Over the past week, the City Planning Department has hosted two new community meetings on the Purple Line Transit Neighborhood Plan, aimed at extending community outreach for the planning project, and soliciting additional public input.
At the two meetings, one held on Saturday, February 23 at the Pan Pacific Park Senior Center, and one on Wednesday, February 27 at Temple Beth Am, planning staff presented an array of background information, including the history of local transportation planning, the goals of the proposed new Purple Line TNP, and the kinds of planning elements it will cover. The information was divided among a number of display boards, and staff were available at each display to explain the various topics. In addition, each meeting included a small-group planning session, in which planning staff sat with 2-4 stakeholders at individual tables, to solicit their feedback on the kinds of architectural elements, construction, and streetscape elements that most and least appeal to them.
In general, at the two meetings, the emphasis was less on maps and specific zoning information, which other recent meetings focused on, and – as with the very first TNP workshops back in 2016 – more on general information about what kinds of planning elements the TNP will address (zoning, streetscapes, design guidelines, etc.), and soliciting input on those general topics from neighbors. Both meetings also appeared to be fairly well attended, though neither session was filled to capacity.
A number of local attendees, however, did come with more specific questions about the city’s plans, especially about the timing of the TNP process, which is proceeding several years ahead of a planned revision of the larger Wilshire Community Plan. Tammy Rosato, president of the La Brea Hancock Homeowners’ Association, said this is the number one TNP-related question she hears from her neighbors.
Senior City Planner Patricia Diefenderfer explained to Rosato and a small group of others at the February 23 meeting that while the city will be trying to update all of its community plans by 2024, that effort is proceeding in phases, and the Wilshire Community Plan isn’t scheduled to be revised until several others have been completed, which will still be a few years away. The Purple Line Transit Neighborhood Plan, however, is funded by a grant received by Metro, which requires that the TNP process be completed by 2020. So the Purple Line TNP process began in 2016, well before the decision to revise the community plans, and is proceeding on its own separate schedule. Diefenderfer said the Purple Line area planning process is taking a path similar to that of the Expo Line TNP, which was completed last year ahead of the larger Westside Community Plan update, which is now in the works.
Cathy Roberts, also a member of the LBHHA board, said another major concern she hears from neighbors is that the TNP will densify or otherwise threaten current R1 single family neighborhoods that are within a half mile of the new subway stations along the Purple Line Extension.
Diefenderfer explained at the same meeting, however, that much of our area is “already planned,” meaning that many of our local neighborhoods (including La Brea-Hancock) are already protected by things like Historic Preservation Overlay Zones, the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay Zone, the Park Mile Specific Plan, new R1 variation zones, etc. And the TNP, she said, will not supersede those things. Instead, she said, it will specifically address the “negative spaces” – areas within half a mile of the new transit stops which are NOT governed by those other plans and zones.
Diefenderfer also explained that drafts of the Environmental Impact Report for the TNP, as well as the TNP itself, are still being written and are not yet finalized, so while we do know that the plan will address zoning, streetscapes and design guidelines for the areas it covers, specifics of those new rules are not yet carved in stone, and the planning department is still seeking community input and discussing specifics. These two recent meetings, she said, are “trying to respond to what we’ve been hearing from people” about wanting to have more input, and capturing “what their interests are” regarding the new plan.
After the meeting, Rosato said she had hoped there would be more new information available at the meetings, and was a bit disappointed that the planners spent most of their time asking for recommendations from the attendees. Instead, she said, “it would be much more productive to show us best practices and what works” in similar areas around the country, rather than quiz neighbors again. At the same time, however, Rosato also said it was rather “disheartening” that more neighbors didn’t show up to participate in the meetings, especially since many area residents have complained that they haven’t been given enough information about the TNP or input in its creation. “I think it’s very important for everyone concerned about the preservation of their R1 neighborhoods (to get involved),” she said. “We’re not going to stop what’s going on in California” with densification, she said, “but we can influence it.”
A few days after the meetings, Roberts said she remains frustrated about the TNP moving ahead before the Community Plan process is done, and these most recent meetings have not changed that. “There were two young women at my table who said their overriding issue was building more housing, but they seemed unaware of what is already going on,” Roberts said. “There are over 52 active construction projects in Koreatown alone. With many, many more all over the city. How will we know when we have built enough housing? Many projects are luxury housing units that are often out of range for many…We don’t really know if the existing zoning is sufficient, or could be downsized as they don’t seem to even be considering those options. The decoupling of the Wilshire Community Plan from the TNP doesn’t allow then entirety of the area to be studied and evaluated in context of what is already being built.”
Even so, Roberts said she did find the small-group discussions at the Saturday meeting interesting. “I enjoyed the conversation about building forms and massing and enhancing the pedestrian experience. At my table we agreed that building heights and massing need to vary from building to building so there isn’t a solid wall of structure that doesn’t allow for sunlight and air flow. We also discussed preserving Art Deco and other architectural gems that predominate in a large swath of the study area.” Finally, she said, “We talked quite a bit about the ‘last mile’ issue and that buses don’t run frequently enough. Transit works best for people that both live and work on the SAME transit line. One young woman who currently uses the bus system said she is thinking of buying a car as the bus system is unreliable and takes too long.”
After the meeting, Rosato pointed out that neighbors do still have more opportunities to get involved with the TNP planning process, even if they didn’t attend one of the two most recent meetings. For example, the Planning Department has an online survey that all stakeholders are encouraged to take, to provide input on the plan and the process. You can find it at http://www.latnp.org/purple-line/survey/
Also several of our local neighborhood associations have been organizing and getting involved. Leaders from the La Brea-Hancock, Hancock Park, Sycamore Square and Miracle Mile associations met with City Council District 4 staff on February 21st to discuss their concerns, particularly about the TNP moving forward before the revisions to the Wilshire Community Plan…and those groups plan to continue that dialogue as the process moves forward. (Mark Pampanin, CD4 Communications Deputy, said in a statement to the Buzz about those meetings, “Councilmember Ryu is committed to ensuring that any Transit Neighborhood Plan that comes out for Wilshire Boulevard complements the Wilshire Community plan, which Councilmember Ryu is passionate about getting done. The full Draft TNP and Draft EIR for Wilshire has not been released yet, so we are still in very early stages. We will continue to meet with and listen to various community stakeholders in the neighborhood to ensure that the two plans work together to improve the Wilshire area and serve the Wilshire community.”)
So there are, and will be, plenty more opportunities to learn about and provide input on the TNP. Or, as Rosato also noted, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”