Saturday, July 20, 2019

Stream Conservation Area FAQ- (Rules that Marinwood CSD must follow)

LA Building Boom

LA’s Building Boom: Who Really Benefits?

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-No, your eyes aren’t lying. Los Angeles is experiencing a building boom, mostly high-rise luxury hotels and apartments in a few select neighborhoods.

Some are already open, others are under construction, and the rest are either pulling permits or finalizing financing. Those claims that LA’s zoning is so restrictive that it prevents housing construction are simply not credible.  They are, in fact, disproven by these carefully researched and frequently updated real estate publications. 
Urbanize LA lists each of these new real estate projects by neighborhood, address, and status, along with a photograph or rendering. Furthermore, Urbanize LA divides the metropolitan area into 14 regions and 120 neighborhoods. This allows readers to determine what new housing is available, under construction, or proposed for any part of the greater Los Angeles area. 
The Los Angeles Development Map is updated daily and shows these and many other real estate projects. It also color-codes these real estate projects, allowing readers to quickly determine which ones are proposals, under construction, already opened, or delayed. 
Curbed LA is a supplemental source for these databases. For example, its recent articles focused on 15 real estate projects near the Los Angeles river, likely developments in downtown ChinatownHollywood’sdevelopment boom, and 33 new high-rise luxury hotels and apartment buildings that will change LA’s skyline. If it is a major housing project, Curbed LA will describe it in a new story. 
The Orange County Register has also analyzed and mapped this new construction. Even though the bulk of it is in Los Angeles, other parts of Los Angeles Country, as well as adjoining areas, especially Orange County, are experiencing the same boom, mostly luxury apartment buildings. 
Who benefits? Those who celebrate this new construction are the same people and groups who directly and indirectly benefit from it. First, of course, are the giddy investors. Their underperforming capital will now produce annual profits of 15 to 20 percent per year from premium real estate in Los Angeles. The pols, of course, are also happy as clams because the same real estate investors finance their campaigns. Plus, in between elections, their donors are not burdened by moral scruples when it comes to pay-to-play. Other members of the real estate industry, like chambers of commerce, some academics, construction unions, realtors, rental agents, boosters, and newspapers running their ads, are also raising their champagne glasses for these projects. 
Who is hurt? If you are not in one of these groups, you should expect that these projects will eventually hurt you, even if you believe the spin that a rising tide lifts all boats. This is because when it comes to speculative real estate investments, like these many high-end projects, we do not live in a win-win world. If you are a commuter, a pedestrian, a bicyclist, a tenant, a homeowner, or someone habituated to breathing, you will ultimately pay a price for living amidst such luxury. 
My predictions for these mega-projects sprouting up throughout Los Angeles should help identify the complex downside of living in the shadows of “prosperity.” 
1) These projects – at least those built before the real estate bubble bursts -- will have large parking structures. The well-off tenants who can afford their high rents want a convenient place to park their cars. If it isn’t there, they will have their pick of hundreds of vacancies in other apartment buildings with on-site parking. 
2) The property managers will not offer tenants METRO tap cards. Nearly all these new buildings are transit adjacent, but few tenants will select them because they are near a bus stop or rail station. 
3) Few tenants will use nearby mass transit, including METRO locals, express buses, light rail, and heavy rail subways. They can afford cars, which in LA means they will drive them for most trips.  
4) Transit ridership will continue to decline on nearby mass transit lines, and the new apartment buildings will be Transit Oriented Development (TOD) in name only. Declining transit ridership is well documented, especially in neighborhoods with new transit-adjacent apartment buildings. 
5) Traffic congestion at intersections and streets near the new high-rise apartment buildings will continue to get worse. When tenants drive cars, they quickly fill up streets and freeways beyond capacity. 
8) The new buildings’ rents, like the buildings themselves, will be sky-high, and nearly all of the tenants will be well-off. 
7) The buildings completing Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) will report unmitigable levels of Green House Gases. In these cases, the City Council will then adopt a Statement of Overriding Considerations. They will maintain that these adverse impacts should be ignored because each project increases transit ridership. 
8) Once the Council certifies each EIR, no one from City Hall will ever verify the transit ridership claims. No City department will ever monitor these luxury real estate projects to document their claims that their tenants are frequent transit riders. 
9) Many of the new apartment buildings will reduce their parking requirements by offering on-site bicycle parking, and most of these bicycle parking places will remain vacant, even though future tenants will gladly pay for an on-site parking. 
10) Rents in older, nearby apartments will be pulled up, not pushed down by the new luxury apartments despite the increase, sometimes dramatic, in housing supply. 
11) New homeless encampments will appear near many of these high-rise luxury apartment buildings. Over half of this homeless population will be Angelenos priced out of existing housing. 
12) Press reports will describe and photograph these homeless encampments but will not link them to the construction of luxury high rise apartment buildings pulling up rents and displacing existing middle- and low-income tenants. 
13) The new high-rise apartment buildings will hang “For Rent” signs on their buildings for years, and many of them will discreetly rent out vacant units for short-term rentals, such as Airbnb.  
14) No City Hall Departments will ever prosecute the investors, owners, developers, landlords, property managers, or tenants for illegally operating a hotel through short-term rentals. 
15) None of the new luxury apartment buildings will fill vacant buildings by reducing their rents to become affordable. Instead, they will offer symbolic enticements, such as a free month’s rent or limited free parking, 
16) Many of the new high-rise apartment buildings will push out lower income tenants, small businesses, and arts-connected businesses, such as galleries and dance studios, in two phases. The first phase will result from the demolition existing buildings to prepare new in-fill building sites. The second phase will be through rent increases flowing outward from the new, high-end structures. 
17) Infrastructure and public services near the luxury high-rise buildings will increasingly fail, and no public officials will argue that improvements to supportive infrastructure should precede increases in residential density. 
18) The investors and developers responsible for the new high-rise luxury buildings will remain major contributors to the campaigns of existing and aspiring City Hall officials.  
19) Photographs and renderings for new high-rise apartments, like the above, will never include traffic jams and homeless people or encampments. 
20) Abundant Housing, and similar YIMBY groups, will enthusiastically support high-rise apartment projects requiring discretionary zoning approvals. Once the City Council approves these projects, these cheerleaders will never circle back to confirm that their pet projects increased transit ridership, created trickle-down low-income housing, and reduced the generation of Green House Gases. 
I invite readers to save this column and see if my predictions are accurate. If so, my sad conclusion is that LA’s downward spiral of neglect will continue, despite the sparkling new buildings, many opening just in time for the 2028 Olympics.

(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles city planner who reports on local planning controversies for City Watch.  He serves on the Board of United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles (UN4LA) and welcomes comments and corrections at Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Why is there so much opposition to Single Family Homes?

In Defense of Houses

Single-family homes are the backbone of American aspiration—so why do so many people oppose them?

Joel KotkinWendell CoxJuly 16, 2019
Economy, finance, and budgets

A critical component in the rise of market-oriented democracy in the modern era has been the dispersion of property ownership among middle-income households—not just in the United States but also in countries like Holland, Canada, and Australia, where it was closely linked with greater civil and economic freedom. In its early days, this dispersion was largely rural, but after the Second World War, it took on a largely suburban emphasis in the U.S., including within the extended metro regions of traditional cities like New York and Los Angeles. American homeownership soared between 1940 and 1962, from 44 percent to 63 percent.

Today, the aspiration of regular people to own homes—arguably one of the greatest achievements of postwar democracy—is fading. But the dilution of this key aspect of the American dream is not the result of market conditions or changing preferences, but rather the concerted effort of planners and pundits. California offers the most striking example. Housing affordability was once a hallmark of life in the Golden State, but over the past three decades, and particularly since the imposition of draconian climate policies, stringent land-use regulations have driven up land prices so much that middle-income, single-family housing is now virtually impossible to build, helping make prices of existing homes prohibitive. Median house prices in the state’s coastal metropolitan areas (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and San Jose) have risen to nearly 250 percent above the national average, according to the 2017 American Community Survey. Median gross rents, which tend to follow house prices, are more than 75 percent higher than the national average. According to the National Association of Realtors, it takes a household income of $273,000—almost five times the national average—to qualify for the median-priced house in the San Jose metropolitan area. In San Francisco, an income of $208,000 is needed. In San Diego, it’s $138,000, and in Los Angeles, $122,000—both more than double the national average.

Many younger people, wanting to live and work in the wealthy metros, have little choice but to become permanent renters, usually in smaller apartments. In California’s San Jose metropolitan area (Silicon Valley), homeownership among post-college millennials (aged 25 to 34) dropped by 40 percent in 25 years, compared with a less than 20 percent national drop during that same period. Few are saving sufficiently to make homeownership a reality. Millennials with college debt would need up to 27 years to accumulate enough for a down payment in the San Francisco metro area, according to one study.

Without owning a home, however, younger people face major obstacles to boosting their net worth, because property remains crucial to long-term financial security. Homes today account for roughly two-thirds of the wealth of middle-income Americans, and homeowners have a median net worth more than 85 times that of renters, according to the Census Bureau. Lower homeownership rates are a major reason why (according to2014 Census numbers) black households had a median net worth of just $10,000 and Hispanic households just $18,000. By contrast, white, non-Hispanic households had a median net worth of $130,000. Asians were even more affluent, at $157,000.

Seeking to address the crisis of affordability in prosperous metro areas, California’s recently shelved SB50, sponsored by state senator Scott Wiener, would have overridden local zoning by allowing fourplexes (four-unit apartment buildings) to be built in areas zoned for single-family dwellings. But SB50, operating on the assumption that increasing the supply of units would be enough to bring housing costs within reason, didn’t address other state and local regulations and fees that constrain housing supply, including measures that have blocked expansion of lower-density housing construction on the urban fringe. Urbanist Alain Bertaud has described how such regulations can worsen housing shortages, raising costs in both urban and suburban areas and harming the poor especially. As we’ve noted elsewhere, prior to the adoption of such measures, California’s housing prices weren’t that much higher than the national average, during a period when the state’s population was expanding rapidly.

Some of the support for such measures is openly hostile to single-family housing. Social-justice advocates, for their part, maintain that, since single-family neighborhoods have been historically white, their perpetuation is thus racist, as Seattle’s leftist weekly The Stranger contends. But we’re not living in Jim Crow times. Even in deep-South Atlanta, more than 70 percent of blacks and Hispanics live in the outer suburbs, where single-family housing predominates.In the 53 metropolitan areas with more than 1 million residents, more than two-thirds of blacks and Hispanics now live in lower-density outer metropolitan areas. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine policies more disadvantageous to blacks and Hispanics than California-style land-use regulations, which have pushed up median house prices well beyond their grasp. Another source of opposition to single-family housing comes from today’s density activists, who claim that living close together fosters greater community spirit and positive social results. Yet surveys continue to find suburbanites more satisfied with their living conditions than those in the urban core or rural areas.

The most persistent opponents of middle-class, single-family housing, though, are the Greens. The environmental magazine Grist envisions millennials as a “hero generation” that will escape the material trap of suburban living and work that engulfed their parents, despite surveys and migration data demonstrating the opposite. That most families still prefer such housing is problematic, since, as one Grist editor put it, “a lot of green good comes from bringing fewer beings onto a polluted and crowded planet”—in other words, single-family homes encourage people to have more kids. Indeed, there is an association between suburbia and fertility: Census Bureau data show that people living in high-density neighborhoods have fewer offspring and are less likely to be married.

In fact, suburban houses, according to data in one Australian study (conducted by coauthor Cox’s consultancy), use less energy than do the dwellings of inner-city urbanites. As British scholar Hugh Byrd has noted, suburban roofs would be ideal places to site photovoltaic solar technology. In the future, he suggests, if this usage becomes commonplace, “suburbia will have a renewed role as both a collector and supplier of energy, a characteristic that cannot be achieved in the higher density CBD [Central Business District].”

Such opposition to single-family housing is occurring even as millennials, many entering their thirties, are demonstrating a preference for lower-density living. Since 2010, 80 percent of millennial population growth has been in the suburbs. Some of this is simply demographics: most people with young children, or contemplating the prospect of having children, prefer single-family houses. Nearly three-quarters of millennials want single-family detached houses, according to a 2019 report on homebuyer preferences by the National Association of Homebuilders. A 2018 Apartment List survey found that 80 percent of millennials aspire to homeownership.

These preferences can be seen in the marketplace. In America, among those under 35 who buy homes, four-fifths choose single-family detached houses. Since 2010, a net 1.8 million people have moved away from the urban-core counties of major metropolitan areas, largely to lower-density counties, where single-family houses predominate.

A strong land-owning middle order has been essential in democracies going back to ancient Athens and the Roman and Dutch republics, to say nothing of the United States. It was essential to the thinking of the Founding Fathers and writers such as Alexis de Tocqueville. Today, often through deliberate policy, we are undermining this critical property-owning middle class—and impeding not only the economic future and family prospects of a young generation but also the wellsprings of liberal democracy. If the trend persists, America will become increasingly feudal in its economic and social form.

Joel Kotkin is the presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His latest book is The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us. Wendell Cox is the principal of Demographia, a public-policy consultancy, and a senior fellow at the Center for Opportunity Urbanism.

Why do all new apartment buildings look the same?

Why do all new apartment buildings look the same?

The bland, boxy apartment boom is a design issue, and a housing policy problem
A wave of sameness has washed over new residential architecture. U.S. cities are filled with apartment buildings sporting boxy designs and somewhat bland facades, often made with colored panels and flat windows.
Due to an Amazon-fueled apartment construction boom over the last decade, Seattle has been an epicenter of this new school of structural simulacra. But Seattle is not alone. Nearly every city, from Charlotte to Minneapolis, has seen a proliferation of homogenous apartments as construction has increased again in the wake of the financial recession.
Twitter query seeking to name this ubiquitous style was a goldmine. Some suggestions seemed inspired by the uniformity of design in computer programs and games: Simcityism, SketchUp contemporary, Minecraftsman, or Revittecture. Some took potshots at the way these buildings looked value-engineered to maximize profit: Developer modern, McUrbanism, or fast-casual architecture. Then there are the aesthetic judgement calls: contemporary contempt, blandmarks, LoMo (low modern), and Spongebuild Squareparts.
“Part of what people are responding to isn’t the building themselves, it’s that there are so many of them going up so quickly, all in the same places in the city,” says Richard Mohler, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Washington.
Many of the replies to the Twitter call simply pointed out that these buildings are housing, and much-needed housing at that. Though they can be defined or classified by aesthetics, this wave of new apartments is perhaps best described as a symbol of today’s housing problems: a lack of developable land; rising land, material, and labor costs; and an acute need to find more affordable places for people to live.
“At the end of the day, if you line up multifamily apartments from Boston, San Francisco, and Miami that have been built in the last decade, you’re going to see a very strong pattern,” says Scott Black, senior vice president of Bristol Development, a Nashville-based firm that develops apartments across the Southeast.
Good architecture should always respond to the local context. In the case of these buildings, the local economic context just happens to be the same in just about every major U.S. city.
“Critics don’t understand what we’re working with, the parameters and the financial constraints,” says Black. “It’s like any other business: If you’re selling autos or selling widgets, there are certain costs, and a certain profit you need to make to do business in the future.”
It boils down to code, costs, and craft
Perhaps the biggest constraint in the urban U.S. apartment market, a $61 billion annual industry, is the amount of available space. Many cities zone with an overwhelming preference for detached, single-family homes, with small corridors in downtowns or dense areas set aside for large, multistory towers. In Seattle, for instance, roughly three-quarters of residential land is zoned for single-family homes. That means new apartments are forced to cluster in small areas of the city, amplifying the impact of a rash of new, similar buildings.
The buildings themselves are an effort to fit within the small niches made available by local building and zoning codes. According to Mohler, due to height limits and safety/fire requirements, most of these structures are what’s known as “5 over 1” or “one-plus-five”: wood-framed construction, which contain apartments and is known as Type 5 in the International Building Code, over a concrete base, which usually contains retail or commercial space, or parking structures, known as Type 1. Some codes also mandate a modulated facade, or varying exteriors across adjacent buildings to avoid repetition.
Cities’ design review boards can add to the pressures caused by zoning. Ideally, these groups work with architects and developers to improve upcoming buildings and make them more compatible with the neighborhood. Mohler says that’s not always the case; in some cities, there’s a tendency to rubber-stamp structures that have already proven themselves, leading to a formulaic feel.
Code constraints, which allow construction on restricted areas, help create the second major restraint: cost. The reason our cities are filled with so much of the same kind of building is because it’s the cheapest way to build an apartment. In this case, that’s light-frame wood construction, which often uses flat windows that are easy to install; a process called rainscreen cladding to create the skin of the building; as well as Hardie panels, a facade covering made from fiber cement.
The need to cut costs limits facade options, says Black. Hardie Panels run roughly $16 a square foot, roughly the same cost as brick. The next upgrade, metal siding, costs from $25 to $50 a square foot, potentially more than triple the cost.
“Since we’re facing a housing affordability crisis, it makes a certain amount of sense to build a building as affordably as we can,” says Mohler.
According to Black, variation is costly. Many units get made to a standard size, say 12-foot-wide bedrooms. Repeat that a few times per floor, maximized to create rentable space, and you start a domino effect toward generic architecture, because the floor plates end up very similar. Once the interior is laid out, there are ways to make the exterior look more interesting using setbacks, materials, and massing. But giving up space for units and creating more complicated construction plans cuts into profitability.
“The bigger issue is construction costs have escalated pretty significantly over the last two years,” says Black. “We need to deliver a product within a price point. People don’t always understand the margins we work with. We really do want to build something that’ll sparkle and shine and look great from the outside. At the end of the day, we feel like we’re able to do that.”
Some critics dismiss the cost issue as a small piece of a larger problem. Michael Paglia, a writer for Westword in Denver, penned a popular piece about his city’s rash of bad design, “Denver is Drowning in Awful Architecture.” He feels architects aren’t just cost-constrained, but are being left out of the equation. Computer-aided design has led to a degradation of the role of architect, Paglia argued, replacing a noble craft with a series of equations that wring every last bit of value out of a site, aesthetics be damned. Formulaic floorplans are cost effective, while good design is considered an unaffordable luxury, concentrated, like so much else, among the 1 percent.
“I don’t think you can call the designers of these buildings designers or architects,” he told Curbed. “I think accountants are designing these buildings.”
The art of design has become a science, he says, and that’s created another important, but less tangible, constraint on new construction—the loss of construction craft. Paglia feels that construction standards, and the expectations renters have of new buildings, have diminished.
“Many of the renters living in those buildings don’t even know they’re terrible,” he says. “And as far as cost constraints go, talk to someone in Florence, Italy, where there are numerous constraints on development. Nothing is an excuse for bad design.”
Mohler agrees that there are tangible difference between the apartments of today and yesteryear. Older apartment buildings have something that the Hardie-clad structures lack, a certain texture and materiality.
“Today’s flat window may be a great product, easy to install and cost-effective,” he says. “But the depth of facade on older buildings offers a whole new level of detail and scale.”
History judges architecture on a curve
Since the constraints creating the conditions for this generic apartment architecture show little sign of abating, cities may be stuck with buildings like these for the foreseeable future. New construction slowed this year after peaking in 2017, but that still means 283,000 new apartments are expected to be finished by the end of the year, many in this generic style. What happens to them further down the road, decades and generations from now?
“I don’t think these buildings will be around in 40 years. They’ll collapse and be maintenance problems,” says Paglia. “We’ll remember the small sliver of good architecture being built today.”
Mohler, though, thinks time will play a trick on detractors of today’s bland, boxy buildings. He points to neighborhoods of identical bungalows, celebrated and often enshrined as historic districts. At the time they were built, in the early half of the 20th century, they weren’t the product of forward-thinking architects seeking to create character-filled dwellings for today’s homeowners to drool over. They were factoring in cost, code, and craft, and creating their own equations to maximize profit and product. Placing them above today’s building, often meant to meet contemporary needs for affordable housing, can be, as McMansion Hell’s Kate Wagner wrote, a form of “aesthetic moralism.”
“Many of these houses were the same, and many were completely identical to each other because they were being built by a single developer,” Mohler says of past urban developments. “At the time, it was criticized for wasting land and all looking the same. Looking identical today means neighborhood character. If it’s old and looks the same, it’s good, but if it’s new and all looks the same, it’s bad.”
Even Mohler doesn’t say these boxy builds will be celebrated in coming decades. But, arising from an era with an acute housing shortage, perhaps they’ll have kitsch appeal, or be appreciated for what they represent: a part of the solution to today’s housing crisis.
“I’m optimistic that people’s opinions of these buildings will change over time,” he says. “Will they be celebrated? Not likely. But will they be more accepted? Probably.”