The Los Angeles Planning Commission Thursday took up the proposed Downtown Community Plan, but following several hours of presentation, public comment and some discussion, opted to resume deliberations on Aug. 26.
Whatever draft version the Planning Commission eventually signs off on will go to the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee and then the full City Council for approval. The purpose of the plan is to outline the vision for downtown, guide development and establish policies for land use in the area through the year 2040.
The Los Angeles Department of City Planning said the plan’s top goals are to:
— promote substantial growth in areas near transit, promote infill development and contribute to the city’s sustainability goals; and
— incentivize affordable housing units.
Councilman Kevin de León’s planning director, Emma Howard, who spoke to commissioners on his behalf, called the plan a “strong attempt to ensure new development will include affordable housing,” but stated de León’s request that the commission “move away from incentives to an inclusionary housing program.”
An inclusionary housing ordinance would require developers of residential development projects set aside a certain percentage of units for affordable housing, instead of depending on incentives.
City planners expect the downtown plan area to grow by 125,000 residents and 55,000 new jobs by 2040. To accommodate, and go beyond, that anticipated growth, the plan creates capacity for 175,000 new residents and 100,000 new jobs, which represents 20% of the city’s household growth in about 1% of the city’s land area.
To that end, the plan would nearly double the area where residential use is permitted, from 33% to 60% of the Downtown Community Plan area.
“The plan proposes to expand the residential capacity by expanding the areas where housing is allowed and also allowing larger buildings in most neighborhoods,” City Planner Brittany Arceneaux said. “Today, mixed-use and residential zoning is allowed in the western portions of downtown, generally east of the 110 Freeway and west of Main Street. The plan is proposing to expand these use allowances to areas that are in the Fashion District and the Arts District.”
The plan would also require more affordable housing and larger buildings than the city’s current downtown regulations and shrink the zoned single use area in downtown from 80% to 36%, in an effort to create opportunities for job growth.
“What this means is over the next 10 to 20 years, downtown neighborhoods that are predominantly one-story warehouses, may see different types of buildings that include office, retail and manufacturing all in the same neighborhoods, while making sure heavy industrial uses that may pose health risks are buffered from where large amounts of people are living,” Arceneaux said.
The plan would also create a zone that is restricted to only affordable housing units and non-residential use for “social services, production, fabrication and other job-generating uses.” That zone, called the iX1, would be in a portion of Skid Row bounded by Fifth Street on the north, Seventh Street on the south, Central Avenue on the east and San Pedro Street on the west. Other areas of Skid Row would be available for live/work housing and development that includes incentives for affordable housing.
The Los Angeles Community Action Network, a downtown organization that advocates for people who live on Skid Row and other vulnerable residents downtown, believes the plan could spur gentrification and push the area’s poor into an even smaller section of downtown.
A LACAN post on Twitter reads: `In its current form, it won’t provide adequate affordable housing for downtown’s poorest and most vulnerable residents. The plan’s proposed iX1 zone would create a special area where only affordable housing can be built, but it WON’T cover the entirety of Skid Row. This could push low-income residents into an even smaller region, while opening up the surrounding areas to gentrification.”
LACAN supports a plan by the Central City United Coalition, a group of the area’s low-income residents and stakeholders, which calls for the iX1 zone to be expanded to all of Skid Row. The coalition is led by the Southeast Asian Community Alliance, Little Tokyo Service Center and the Los Angeles Community Action Network.
CCUC also opposes incentives for developments with 40% moderate-income units, but does support the plan’s addition of a “deeply-low income” incentive category. Incentives would be given to developments with 7% of units designated for deeply-low income households, which are those with incomes at 0-15% of the area median income. Incentives would also be given to developments with 8% extremely low-income units, 11% very-low income units and 20% low income units.
The plan also expands the adaptive reuse program, which currently allows old downtown offices and bank buildings to be converted into apartments. Under the proposed plan, buildings would be allowed to be converted to any use that is permitted by the zoning for that property.
The Adaptive Reuse Ordinance was approved in 1999 and in the 20 year-period after the ordinance’s approval, about 30% of the new housing units added to Los Angeles were created through adaptive reuse.
However, the Central City United Coalition warns about consequences of adaptive reuse.
“The adaptive reuse of buildings into creative office and mixed-use developments has led to the closure of four supermarkets and several community-serving small businesses, as well as the loss of hundreds of local jobs,” CCUC states on its People’s Plan.
The Department of City Planning says its Downtown Community Plan encourages development of grocery stores, parks, schools and cultural institutions to support the growing downtown residential community. The plan also simplifies the city’s regulations and review process to reduce the amount of times for new development. It also removes parking minimums to reduce costs for affordable housing developers and removes density limitations to allow for more units.
“Given downtown’s access to transit, employment and amenities, a diverse array of housing types are needed to support existing and new residents in the coming years,” Arceneaux said. “The plan works to facilitate a broad range of housing types to serve the needs of the downtown community of Thursday and the future, including supportive housing, mixed income housing, micro-units, family size units, senior housing and live-work units.”