Los Angeles Zoning Antiquated after Covid

Developed prior to Covid, this large complex (under construction), is located at Bundy and Olympic Boulevard near the transit line. The 807,000 square foot development will have eight stories of office space, 600 luxury rental apartments, a grocery store and eight restaurants. Twenty percent of housing will be set aside for workforce and very low-income households.  Photo: Hines


Experts have argued that to make Los Angeles a great city, there must be large-scale affordable housing built along transit corridors. Experts say that not only will it solve a housing problem, but also take care of the car problem.

L.A.’s Chief Design Officer Christopher Hawthorne, professor of the practice of English at USC Dornsife and former architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times was quoted in a 2020 article, “Those two building blocks, how we live and how we get around, are undergoing dramatic reinvention as L.A. moves toward a future that actually looks a lot more like its past — a city with a bustling downtown, that’s more connected, that has more affordable housing, more successful public open spaces and a mature and comprehensive transit system.”

The biggest companies, Amazon and Microsoft started constructing massive buildings for the inflex of workers in Bellevue, Washington. Amazon had planned six buildings.

Skyscrapers shot out from the ground, the housing and rent prices were higher than in Manhattan. It was supposed to be the next mecca, where people from all around the world would flock in droves to work and live in this new city.

Then Covid, the pandemic and remote work happened. Now Bellevue, is a ghost town with many of the buildings remaining empty. Others that started construction, will finish the skeleton, but plan to leave the rest empty. Those that were planned to be built were mothballed.

Apple’s headquarters in the San Jose area has postponed plans to bring employees back to the office.

“Office-bound work is a technology from the last century,” Apple workers wrote in an open letter signed by 1,445 current and former employees. “Commuting to the office, without an actual need to be here, is a huge waste of time. … Many of us spend several hours every day commuting to and from the office, only to be in an environment where we can do our work less well or be on a video call anyway.”

The word “Untransit” was coined by Stephanie M. Stern in a paper (“Untransit: Remote Work and the Transformation of Zoning”) showing the implications with remote work and the “Land use Laws.”  (https://www-cdn.law.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Online-Edition-Stern.pdf).

She said in the introduction that “remote work is poised to transform land use law by untethering labor from centralized workplaces and blurring the boundaries between work and home.”

Even though L.A. is not an exact replica of Bellevue, there are some key take aways that should be addressed before LA continues to pour billions into housing that may remain empty and transit that is not used.

In LA, many buildings for housing for low-income earners and very low-income earners, are constructed near major transit stops to help with commuting to work.

However, many low-incomes earners are employed with manual labor jobs, which require them to drive to work taking their equipment with them. Not many workers will be on a metro with a leaf blower.

If those apartments are targeted as luxury, many of those people work or will work at least part time remotely—and parking, which is not required in many of these transit building, may be needed.

Shouldn’t LA look to Bellevue as an example of the rise of the “Untransit” society?

In 2016 in L.A., JJJ was passed by a vote of 64 percent and focuses on building affordable housing. It was dubbed “The Build Better LA Initiative.” In its preamble it cites the rampant homeless, the low wages and the climbing cost of living.

“The Project (a) is located in an area classified on January 1, 2016, as a Regional Center, a Downtown Center, in an area zoned as industrial, or a Major Transit Stop including all land withing a one-half mile radius of a Major Transit Stop; or (b) each residential unit in the project exclusive of a manager’s unit or units, is affordable to , and occupied by , either a Lower or Very Low Income household.”

The bill it gives developers carte blanche to build any building within the one-half mile radius – if they will also build low-income housing within a 3-mile radius. LA County has spent $163 million on four approved projects, with more soon to follow.

A concern that has not been fully explored and may have some legal ramifications is the use of eminent domain to build these low-income structures.

With Zoom, some workers know that much work could be done at home in pjs. Gone are the days getting stuck in traffic: taking an hour to move a mile – pondering the thought if one could park on the freeway and walk the rest of the way. With less and less people participating in the commute to work, is it a smart idea to build housing next to major transit stops?

JJJ was passed before Covid and before working from home was the norm. Should we not amend the bill to make it more applicable to the new normal?

“Pursuant to Charter Section 555, the City’s comprehensive General Plan may be adopted, and amended from time to time, either as a whole, by complete subject elements, by geographic areas or by portions of elements or areas, provided that any area or portion of an area has significant social, economic or physical identity.”

The West Edge is being developed by Hines, USAA Real Estates, and Philena Properties.
Architects are Togawa Smith Martin, Gensler, and RIOS.

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1 Response to Los Angeles Zoning Antiquated after Covid

  1. Joan Hill says:

    Excellent reporting as I was totally unfamiliar with JJJ. So who would be the one to stop or at least redirect the conversation and funds for housing developments? Plus who feels safe or confident riding the Metro in Santa Monica?
    Mayor, City council, city planning—-where does one go for information and register concerns? Thank you

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