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Author/Activist Randy Shaw on ‘Generation Priced Out’

Author, attorney and activist Randy Shaw visited UCLA Luskin on April 15, 2019, to discuss his latest book, “Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America.” As the working and middle classes find themselves priced out by skyrocketing rents and home values, Shaw dissected the causes and consequences of the national housing crisis. Shaw is a housing policy influencer and advocate for people experiencing homelessness. In 1980, he co-founded the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, San Francisco’s leading provider of housing for homeless single adults. At the talk hosted by Urban Planning, Shaw said he decided to write “Generation Priced Out,” his sixth book on activism, after the 2016 Ghost Ship tragedy, which resulted in the deaths of 36 people when a fire broke out in a former warehouse in Oakland. Shaw initially planned to focus on Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland but ended up broadening the scope of his book to include other progressive cities that claim to support inclusion, including Austin, Denver and Portland. Shaw said the book highlights the hypocritical rhetoric of progressive cities whose policies price out working-class people. Many books about gentrification are misleading, he added. The absence of affordable housing policy and opposition to new construction contribute to the gentrification of urban spaces, he said. While discussions about gentrification often villainize developers, Shaw argued that “the real profiteers of gentrification are homeowners.” To solve the national housing crisis, Shaw advocates for a combination of rent control and housing construction. — Zoe Day

Reality Check for Newsom’s Housing Crisis Plan

A new UCLA report casts doubt on the feasibility of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s campaign promise to address California’s housing affordability crisis by building 3.5 million new homes by 2025. The policy brief from the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies shows that cities and counties have the capacity to construct just 2.8 million new housing units. The report adds that “historically, only a fraction of planned units are actually built” due to limited demand, community opposition and other factors. The report also found that “much of the planned capacity is located in the relatively lower-demand, more rural parts of the state. … High-demand communities do not plan for or permit housing, and planned capacity in low-demand areas remains unbuilt.” The brief, titled “Not Nearly Enough: California Lacks Capacity to Meet Lofty Housing Goals,” is based on research conducted by Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and Spike Friedman, an urban planning master’s student. Monkkonen is senior fellow for housing policy at the Lewis Center. The researchers examined data from 525 municipalities and unincorporated areas, which are mandated to zone for sufficient new housing construction to accommodate population growth. The brief highlights the obstacles created by the state’s zoning policies and the difficulty Newsom will face in meeting his stated goal. With California’s current construction patterns averaging 80,000 new housing units per year, the governor’s plan would require a sevenfold increase in housing construction. — Zoe Day


Lens, Manville Shape Discussion of How Housing Can Be Coupled to Transit L.A.’s future must accommodate a shift in housing concentrated not where transit lines used to run but where they go today — or will be soon

By Naveen Agrawal

With Metro spending billions of dollars in Los Angeles over the next few years and transit-oriented development seen as key to denser building, encouraging ridership and mitigating environmental issues, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies hosted a panel on Feb. 20, 2019, around the topic of coupling more housing to transit.

Held in partnership with the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate as part of the Housing, Equity and Community Series, the event focused on some of the latest local and statewide developments. It featured a panel of professional and practicing experts moderated by Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA Luskin and associate director of the Lewis Center.

Framing the discussion was UCLA Urban Planning Associate Professor Michael Manville, who shared results from a recently released Lewis Center report on what a transit-oriented future might look like, focusing on five current — and two planned — Metro rail and bus stations. The report emphasized the impact that land use patterns can have on transit ridership and neighborhood quality, and it offered recommendations for future zoning scenarios.

Manville spoke of framing a narrative around two different transit and housing systems: what we have and what we want. Among the discrepancies between the visions is that much of the city’s housing is concentrated around where train stations used to be — not where they are today.

Arthi Varma, deputy director of the city’s planning department, shared some of the early results of its Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) Affordable Housing Incentive Program. Created in November 2016 by voter approval of Measure JJJ, the TOC program is a local-density program available within one-half mile of major transit stops.

In 2018, its first full year of implementation, half of all applications for new dwelling units were filed under the TOC program, Varma said. Of the applications received since the program has been active, 18 percent (2,377 out of 13,305) are affordable units. The Planning Department issues quarterly housing reports.

Laura Raymond, director of the Alliance for Community Transit, shared her perspective on the development of the TOC program. In particular, she emphasized that many low-income communities surveyed by her organization expressed strong preference for increased density.

From a community organizing perspective, this issue is one that spans transit and housing, Raymond stressed, but discussion is also needed around labor markets and the types of jobs created near transit — as well as environmental justice.

Elizabeth Machado, an attorney at Loeb & Loeb, LLP, provided an overview of the factors that make it difficult to build in Los Angeles, which include the high price of land, zoning limitations and political challenges. The state has delegated most planning and zoning issues to localities, Machado said, but she noted the introduction of SB 50 as a move by Sacramento to accelerate local governance or force action from the top down.

Monkkonen Critiques California Governor-Elect’s Ambitious Housing Proposal

California governor-elect Gavin Newsom’s plan to solve California’s housing crisis were critiqued by Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen in a recent article on Curbed. Newsom and Monkkonen agree that California’s current housing crisis is the result of “an underwhelming amount of housing production … contributing to escalating rents and home prices,” but they disagree on the approach to a solution. Monkokken argues that while Newsom’s proposed construction of 3.5 million new housing units by 2025 sounds appealing, “it’s harder to figure out how to actually make that work.” Newsom’s plan would require an unprecedented construction boom and matching investment in infrastructure; Monkkonen points out the “restrictive zoning requirements” as a significant obstacle “that make dense housing extremely difficult to construct.” He concludes that the priority should be “[finding] a way to ensure housing construction keeps pace with demand” instead of Newsom’s focus on “[reaching] a specific number of units.”


Boyle Heights, Gentrification and Beyond

The UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy hosted a panel discussion on Nov. 1, 2017, focusing on the current state of Boyle Heights as a microcosm for a larger conversation about the rise of gentrification and the slew of other issues to which it contributes in Los Angeles. “Gentrification and its Discontents: Boyle Heights and Beyond” included Rina Palta of KPCC News as moderator; Professors Abel Valenzuela and Eric Avila, whose appointments include positions in UCLA Luskin Urban Planning; Cecilia Estolano MA UP ’91, co-CEO of Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors; and Steve Lopez, a Los Angeles Times columnist. The discussion was followed by an enthusiastic Q&A that included a detailed political history of rent control in Los Angeles from Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative. Access a Flickr gallery of photos by Aaron Julian from the event below.

Boyle Heights and Beyond

Getting Transportation Forecasts Right — as Often as Possible In 10th annual Martin Wachs Distinguished Lecture, Professor Joseph Schofer of Northwestern University says systematic learning from experience is vital when predicting the outcome of major infrastructure projects

By Les Dunseith

In the realm of transportation planning, significant time, effort and money go into the process of forecasting, but the gap between predicted outcomes and reality remains a persistent problem for many projects.

“Forecasts don’t always get it right,” said Joseph Schofer, professor of civil and environmental engineering and associate dean of faculty affairs at Northwestern University. Schofer spoke on the topic of forecasting the future during the 10th annual Martin Wachs Distinguished Lecture, held at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs on April 4, 2017.

The Wachs Distinguished Lecture features prominent and innovative scholars and policy makers who draw on many years of research and thinking in the field of transportation. Created by the students in honor of Emeriti Professor Wachs, the lecture rotates between UCLA and UC Berkeley, respectively.

This year’s lecture invitee, Joe Schofer, provided a wide-ranging view about forecasting – a prominent feature of transportation planning. In Schofer’s talk titled “When Forecasting Fails: Making Infrastructure Decisions in an Uncertain World,” he explained that learning to accept the inherent limitations of the forecasting process is a necessary first step in helping planners improve their predictions of cost, utilization, performance and impact.

“Don’t expect that the gap between predicted outcomes and reality is going to get really small,” Schofer told a crowd of more than 50 scholars, planning professionals and transportation decision-makers who came to hear him. “The world is changing at a faster and faster pace. And those big sources of uncertainty — sources of risk — often are outside the transportation system.”

Schofer’s lecture focused less on the shortcomings of forecasting than on “improving decisions by systematic learning from experience,” as Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies and professor of urban planning, described the topic during his introduction of Schofer.

Schofer acknowledged the significance of the occasion during his opening remarks, taking a moment to recognize the presence in the audience of his “dear friend and colleague of a lot of years. This is not just another lecture. It’s me giving the Martin Wachs lecture,” said Schofer, who also cited Wachs’ “immeasurable impact on ideas in transportation, transportation planning, transportation policy and transportation finance.”

On Limitiations

In his lecture, Schofer focused on “what we can do in a situation where we don’t always get it right.”

For starters, he said, planners need to understand that they can never know everything there is to know about the dynamics of human behavior. It’s also important to keep in mind the rapid pace of change in today’s world.

“Changes that are going on right now literally make it impossible to forecast what the future is going to be like,” Schofer said. He pointed to examples such as the proliferation of cellphones, which enhance the speed of communication but negatively impact the capacity to do telephone-based polling research.

Schofer also pointed to other factors that limit forecast accuracy. “Data aren’t complete. There might be better models that we can use. Perhaps those models are not even available to us yet,” he said.

Although transportation experts are making strides and “using better and better data all the time, it’s not a calculus problem; we will not get infinitely close to zero error,” Schofer said.

He also noted that it’s common for forecasts to be impacted by unforeseen factors. For instance, major infrastructure projects often experience cost overruns and construction delays when previously unknown grave sites of historical or cultural significance are found during excavation.

On Being Grounded

Dealing with uncertainty may be avoided if planners make an effort to ground their projects firmly in the reality of previous experience. When forecasting a new project, planners must “ground that by finding out what someone else has experienced,” Schofer said.

The idea of looking at case studies and data related to past events is an essential element of evidence-based decision making, he said.

Some projects face the added complication of being based on visionary thinking — the “visionary ideas of interesting people,” he said. “It’s very difficult in a forecasting situation to go against that because you are dealing with somebody who has a firmly held vision, who is really committed to a particular idea.”

The goals of a visionary leader may outweigh an expert’s forecasts in the decision-making process, Schofer noted. The upside, he said, is that a diligent and resourceful planner can seize the opportunity in these situations to approach that visionary leader directly.

“You may be able to get his or her attention, which may be an opportunity to talk about a more realistic forecast,” Schofer said.

In most circumstances, however, it’s data that drives forecasting, and Schofer said he has seen some promising signs in getting access to better and more useful information.

Among the notable efforts he cited was a federal effort to mine existing administrative data, not to collect new information, to make better-informed decisions during evaluation of social programs.

In the medical field, he noted an effort known as the Cochrane Collaboration that is a loose confederation of people in medical research around the world who have an agreement to produce evidence-based information and to advocate for sharing of that information.

“A bunch of people around the world who have agreed to share data, agreed to work together, are bringing together data from a variety of studies to amplify the impact of that data,” Schofer said.

It’s a model that could easily translate to transportation planning, he said, an “opportunity to look at cases, to bring cases together, and to codify that.”

Schofer envisions a sharing of information among scholars, doctoral researchers, professionals and, perhaps, even journalists, in which information about the success or failure of infrastructure projects would be gathered into a database that could be accessed by “every one of us who wants to ask the question, “How well is this going to work in my town?’”

The shared data would be available for forecasters to evaluate, either analytically or qualitatively, and decide if there’s something useful from which they can learn.

For this type of case-based reasoning, it’s important to have a large dataset from which to draw conclusions. It’s also important for the cases to be kept up-to-date.

“The cases that we studied two years ago or 10 years ago, those are dead,” Schofer said. “We have to look at what’s happening right now.”

On Being Flexible

Given the limitations they face, Schofer said, it’s also important for transportation forecasters to be flexible in their thinking. In his lecture, he called this strategic incrementalism.

Think of it as hedging against uncertainty, he said, “getting ready for something different to happen that you didn’t expect to happen, and maybe putting some dollars against it, so that you are ready for it. So you can preserve future flexibility.”

In practical terms, this might mean erecting a building at a certain height but with the foundation and structure to allow it to become taller should the need for additional space later arise. It could mean building a bridge with one roadway but adequate architectural support to add a second deck later.

It means taking a long view when building major infrastructure projects, then monitoring, collecting data and watching closely to see how the new project actually gets used. If a project has design flexibility in the beginning, any future expansions can proceed at greater speed and at lower cost.

“We have to convey the notion of flexibility and adaptability and real options with the public and decision-makers,” Schofer said. “What you need to say is: “Let’s be a little looser about this, a little more flexible, to get what you really need.’”

Making better decisions in an uncertain world, Schofer said, involves collecting, analyzing and sharing as much data as planners can. Better information leads to better forecasting.

“In the end,” Schofer said, “it’s all about learning.”

 

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.