Urban Planning Professor Vinit Mukhija shared his expertise on unpermitted housing units in Los Angeles on KPCC’s “Take Two” and in an LAist article. In 2019, there were more than 2,700 violations associated with unpermitted housing, but citations for these units plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving tenants in unsafe living conditions. “Unpermitted housing is very common in the city of L.A.,” Mukhija said. “People end up in illegal units because public housing assistance is extremely limited and L.A. wages haven’t kept up with skyrocketing rents for legal units.” Mukhija said many people end up “living wherever they can find housing they can afford.” The Unpermitted Dwelling Units program, created to bring units up to code, has failed to make a large difference. “I am very happy that instead of shutting down the units, the city is trying to preserve them,” Mukhija told “Take Two” in a segment beginning at minute 22:20. “But this is a difficult task.”
By Stan Paul
Leland S. Burns, UCLA emeritus professor of urban planning and a preeminent scholar of housing economics and policy, passed away at his home in Santa Monica on May 16, 2021. He was 87.
Burns, who came to UCLA seven decades before as an undergraduate student, became renowned in the United States and internationally for his work and research, which often focused on low-income housing. He was a prolific author of influential books in his field and published “The Housing of Nations” in 1977 with the late Leo Grebler, a UCLA professor of urban land economics who is considered the father of modern housing economics and housing policy.
“The book was the first international, econometric study of housing and led to much further research on the topic,” said Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and a longtime friend and colleague of Burns.
Other notable titles during Burns’ long and productive career include “The Future of Housing Markets, a New Appraisal” (1986), also co-written with Grebler, and “The Art of Planning: Selected Essays of Harvey S. Perloff ” (1985), co-edited with John Friedmann.
Burns was born in Osage, Iowa, in 1933 and came to UCLA in 1951, earning a bachelor’s in business administration in 1955, followed by an MBA in 1957. He was a Fulbright Scholar in the Netherlands and completed his Ph.D. in economics in 1961 from the Netherlands School of Economics, now Erasmus University, in Rotterdam. The same year he began teaching urban land economics at what is now the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
He later became one of the first faculty members in UCLA’s newly formed Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, where the late Harvey Perloff became dean in 1968. There, Burns held a number of leadership positions, including associate dean from 1969 to 1971 and again in 1986 as acting associate dean. He also held numerous UCLA and departmental academic administration and advisory posts, including membership on UCLA’s Committee on Academic Personnel.
Burns had a close association with Cambridge University, where he lectured for 10 years in the Department of Land Economy and was a research scholar for three decades. At Cambridge, he was a Fellow Commoner of St. Edmunds College. Throughout his career, he also held a number of research and visiting scholar appointments at institutions such as UC Berkeley and at universities in Austria, Scotland and Japan.
Burns also served as a consultant and member of numerous public agencies, commissions and boards. They include the U.S. Public Health Service, the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Highway Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
He served as a consultant to the Los Angeles Regional Transportation Study for the California State Division of Highways, as well as on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Committee on Urban Housing. Other appointments included the Economic Commission for Europe, Economic and Social Council, United Nations, Geneva; the Office of Planning and Research of the Governor of the State of California; the Coastal Conservancy; and many other government and civic entities.
He was a referee for several academic publications, including American Economic Review, Urban Studies and California Management Review, plus manuscripts for the University of California Press. From 1983-89 he was the associate editor of Urban Studies and served on the editorial board for many years.
Another of Burns’ many achievements was the house he had built in Santa Monica Canyon in 1974, Shoup said. Burns commissioned internationally renowned architect Charles Moore, who was then chair of UCLA’s Architecture Department, to design the house
“An outstanding feature of the house is the baroque pipe organ that Lee played well and often,” Shoup said, adding, “Lee was a fine musician and was connected in musical circles in the United States and Europe.”
Burn was a former colleague and friend of Dolores Hayden, professor emerita of architecture, urbanism and American studies at Yale who also formerly taught at UCLA. “He was always ready to talk through a research question about economics, planning or design.”
Students who were advised by and studied as master’s and doctoral students with Burns went on to become leaders in and out of the field of urban planning. He was doctoral dissertation chair for Kathleen M. Connell Ph.D. UP ’87, who was elected as California state controller in 1995.
He also served as academic advisor to Bish Sanyal Ph.D. UP ’84, who went on to work at the World Bank and is now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Sanyal said that Burns’ “mentorship, generosity and friendship” played a large part in his professional career, which includes serving as head of MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning and later as chair of the entire MIT faculty.
“I will miss Lee, and will remember his gentle smile — but rigorous professional standards — which helped me become who I am today,” Sanyal said.
Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the expansion of mass public transit in Los Angeles. After several years of declining ridership, Metro ridership dropped by 70% at the beginning of the pandemic. However, the city took advantage of the opportunity to accelerate construction of public transit projects like the Purple Line, which will extend from downtown Los Angeles to Westwood. Matute called the Purple Line extension “the most important transit project in America, outside of Manhattan” because it links L.A.’s high-density corridors. It also may offer a quicker route than a personal vehicle, unlike bus options that double or triple commute times if they don’t have a dedicated traffic lane. Although transit in L.A. has predominantly been used by those trying to minimize costs, the new Purple Line expansion will be significant in that it also offers a time advantage, he said.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville co-authored a StreetsBlog article about the possibility of parking reform with Assembly Bill 1401, which would eliminate minimum parking mandates for buildings near public transit in California. “Eliminating parking requirements is the simplest, most effective step that California can take to reduce carbon emissions, make housing more affordable, and increase production of homes for families across the income spectrum – all at no cost to the public,” wrote Manville and co-authors Anthony Dedousis and Mott Smith. Some opponents of the bill argue that eliminating parking requirements could harm affordable housing production by making California’s density bonus incentives less valuable. However, the authors pointed to the success of parking reform in San Diego, which eliminated parking requirements in 2019 and saw record increases in the amount of new housing built, including over 1,500 affordable homes in 2020. They see AB 1401 as an opportunity to “learn from San Diego’s success and take parking reform statewide.”
Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky and Urban Planning Associate Professor Michael Manville were featured in a Capital & Main article about the political forces that often derail Los Angeles’ efforts to solve its transit crisis. The gridlock comes as climate change is increasing pressure to transition to greener, faster and more equitable mass transit. Transit-oriented cities like Boston and New York “did not divorce the automobile; they were married to transit from the start,” Manville said. Now, Los Angeles is trying to accomplish the same feat through electoral politics and public policy. As a county supervisor 20 years ago, Yaroslavsky proposed the Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit system, which was expected to carry 7,500 riders daily when it first opened in the San Fernando Valley. By the time Yaroslavsky left office, the Orange Line was carrying 30,000 per day. “Today, if you tried to get rid of the Orange Line, people would lie in front of the tractors,” he said.
Urban Planning Associate Professor Michael Manville was featured on KCRW’s “Greater L.A.” in an episode about the impact of housing supply on rent prices. “It’s important to separate this big question of gentrification with the question of what happens to rent,” Manville said. His research has shown that adding to the housing supply lowers nearby rent, but he explained that the trend is “not always easy to see because developers like to build in places where rents are already rising.” Considering neighborhoods where housing demand is already increasing, Manville asked, “Do you want newer residents moving in and displacing residents in the existing housing, or do you want them to be in brand-new housing where, while they will change the neighborhood by their presence, they don’t put as much pressure on the existing housing stock where a lot of the current people live?”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville wrote an article for The Atlantic about the disastrous impact of parking requirements in American cities. Zoning laws that require homes and businesses to include space for parking cars have created “an unreasonable, unaffordable and unsustainable city,” he wrote. “American urban history is stained with tragic missteps and shameful injustices, so parking requirements are hardly the worst policy cities have tried. But they are notable for how much needless damage they have caused, over a long period, with few people even noticing.” Manville argued that parking mandates make driving less expensive and development more so, which in effect prioritizes the needs of cars over the needs of people. He concluded, “In an age of ostensible concern about global warming, it shouldn’t be illegal to put up a building without parking and market it to people without cars.”
The research of Urban Planning Assistant Professor V. Kelly Turner has helped to create a colorful gift for the children of Fernangeles Elementary School. A new mural melding art with science, and reflecting inspiration from youth in the community, was installed on the school’s Sun Valley campus this spring. Called “Beat the Heat,” the mural depicts a park with shade trees and a large purple paleta melting under a bright sun — all painted with a solar reflective coating that reduces surface temperatures up to 30%. Turner conducts research into the effectiveness of this coating as a climate change intervention that cities can use to combat the “urban heat island effect.” At Fernangeles Elementary, schoolchildren watched as Turner “took the temperature of the building” with a thermal camera that demonstrated the effect of the cooling paint. Turner then used the camera to measure the heat signatures of walls, the ground and a picnic table on campus, giving the students a real-world lesson in climate science. Artist Kristy Sandoval designed and painted the mural based on ideas conceived by youth from the environmental justice nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful. Mural collaborators include Dora Frietze-Armenta, Yesenia Cruz, Nicole Martinez, Diego Ortiz and Veronica Padilla of Pacoima Beautiful; Fernangeles Elementary Assistant Principal Carolina Gonzales; art historian Lizy Dastin; and Creative Paving Solutions, which manufactured the solar-reflective paint. The mural is the second spearheaded by Turner as part of a “green intervention” aimed at starting a conversation about climate change. The first, a massive rendering of the Greek god Zeus, was installed in South Los Angeles in 2019.
A Los Angeles Daily News op-ed written by UCLA doctoral student Nolan Gray featured Urban Planning faculty members Donald Shoup and Michael Manville. The piece focused on minimum parking requirements mandating that homes, offices and shops include parking spaces, as well as on Assembly Bill 1401, which would prohibit California cities from imposing these requirements within half a mile of transit — an area where residents, shoppers and employees are least likely to drive. Nolan pointed out that developers already have an incentive to include parking in order to lease or sell a space. Shoup noted that minimum parking requirements are a key culprit in the state’s affordable housing crisis because the cost of including parking gets added to rent and mortgages. Manville added that providing off-road parking is associated with a 27% increase in vehicle miles traveled and a significant increase in emissions, since people are encouraged to buy and drive cars instead of choosing more sustainable transportation options.