Last month, the Los Angeles City Council adopted the new South and Southeast L.A. Community plans, representing the culmination of a process that began before the global recession.
The two plans, which began taking shape 10 years ago, are expected to guide land use and development in some of the City’s most marginalized communities. Planning Department officials described the two documents as the result of a concerted effort to understand community needs, and translate a shared vision into regulations.
Officials touted significant buy-in from community organizations such as SAJE, as well as a joint advisory committee for the plans, which was a first for Los Angeles. But while the main concern of the day may be gentrification, the new South and Southeast L.A. plans also incorporate new tools intended to provide new opportunities for commercial and industrial investment.
Planning Department staffers noted that one of the needs expressed most frequently by South Los Angeles residents was for better commercial services. While other areas of the city have a wealth of establishments such as grocery stores, banks, and childcare facilities, South L.A. finds itself bereft of such basic amenities.
To incentivize these types of community-serving businesses, the plans take a page from the state density bonus program. While the density program provides development incentives for projects that include affordable housing, the new South L.A. plans instead offer incentives to projects that set aside ground-floor space for neighborhood-serving retail. This component of the plan would be enforced through covenants placed on individual properties, with developers being allowed to pick from a list of suitable business types when searching for commercial tenants. Likewise, less desirable commercial uses – such as pawn shops and liquor stores – are disincentivized.
The two community plan areas are also home to vast tracts of industrial-zoned land, a legacy of the manufacturing sector that once formed the backbone of the regional economy. However, this history also means that surrounding residents have suffered the externalities of some of the area’s more noxious tenants. The plan looks to address this longstanding issue by ensuring that future industrial users are not just economic drivers, but also good neighbors.
Moving forward, industrial land in South Los Angeles will be geared towards clean technology and other less intensive uses – with mandatory soil remediation under similar standards to the Clean Up, Green Up program. The intent is to create an ecosystem with nearby institutions such as L.A. Trade Tech, where residents can learn the skills for these types of new-industry jobs.
In some cases, industrial land that is no longer viable for manufacturing purposes is being transitioned to hybrid-industrial zoning, which will allow for a gradual influx of residential and commercial uses into the area.
A key example of this trend is the Washington Boulevard corridor, one of the primary avenues for the street-running section of Metro’s Blue Line. Though previously an industrial district, the area is seeing nascent demand for transit-oriented development with the incremental expansion of Downtown Los Angeles. The emphasis on development around transit also extends beyond Washington Boulevard to other corridors within the plan areas, with higher density allowed along streets served by high-frequency bus lines, particularly at major intersections.
But the plans are also informed by ongoing fears of gentrification in many South L.A. neighborhoods. In an attempt to assuage those concerns, the twin plans incorporate policies intended to incentivize affordable housing production and that which already exists.
One example can be seen on Washington Boulevard, the aforementioned corridor served by Metro’s Blue Line. Under the Southeast L.A. plan, a purely market-rate housing complex built along Washington is limited to 1.5:1 floor area ratio, likely making construction unviable. However, projects that incorporate affordable housing can achieve a maximum 6:1 ratio, which is in line with many properties within Downtown.
Other policies include focusing new construction along major transportation corridors, as well as requiring a one-to-one replacement ratio for any rent stabilized or affordable housing demolished for a housing development.
Lastly, the plans go beyond simply regulating land use, and lay out new standards for urban design. Many of South L.A.’s commercial boulevards could function as viable retail space but have long suffered from disinvestment. The plans look to enforce pedestrian-orientation for these properties, mandating storefront windows, street-facing entrances and parking located at the back of buildings.
Developers are also offered various incentives and bonuses for providing publicly accessible open space within their projects – an amenity that is often in short supply in South L.A. While it is rare that a property owner has sufficient space on which to dedicate a new park, there are still opportunities for pedestrian plazas and other outdoor gathering areas.
The plans also give consideration to the proposed Rail to River Corridor, which reimagines a historic freight rail corridor along Slauson Boulevard with east-west bike paths and green space. Although its surroundings are currently industrial, the South L.A. plans encourage new construction to gradually turn to face the proposed active transportation corridor.