professor, argues that the solution to traffic jams is to “price roads with a congestion charge, a dynamic type of toll that would rise and fall based on the demand for the road at different times of day.” Manville explains that the “majority of the delay in traffic is caused by the last few cars getting on the road.” A toll that would get 4-5 percent of drivers off the road could increase average speed by 15-20 percent. In his Streetfilms appearance, Manville highlights the limitations of Los Angeles’ approach to public transportation. With bus ridership falling and a prioritization of cars over buses, Manville identifies the root of the issue as a “fight over space.” He stresses urgency, saying “congestion in our major urban areas is getting worse.”


 

Easing Traffic Congestion Isn’t a One-Way Street, Manville Says

Michael Manville of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning commented in a Los Angeles Times op-ed article that weighed proposed solutions to traffic congestion in L.A. neighborhoods. The article highlights research that suggested reconfiguring narrow streets in the city’s smaller neighborhoods to one-way as a way to make streets more efficient and increase vehicle capacity. However, some U.S. cities have converted one-way streets back to two-way in an effort to slow traffic and increase safety for drivers, pedestrians and others. “We need to think about streets as more than conduits. They are multipurpose public spaces,” said Manville, suggesting that increased traffic speed does not necessarily improve a city’s quality of life.


 

Manville Comments on Boston Plan to Relieve Traffic Congestion

Luskin Urban Planning’s Michael Manville commented in a recent Boston Globe story on Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s rejection of an attempt to alleviate the city’s traffic congestion through a toll discount for off-peak commuters. Baker sent a previously approved pilot provision back to the Legislature to conduct a new study of the growing problem. “Massachusetts is a natural place to try this,” said Manville, who grew up north of Boston. “It’s the kind of place that can be bold and do an experiment like this.”


 

Gridlock Rage: Manville Offers Possible Traffic Solutions for Los Angeles

UCLA Luskin’s Michael Manville recently did an on-camera interview for Fox 11 News about possible solutions to traffic gridlock in Los Angeles. The piece by reporter Phil Shuman is also available for viewing with a short text summary on the station’s website.


 

UCLA Parking Guru Releases Follow-Up to Groundbreaking Book Donald Shoup’s ‘Parking and the City’ highlights progress in parking reform research and action, as former doctoral students form a new generation of planning scholars making important contributions

By Stan Paul

“A city where everyone happily pays for everyone else’s free parking is a fool’s paradise.”
— Donald Shoup, “Parking and the City”

“Parking is no longer uncool,” says Donald Shoup, whose newly published book, “Parking and the City,” highlights the remarkable interest, implementation of reforms and growth of research that followed his landmark 2005 publication, “The High Cost of Free Parking.”

The new book, by the distinguished research professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, serves as an update to work that has caught the attention of leaders and lawmakers, and proven influential locally, nationally and internationally.

“Parking is the Cinderella of transportation,” writes Shoup in his introduction, explaining that the field received little attention or status for many years. More recently, “many academics have joined in what is now almost a feeding frenzy. … Parking is far too important not to study,” asserts Shoup, who started as a lone pioneer in the field more than four decades ago.

“Parking is the single biggest land use in most cities; there’s more land devoted to parking than there is to housing or industry or commerce or offices,” said Shoup in an interview. Citing “The High Cost of Free Parking,” he reminds readers that Los Angeles has more parking spaces per square mile than any other city.

In his new book, Shoup reiterates and distills the earlier 800-page work into three recommended parking reforms designed to improve cities, the economy and the environment:

  • Remove off-street parking requirements
  • Charge the right prices for on-street parking
  • Spend the parking revenue to improve public services on the metered streets

“Each of these policies supports the other two,” writes Shoup. They counteract what he describes as “three unwisely adopted car-friendly policies” that arose from the beginning of the automobile age: separated land uses, low density, and ample free parking to create drivable cities while undermining walkable neighborhoods.

Shoup persistently advocates for removal of off-street parking requirements, allowing developers and businesses to decide how much parking to provide. Charging the “right price,” or lowest price — varying dynamically throughout the day — that can keep a few spaces open, will allow convenient access, ease congestion, conserve fuel, and reduce pollution caused by unnecessary idling and block-circling. In support of the third point, Shoup hypothesizes, “If everybody sees their meter money at work, the new public services can make demand-based prices for on-street parking politically popular.”

Shoup first wrote about parking in 1975. “I don’t think my ideas have changed at all,” he says. “But, I’ve learned an enormous amount since then.”

As part of his ongoing research, Shoup visits cities, talks to public officials and asks what works and what doesn’t.

“Parking and the City” includes 51 chapters that summarize recent academic research on parking, detailing the experiences of practitioners who charge market prices for on-street parking. In addition, the chapters explain how Shoup’s three recommendations, if followed, “…may be the cheapest, fastest, and simplest way to improve cities, the economy, and the environment, one parking space at a time.”

Among the 46 contributors are 11 former UCLA Luskin Urban Planning master’s and doctoral students who are making their own significant contributions to the field. Former planning student Michael Manville, now an assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, contributed four chapters.

“The way cities approach parking has massive consequences for how we travel, how our cities look, and how and where we build housing,” Manville says. “Don saw this before almost anyone else, and pursued it unlike anyone else.”

“What this book showcases is Don’s equal talents as a researcher, mentor and activist. His talents as a researcher are evident in the groundswell of parking research that he inspired.  It is safe to say that many of the chapters in this book would not have been written had Don not published “The High Cost of Free Parking.” His talents as a mentor are on display in the number of former students who are doing that research,” Manville says.

“I think they have gone completely in their own direction,” Shoup says of his former students. “I hope I helped in that regard.”

“Parking and the City,” a Planners Press Book, is available through Routledge.

New Report From the Institute of Transportation Studies

Can L.A. Fix its Broken Planning System? UCLA Luskin urban planners discuss the challenges — and possible solutions — to L.A.’s development woes

By Les Dunseith

“In Los Angeles, we do have a rather broken planning system,” Michael Lens, an assistant professor of urban planning, said during an interview after the defeat of a controversial ballot initiative, Measure S, that had sought to clamp down on Los Angeles development.

Lens and other UCLA Luskin faculty members with expertise in housing density, land use and the related issues of home affordability and transportation say Measure S reflected long-simmering dissatisfaction with how vital decisions about growth, density and housing affordability are made. And they hope increased public awareness will lead to positive change in the state’s planning process.

“L.A. has a very low-density zoning law,” explained Michael Manville MA ’03 PhD ’09, an assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin. “Its general plan is set up for the city as it was 40 years ago. The zoning never caught up with the fact that L.A. became much more urban.

“Now, as a result, in many parts of the city, to build any kind of housing that we actually need — multifamily housing — it’s illegal.”

That means that a zoning exception must be granted for large housing projects, which leads to often-protracted negotiations between developers and members of the L.A. City Council.

“There is a feeling — that is often true — that developers can get something built if they give enough money to the right council member in the right circumstance,” Lens said. “Then the developers build something big where the community never expected something big to go.”

The current process often frustrates citizens, but the benefits to select policymakers and large real estate developers get in the way of reform efforts, Manville noted.

“Developers who can afford to play the game like it,” Manville said, noting that although they must wait as long as a year to start building on land that is sitting unused during negotiations, the developers end up with the “right to build extra units in a very hot property market. And that probably means more profit.”

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Paavo Monkkonen MPP ’05 recently analyzed California’s ongoing housing crisis in a policy brief, or white paper, that provides a detailed look at why people are deeply troubled by the current process as outlined in California’s General Plan and various community plans that govern housing density decisions.

“One of the main things I learned in writing the white paper is that nobody likes new development near them,” Monkkonen said.

The result is a Catch-22 that squeezes the general public from both directions, leaving the average L.A. resident with a choice between paying high rent or seeking a risky loan to buy a home they really can’t afford.

‘A City Can Only Sprawl So Far’

A look at the population and housing numbers for Los Angeles clearly illustrates the problem, said UCLA Luskin’s Joan Ling MA UP ‘82, a longtime lecturer in urban planning who has deep experience in real estate analysis and affordable housing. She cited a study by Greg Morrow PhD ’13. “In 1960, there were 2 million people living in the City of Los Angeles, and the zoning capacity was set for 10 million people. In 2010, the city’s population was 4 million people, but the zoning capacity had been reduced to 4.3 million. So, in fact, we had enough zoning capacity for only 200,000 to 300,000 in additional growth.”

It’s a bad situation that is projected to get even worse. By 2040, Los Angeles is projected to grow by another 800,000 people.

“So where are these people going to go?” Ling asked. “That’s the real problem.”

California has enticing natural features. But most areas are unsuitable for human occupation, or the land is already used by industry or agriculture.

“A city can only sprawl so far,” Ling explained, noting that traffic in Southern California has become a daily nightmare for many people.

The NIMBY (not in my back yard) syndrome is an ever-present issue in California, Monkkonen said. When a new, higher-density project is proposed almost anywhere, neighborhoods rise up to block it. “So this is what happens when we have built horizontally to the fringes of the metropolitan area as much as commute times will allow — we get traffic jams and a lack of affordable housing,” he explained.

California’s flawed system of zoning effectively blocks housing affordability, according to several faculty members in the Department of Urban Planning. For example, Monkkonen noted that condos are much cheaper to build and thus much more affordable than single-family homes, but condos “are illegal in 75 percent of L.A. Effectively, using the power of the state, we have prevented the majority of the people in the U.S. and the majority of the people in L.A. from ever buying a home.”

The state’s love of automobiles and its idyllic notion of cul-de-sac suburbs — the California Dream itself — is part of the problem.

“People come here with a certain picture of Los Angeles,” Lens noted. “A place with yards. A place where you have the freedom to get in your car and go where you need to go.”

‘A Horrible Place to Walk or Bike’

It’s a belief system that also contributes to a popular “American idea that when you talk about density, you talk about high-rise buildings,” Manville said. “Not too many people understand that Paris is twice as dense as New York City, and Paris has no high-rise buildings. It’s just that it’s consistently four to six stories.”

Manville thinks that Los Angeles could get a lot denser, and yet remain livable, just by turning many single-story neighborhoods into two-story neighborhoods, especially along major boulevards.

“L.A. has pulled off this amazing trick, where you have a city in which large portions are relatively flat, where the weather is always nice, and it’s a horrible place to walk or bike,” Manville said.

Certainly, a denser neighborhood is going to end up with more congestion, Manville acknowledged. “But the thing that people forget is that most of their driving probably isn’t in their neighborhood. If [new housing] is not built in their neighborhood, then it’s going to be built somewhere. And they’re probably still going to encounter those cars somewhere else.”

If the density is done well, then people experience more opportunities not to be in their cars. “If the density isn’t done well, then you can get the worst of all worlds,” he said.

A denser neighborhood, if it’s designed carefully, becomes a more pleasant place to walk and live. Manville points to London, which embraced the idea that to manage its congestion, it needed to charge people to drive.

“If you actually do something that makes congestion better — which is what charging does and nothing else does — then you can knock down a lot of the concerns about more density. And a lot more good things can flow from that,” Manville said.

The congestion toll in London has added housing and allowed transportation authorities to “take back a lot of the space that had previously been allocated to cars,” Manville said. “There are just so many more sidewalks and bicycle lanes and lanes dedicated to buses that make the transit go much faster.”

Monkkonen points to Vancouver, Canada, as another potential model for Los Angeles. “It’s a place where single-family home neighborhoods have had the density increased without changing how it looks. In Vancouver, they have a basement unit, a ground-level unit and a second-floor unit. They look like single-family homes, but there are actually three households there.”

The only way to handle a constantly growing population, Monkkonen argued, is to set aside our neighborhood-based ideals and look at the region as a whole.

Like her colleagues, Ling sees the need to increase housing density in Los Angeles, but it is “equally important to require that this density be coupled with inclusionary zoning.
A proportion of this extra density must be built as affordable housing.”

In downtown Los Angeles, a boom in construction has brought gleaming new high-rises along with a handful of medium-density projects. Most people think downtown is better now, Ling said, but it’s not a model that works throughout the city.

A Tipping Point for California?

Where, then, should the new housing be built?

“That’s the question,” Ling said. “Where are we going to put it? If this planning was rational, we would put them where the density is most-suited, where people most want to live. But, in reality, issues like this are very much decided on the local level, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, district-by-district.”

In Monkkonen’s view, the best chance to solve California’s housing crisis lies at the state level. In his white paper, he says the state should take action by enforcing and enhancing existing laws, developing ways to make planning decisions at a metropolitan, not neighborhood, scale.

“As long as cities decide within their boundaries where to put the housing, it will work,” Monkkonen said of the idea. “The state would just say, ‘You must have housing,’ and enforce the rules if cities do not comply.”

The state has had rules on the books for 40 years to promote the creation of new housing, but they are rarely enforced. Perhaps California has reached a tipping point that would make state action more feasible?

“Oregon gets a lot of attention in planning scholarship,” Manville said. “They do have a very strong statewide land use program, where the state plays a very active role.”

California could do it too, even in places where resistance would be strong.

These ideas — stronger statewide leadership, looser zoning laws, smarter growth, improved transit, denser housing — are viewed by the UCLA Luskin faculty members as essential changes. Despite the disenchantment that spawned Measure S and similar outcries over growth, they remain generally upbeat about the region’s prospects for a more livable future.

In 20 years, Ling said, “I hope we would live comfortably and closely together, in a city were we don’t need to drive anymore because there will be autonomous cars that move us from our house to the transit station. I’d like L.A. to look like many of the arrondissements in central Paris, filled with six-story buildings in a walkable neighborhood.

“That’s what I would like to see. And we have to believe that it’s possible,” she said, pausing a moment to consider what may happen if the advice of planners like her continues to go unheard. “Otherwise, it could be very bad.”

A Case of Arrested Development UCLA faculty members join the discussion on an upcoming city ballot measure that could block big development projects in Los Angeles for two years

By Zev Hurwitz

The merits of an upcoming ballot initiative, Measure S, that would mean big changes for big development projects in the city brought together a panel of UCLA faculty members.

If passed by voters in March 2017, Measure S would impose a temporary moratorium on development projects that require changes to zoning, land use and building height laws in Los Angeles. In addition, the measure would restrict other changes and impose mandatory review procedures to the Los Angeles General Plan, while preventing project applicants from conducting their own Environmental Impact Reports (EIR).

“If you’re a developer and you want to do some affordable housing … it would be informally discouraged in wealthier areas,” said Joan Ling, a longtime lecturer in the UCLA Luskin Department of Urban Planning. “There’s a lot of talk about reforming land use laws in L.A., but there’s very little desire for actual results because the councilmembers want control of what gets built and that is tied to election campaign fundraising.”

In addition to Ling, the panel, which was produced by the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studiesincluded urban planning faculty members Paavo Monkkonen and Michael Manville. Jonathan Zasloff, a professor of Law at UCLA School of Law, also joined the conversation, which was moderated by Rosslyn “Beth” Hummer, the chair of the Land Use Planning and Environmental Subcommittee of the Real Property Section of the L.A. County Bar Association.

Michael Lens, assistant professor of urban planning, introduced the panel and gave background on the ballot measure. Most panelists oppose Measure S, he noted, but the goal of the forum was to forecast both electoral scenarios.

“Measure S is something that urban planners should be informed about,” he said to an audience comprised mostly of master’s students in UCLA Luskin’s program. “Our goal here is not to push you in any one direction. We’re hoping to provide you with the best possible projections for what might happen if Measure S is actually passed.”

Ling talked about the housing regulatory infrastructure in the city, the leadership of which includes a planning director designated by the mayor and the 15-member City Council. She described the zoning and development realities for what she referred to as Los Angeles’ three cities, “the rich areas, the very low-income areas and the transitional areas.”

Monkkonen discussed a recent White Paper he authored in which concerns of residential leaders about construction in California were voiced. He identified several major reasons why neighborhoods and NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) leaders opposed big development projects.

“Some people have concerns about the built environment of their neighborhoods,” Monkkonen said. “They’re concerned about strains on services, their roads, their schools. They have anger at developers for being rich and seeming to get away with things.”

Zasloff noted that the movement to put Measure S and similar initiatives on the ballot is not uncommon for residents who want to maintain the status quo for housing in their neighborhoods.

“When you consider that the vast majority of wealth for many Americans is tied up in their house … many people are scared for what this is going to do to their property values,” he said. “It’s a real concern for people when they set financial expectations for themselves and aren’t sure where to go with them.”

Opponents of big development projects are often concerned about increases in traffic resulting from new population density. Manville said he thinks Measure S would provide little benefit regarding congestion, however.

“It ends up being a very small and uncertain reduction in traffic, played against a much more certain cost in housing prices,” Manville said.

The measure is opposed by the Los Angeles chapters of both the Democratic and Republican parties —giving it a rare bipartisan opposition.

Asked to name one positive that is coming out of the Measure S movement, Zasloff replied that the threat of ballot items similar to Measure S keeps pressure on local elected officials to be more involved with constituency planning.

“If there were a way to scare the bejesus out of City Council on a regular basis, that would probably be helpful,” he said.

The forum was co-sponsored by the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate and drew more than 50 students, faculty and community members. Additional resources, including a video, case law and information about other Measure S events, can be found here.