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Sustainable Housing, 30/10 and Public Transit in LA

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With last week's epiphany on how the unions should be investors in LA's 30/10 Initiative going nowhere, I was free to attend Wednesday's Mayoral Sustainable Housing and Transportation Summit.

30/10 is an innovative idea for accelerating construction of 12 critical voter-approved transportation construction projects in 10 years instead of 30. The conference, hosted by the Los Angeles Business Council (LABC) and now in its ninth year, brought together a well-spoken group of leaders from the real estate, transportation, government, finance and planning communities. With a strong lineup of panelists and the show ably MC'ed by City Controller Wendy Greuel, I found myself busily scribbling away as speaker after speaker described successes and the many challenges they face in working to build sustainable housing and mixed use developments in LA County and elsewhere.

LA remains one of the least affordable residential markets in the country and the conference effectively underscored the importance of removing obstacles to building in the city so that working people can find affordable, sustainable housing in safe neighborhoods with good schools within easy commuting distance of their jobs. Yes, that's a lot of modifiers.

The three panels that made up the generally well-paced program explored [different] definitions of sustainable communities, resources to support a sustainable community, and best practices for sustainable community development.

In the second panel discussion Larry Parks of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco captured the challenge explaining that affordable housing developers and transit-oriented development (TOD) advocates need to do a better job of conveying to the media and policy makers that TOD reduces the amount of household income residents must spend on transportation from 25 percent to 9 percent.

Given my bias toward transit-oriented development and sustainable communities with a strong public transit component, my favorite comments came from Metro's Art Leahy, Senior Deputy Dan Rosenfeld from Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas' office and John Huskey, CEO of Meta Housing.

I am paraphrasing, but here is what I heard them say and/or why their comments rang true.

In his comments Leahy forcefully drove home how Metro's extensive and costly building program supported by revenue from voter-approved Measure R will create a true transit system out of our already extensive collection of bus and rail lines. This will mean a significantly more transit-oriented LA, conducive to greater mobility for those smart enough, or with no choice but, to ride Metro. Unlike some others in this town who advocate for greater mass transit but don't themselves take Metro, Leahy earns our respect in part because he is a customer, as well as Metro's CEO, who uses the system as often as he can.

Rosenfeld focused on the need to rally around greater density at Metro stations and to implement changes that make land acquisition and development around the stations easier. He bemoaned the fact that South LA, from Wilshire Blvd south to Long Beach has seen no transit oriented development around its rail stations even though the area has long had the Metro Blue and Green Lines.

Huskey of Meta Housing captured my imagination with his candid comments about the challenges of developing Adams & Central, a new mixed use development in what was once the heart of LA's African-American community and an R&B and jazz Mecca. Coincidentally, at the recommendation of Councilwoman Jan Perry I had visited the impressive development which includes a Fresh & Easy supermarket just last week. At least during the day, the development and the market are the envy of most mixed use developments and supermarkets in West LA.

Many of the other speakers spoke of LA's critical 30/10 Initiative, including Metro Board member Richard Katz who reminded us that those who are speaking of the death of 30/10 are underestimating the merits of the program and the hard work that has gone into creating an infrastructure financing model for the nation. Katz' wise counsel to the media, including yours truly, is worth heeding, just as many were forecasting Measure R's demise just before it was approved by a two thirds majority of County voters in November 2008.

Given the sustainability theme, the conference featured some nice touches including a cloth conference tote that will make a nice shopping bag now that the County Board of Supervisors has passed a sweeping ban on plastic shopping bags. The wasteful bags have become known as urban tumbleweed that all too rarely gets recycled.

The LABC tote included a soon to be collectible "Watts Is Worth It" reusable coffee mug, grace à the LA Housing Authority's Jordan Downs Redevelopment.

At breakfast and lunch, what looked like biodegradable cutlery and unbleached paper napkins accompanied the food. Nice, though as Metro's Leahy noted, is there really a plentiful water source in Las Vegas, where the bottled water provided to the panelists came from? Am I the only one who remembers when conferences provided a pitcher of ice water and glasses to their presenters?

One more criticism of the otherwise excellent sustainable housing and transportation conference. It appeared as if I was as guilty as most of the other attendees in driving alone to the early morning event at UCLA's Anderson School. Maybe next year LABC can organize a shuttle from the Metro Wilshire 720 Rapid, the Metro 2 and other buses that make stops in Westwood.

All small issues. Kudos to the LABC for organizing this important conference! Oh, one more thing. The Mayor spoke as well.