Plan to Build ‘Affordable’ Housing on City-Owned Parking Lots Gains Steam

December 21, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Parking spots are a valuable commodity in the City of Los Angeles.

The threat of losing even a few parking spaces can lead to panic in densely populated neighborhoods where places to park a vehicle are in short supply. It’s an issue for businesses too, since many rely on publicly owned parking lots for their customers, not having parking lots of their own.

In the City of Los Angeles, elected officials have been actively identifying “under-utilized” city-owned properties – including parking lots – as potential sites for new affordable housing developments. It’s part of a plan to shore up the city’s critical housing shortage and to keep more people from falling in to homelessness.

Last week, the City Council  approved a plan to charge developers a new fee to build in the city. Council members say revenue from the new “linkage” fee will be used to build more housing units for low- to middle-income families.

As city officials, housing advocates, developers and the business community debated the viability and impact the fee would have on development, local council offices and city planners were busy in the background cataloguing city-owned properties with the expressed purpose of adding to the city’s affordable housing stock.

City-owned parking lot on Avenue 24 near the Arroyo Vista Family Health Center is one of 5 lots in Lincoln Heights the city is vetting as potential sites to build affordable housing. (Photo by B. Preciado)

City-owned parking lot on Avenue 24 near the Arroyo Vista Family Health Center is one of 5 lots in Lincoln Heights the city is vetting as potential sites to build affordable housing. (Photo by B. Preciado)

They are also looking for properties where housing for the homeless can be built.

In Council Districts 1 and 14, some of the sites being vetted are vacant lots; others are public parking lots.

Over the last two weeks the City Council has taken steps to formalize the public review process, approving motions by Councilmen Gil Cedillo (CD-1) and Jose Huizar (CD-14) for city-owned properties in Eagle Rock, Boyle Heights, near downtown L.A., in the Westlake area adjacent to MacArthur Park and in Lincoln Heights.

Requests for Proposals for teams to lead the public review, property acquisition agreements, approval of development teams, and the transfer of a property in Boyle Heights to a nonprofit that will use the site to house 18-24-year-old homeless college students are some of the measures that have been approved.

Huizar says he’s “thrilled” to be moving forward with “projects to better assist our homeless youth in Boyle Heights and provide much-needed affordable housing in the district.” He was referring to the transfer of a “triangle” shaped property on Pleasant Avenue in Boyle Heights to nonprofit Jovenes, Inc.

According to Huizar, city-owned properties offer “unique opportunities to develop land for homeless and affordable housing more quickly without the cost of land acquisition.”

Two public parking lots in Boyle Heights – on 318 N. Breed St. and 249 N. Chicago St. – have been identified as potential affordable housing sites. A vacant lot at the intersection of Genevieve Avenue and Monte Bonito Drive in Eagle Rock is also being looked at.

Cedillo also sees developing city-owned properties as a plus. He said: “The solution to combat the Housing Crisis in Los Angeles is to continue building housing as fast as possible, particularly affordable housing.”

Because parking is such a premium in the city, the possibility of loosing any spaces can be controversial and has been known to stop or at least delay some developments. Plans build housing on public parking lots near the Metro Gold Line Station in Highland Park drew loud criticism from local residents and businesses not only concerned about the added density and traffic, but also access to city-owned parking lots.

City planners and the development team for the project said one of the larger lots, off Avenue 58 between the Gold Line Station on Marmion Way and Figueroa Street, was under-utilized and often nearly empty. Developers, Cedillo, and his predecessor, former Councilman Ed Reyes, worked hard to convince stakeholders that the new developments would be required to include public parking provisions.

As for the parking lots under review in Boyle Heights, Huizar assures that any public parking taken for housing developments will be replaced. Where, or in what manner, will not be clear until when and if a development design is approved.

In Lincoln Heights, Cedillo’s office has targeted five city-owned parking lots for review. All five are near the neighborhood’s central commercial district along North Broadway: located behind or across from businesses such as CVS, the 99 Cents Only Store, WSS Shoes, and the Arroyo Vista Family Health Center, a community clinic whose patients are mostly low-income. The public parking lot off Avenue 24 provides parking for many of the clinic’s patients and on most days is filled to capacity.

While a development team has been selected to build affordable housing on city-owned properties near MacArthur Park in Westlake, (619, 623, 627 and 629 Westlake Avenue), the Lincoln Heights locations are still in the very early review stage, Fredy Cejas, Cedillo’s communication director  told EGP in an email.

He said a motion passed earlier this month by the City Council “only authorizes the City to enter into an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement with a selected team to begin a process of planning to identify alternative development schemes.

“The purpo

Housing could one day replace this parking lot near the 99 Cents Only store in Lincoln Heights. (EGP photo by B. Preciado)

Housing could one day replace this parking lot near the 99 Cents Only store in Lincoln Heights. (EGP photo by B. Preciado)

se of the Motion is to start the conversation with the community about proposed housing on City parking lots,” Cejas said.

While “no actual decision” on whether to build has been made, Cejas emphasized a decision has been made to explore how the lots can be developed with housing and what type of project may be feasible.

The news caught some Lincoln Heights businesses by surprise. Arroyo Vista’s Irene Holguin said they could not comment because they did not know anything about the proposal, which came to public light in a recent Facebook posting and Cedillo’s newsletter.

Lincoln Heights Business Improvement District President and property owner Steve Kasten said he too was unaware of the plans, but that as a businessperson his first reaction is you cannot take “all of the parking.”

“But if there is a way to create housing without eliminating parking for local businesses, I am for that,” he said, adding he wants to learn more. If new housing is built, Kasten said he hopes tenants will have incomes high enough to allow them to support local businesses.

It’s very important for the community to have input throughout the development process, Kasten told EGP.

In his email, Cejas said the city council and mayor recognize that Angelenos are facing a severe housing crisis. Rents are skyrocketing and building has not kept up with population growth. Cejas said a key strategy to deal with the issue “is to consider utilizing the unused air-space above City-owned parking lots.”

In some neighborhoods, that has meant building multi-story complexes with underground or roof top parking.

During Cedillo’s 2016 reelection campaign, challengers accused the councilman of having a secret plan to build shelters for the homeless on parking lot sites in Lincoln Heights. The councilman denied the charge, and Cejas this week emphasized that the sites under review “are not all for homeless housing.”

“The community will have a voice and be involved in the planning for the reuse of these lots as specified in the Motion,” Cejas said, adding that no parking would be lost because the city would require parking spaces to be replaced on a one-to-one basis.

According to Cejas, Cedillo will require development team selected to engage in a robust community participation process to solicit input from the district’s diverse stakeholders.

That input, Cejas said, will be used to “define the parameters of a potential project – including but not limited to what type of housing, the number of units, architectural design, parking requirements and other related city planning and environmental matters.”

Megan G. Razzetti contributed to this story.

 

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