Category Archives: Community

The Elephant in the Room

The legislative season is over, and we finally have begun to see our California legislature act on the housing crisis in this state. The Governor signed 15 bills that were intended to smooth the way to more housing being built.

Over the past year, you have heard me discuss the importance of addressing California’s housing crisis. So, I think it is appropriate to commend the legislature and the Governor for taking steps to start addressing what is an enormous problem.

Among the bills that were passed was a $4-billion bond measure to provide new affordable-housing units, a provision to streamline housing requirements in cities that aren’t building to state-mandated goals, incentives for cities to plan new neighborhoods, and prod local governments to get shovels into the ground, and giving the State the ability to review any action or failure to act by a city or county that it deems out of compliance with its housing element.

According to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, the State is currently falling about 100,000 units short each year in what it should be building to meet the demand. Under the best-case forecasts, the 15 new measures will only make a dent in the shortfall.

Our representatives admitted this is only a down payment on what is needed to really have an impact on the housing crisis. The fact is, the one way to resolve the housing shortfall in a big way is to spur the private sector to build more units. The only way to do that is to address the “elephant in the room” which is to reform the California Environmental Quality Act – more commonly referred to as CEQA.

Achieving CEQA reform is a monumental task because of the many special interest groups that have grown a cottage industry of using CEQA to squeeze developers for money, concessions, or to outright stop needed projects. The Hollywood Chamber was a part of a broad-based statewide coalition that worked for years to reform CEQA. A couple of years ago, we thought reform was finally doable. However, amendments were tacked on to the reform bills that would have ended up making CEQA compliance even worse, so the reform effort was dropped at that time.

Before that, in 2011, our Chamber convinced then-State Senator Curren Price to introduce SB735 for us. We thought we had the perfect solution – a measure that would strengthen the timelines for judicial consideration of CEQA cases. The idea was to require the courts to meet stricter administrative deadlines, enabling judges to decide cases as was originally the intent of the CEQA law.

However, our effort died when the State Judicial Council opposed our efforts, saying they did not have the wherewithal to speed up the process. Because we were just coming out of the Great Recession, there was no chance of providing the funding that they needed to expedite the process at that time.

So, when the Legislature takes this issue up again next year, I have a few suggestions. Why not provide more funding for judges to review CEQA cases and also to provide an expedited litigation schedule for resolution of an action and stricter timelines for appeal of a judgment for all projects? While we appreciate that the State extended an expedited schedule for court review of large Environmental Leadership Development Projects, this should apply to all projects – especially housing. Providing more funding for the courts review process might be the best investment the State could make in speeding up the construction of new housing.

This wouldn’t solve all CEQA-related problems, but it would be a start. While it wouldn’t please those whose goal is to delay and delay and delay, I believe the majority of Californians would support common-sense action that would still allow CEQA challenges but speed up the litigation.

And here is another suggestion. Rather than just encourage cities to meet their housing goals, why not add some teeth to hold cities accountable to meet the mandate of their housing goals? Just last month, the news media reported that the city of Redondo Beach approved a moratorium on new multifamily units even though they had only achieved 41 percent of their housing goals. If there are no penalties, cities will continue to consider meeting housing goals as a suggestion rather than a mandate.

There will be other suggestions made, but I thought I’d get a head-start out of the gate. Let’s encourage our legislature to take the hard steps to resolve the housing crisis.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 25 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

 

Building a Prosperous Hollywood

Hollywood has always been associated with new ideas. If you think about the early entertainment industry that located here, it was all about creativity and creating stories that would be compelling.

Here we are 100 years later, and creativity continues to rule in Hollywood, even as the entertainment industry undergoes a major transformation due to new technologies that are opening new opportunities. And so, it is logical to assume that Hollywood would be one of the places in Southern California popular with the new media and tech industry.

One example of the draw that Hollywood has become for new start-ups is with our shared workspace providers. The first to come to Hollywood was We Work, which opened its first Los Angeles location here in Hollywood in 2011. They will be opening their third Hollywood facility on Vine Street this fall. Among their 1,900 Hollywood “members” are entrepreneurs, freelancers, start-ups and small businesses. They provide work space for businesses, ranging from one employee up to 100 employees. Many of these entrepreneurial and tech start-ups may over time grow significantly – creating a lot of jobs. In addition to We Work, other shared workspace concepts have invested in Hollywood, including Neuehouse at Columbia Square, and HClub, which will open next year in the former Redbury Hotel. We expect this critical mass of new businesses to have a profound effect on Hollywood going forward.

One of the exciting new companies that has located in Hollywood is Pavemint – a company that is rolling out its app and services this month. The company relocated from Houston to Los Angeles in 2015, finding a home in a historic building on Hollywood Blvd. Today, they have 40 full and part-time positions.

Probably, the easiest way to understand this company’s model is as the “Airbnb” for parking. Their goal is to unlock the inventory of parking spaces in Los Angeles through a peer-to-peer marketplace.

For the past two years, they have worked on refining their app to work seamlessly for those looking for parking spaces. At the same time, they have been building up an inventory of parking within Los Angeles. Although not the first parking app to hit the market, Pavemint already has the largest peer-to-peer parking network in the U.S.

They chose Hollywood as their base for several reasons: first, they were able to find cool office space on Hollywood Blvd.; second, Hollywood was centrally located, and finally, Hollywood has a parking problem. They are continuing to expand their inventory of parking spaces here and throughout L.A., and later expect to expand to other cities.

This is a job-creating concept that wouldn’t have even been imagined a few years ago.

We want to continue attracting cutting-edge, creative companies like Pavemint to Hollywood and to have them grow here. In order to do so, we need to build an environment that is conducive for these growing firms, with incubator shared working spaces available to get them started and then an inventory of additional office space to grow into, workforce housing, shopping, easy transit access and entertainment. And we need to preserve the “cool” factor of Hollywood.

What is noteworthy is that a lot of what is occurring in Hollywood has happened organically, without a lot of “priming” from the government. Where the government must step in is to provide the services and security needed to keep this an attractive business location. That means being business friendly, addressing issues such as homeless encampments and providing needed services for mentally-ill homeless persons, which I’ll address in a future column.

Hollywood is well positioned to truly become a live-work model for the entire region. If we can demonstrate how to make this work successfully here, we can show other communities the way to facilitate growth and prosperity.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 25 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

New Hotels Enrich Hollywood and Los Angeles

Two new hotels opened in Hollywood last month – the Kimpton Everly with 216 rooms and the Hampton Inn Hollywood with 112 rooms. Together with the Dream Hotel that opened in July, we have added more than 500 rooms to the Hollywood market this year. This is a 15-percent increase in the number of hotel rooms in Hollywood, bringing our total rooms to 3,926 in 51 properties.

By my count, there are another 15 hotels proposed for Hollywood. I’m sure some people are asking if we can support all of these hotels. One important thing to remember is that the hotels do not all come online at once. It is a long-way from a hotel being proposed to under construction. There is no guarantee that all the proposed venues will be built. The marketplace will be the final determinant of what is actually built. The interest in building new hotels in Hollywood is a nice problem to have!

I recall back in the year 2000 when our chair-of-the board, Oscar Arslanian, and I trekked to Beverly Hills to meet with a representative of Hilton Hotels to convince them that they should come to Hollywood. At the time, we had a boutique hotel task force and were trying to get new hotel construction in Hollywood. It had been 25 years since a significant hotel had opened in Hollywood. Hilton turned us down, saying that the timing wasn’t right for a hotel in Hollywood. We were ahead of our time.

It was a frustrating period for us. Hollywood was the top tourist draw in Los Angeles County, and yet no new hotels were coming to our community. They were locating in neighboring cities, which meant transient occupancy taxes (TOT) collected by those hotels were also going to other communities. TOT taxes can be an important component of a city’s budget, so this was potentially a huge loss for Los Angeles. In L.A. during its last fiscal year, the city received $230.8-million in TOT taxes and another $27.5-million from short-term rental taxes. With Los Angeles facing a budget gap of over $200-million, finding new sources of revenue are key to its survival and maintaining services. Each new hotel that opens in the city helps fill the budget shortfall.

Aside from providing tax revenue to a city, there are numerous other benefits that new hotels bring to the community – one of which is jobs. The Dream Hotel and its associated restaurants employ about 800 people. The Everly Hotel has a staff of 125 and the Hampton Inn employs another 40. These are all new jobs, on sites where there were few jobs before. To be able to add this many jobs to our employment base is exciting. Yes, many of these jobs are entry level positions, but in this community with all income levels, we need both entry level and executive positions.

New hotels also add to the ambiance of a neighborhood. Infill development helps to activate the street. The areas around the Dream Hotel and Everly were previously “dead” as far as pedestrians. There was no reason for anyone to walk there. Now, you see people walking to and from these venues, which creates more interest but also makes the neighborhood safer. It is impressive to now see people walking in Hollywood, not just on the major thoroughfares, but also on the side streets. Hollywood is a model for the entire City on how to activate a neighborhood.

And hotels also are great public gathering spaces for locals – with lobbies, restaurants, meeting rooms, and in some cases, rooftop terraces that overlook the Hollywood Hills and urban L.A. As we all know, Hollywood has the unfortunate distinction of having little park and open space. This makes it even more important to have places where people can gather. The general manager of the Everly Hotel related to me that they are positioning their hotel as one that is serving the local neighborhood. Since this new hotel lies in close proximity to many of our hillside neighborhoods, it only makes sense.

The fact is new hotels enrich a community in many ways. Downtown Hollywood is becoming an even more attractive urban neighborhood by having these hotels to complement the residential, retail and office components that are coming online. The Hollywood hotel boom is a very good thing for our community and for the City as a whole.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

 

Does the Middle Class Have a Future in Los Angeles?

Recently I read Richard Florida’s book, The New Urban Crisis. Among the critical issues he identifies is the decline of the middle class in our urban centers. What his research found was that the middle class is the smallest in the most economically vibrant places, in particular, what he defines as “superstar cities” and tech hubs. Los Angeles was identified as one of these urban areas where the middle class is the smallest.

At a meeting we held last week with Mayor Eric Garcetti, he voiced what is undoubtedly one of the most challenging issue facing Los Angeles – will our children be able to stay here and enjoy the prosperous community that has been built over the last generation. “We need a middle class and not just a service class,” said the Mayor, emphasizing that it is essential that the middle class not be squeezed out. The Mayor was right in highlighting this challenge.

If we cannot provide an opportunity for our children to remain here, what kind of a legacy have we provided? It does not matter if Los Angeles is able to provide middle-class jobs, if the cost of living is such that they cannot get ahead. I think each of us know of young people who have left the state as it has become increasingly unaffordable. I have two nieces, third-generation Angelenos, who moved to Colorado, in order to be able to purchase a home. I’m sure you can name a few.

Let me share a few statistics that I have seen over the last few months. The New York Times reported earlier this month that housing prices in L.A., San Francisco, San Jose, and San Diego have jumped as much as 75 percent over the past five years, making California the toughest market for first time home buyers. The median cost of a home in California is now over $500,000, twice the national average. California’s homeownership rate of 54 percent ranks last in the nation.

A recent article by Elijah Chiland noted that the real estate website Redfin reports that just 6.6 percent of homes listed in the greater L.A. region are considered affordable to residents making the median income. The problem is that while there have been significant increases in home values, wages in Los Angeles have risen less than half a percent since 2012.

On top of this, there is the issue of taxation. When you consider the compounding effect of the taxes levied at the state, county and local levels, it adds up to a huge disincentive for the middle class and young people to remain here. In an article published last month, Chris Nichols of Politifact, responding to the question of whether California taxes were really among the highest in the nation, provided the following facts: On a per capita basis, Californians pay $1,991 annually in state income taxes, which ranks fourth highest in the country. California has the highest-in-the nation sales tax rate of 7.25 per cent (and that is before local levies recently passed for such worthy causes as mass transit and homeless services). When the recently-approved 12-cent per gallon increase in the state gas tax goes into effect on November 1, 2017, it will make the California gas tax second highest in the nation.

Now, I am not arguing against the need for these new taxes and fees to address serious state and local problems. What I am saying is that the compounding effect of these taxes threatens our middle class.

Even property taxes, which we tout as low because of Proposition 13, create a heavy burden for those just starting out. Since median housing prices are twice the national average, the property taxes are still a hurdle, especially when compounded by additional parcel taxes and fees charged to property owners in a specific area to pay for special needs and public improvements.

The state legislature has introduced 130 housing measures this year to address the affordable housing issue. The City is considering linkage fees to fund affordable housing. The problem with many of these proposals is that it is impossible for government to solve the housing crisis with new fees to develop affordable housing. The amount of housing they could fund is only a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed.

Christopher Thornberg of Beacon Economics recently said that California would need to add between 800,000 and one-million additional residential units to move the state to national norms for housing stock and vacancy rates. In L.A., we would need a total of 180,000 to 200,000 residential units.

The only way to meet these type of numbers is to stimulate the private sector, which is now weighed down with government regulations that make it impossible for the free market to work the way it is supposed to. Our public officials are going to have to make some tough decisions if they really want to address the housing crisis.

Here are a few suggestions. At the State level, our representatives are going to finally need to reform the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to stop egregious abuses of this law that can kill or delay needed projects for years. They need to approve language that treats infill development in urban areas differently than pristine open space. State and city officials need to incentivize developers to build low and moderate income housing units. There are ways to do this, such as increasing density for targeted units or reducing parking requirements, which would bring down costs on a per unit basis. And the courts need to be directed to accelerate the review of legal challenges to housing projects.

It took a long time for this housing crisis to develop, and it may take a long time to work through a solution, but we cannot afford to delay. Our legislators need to start acting now to solve this problem. If they don’t, the California dream may be a thing of the past for our vanishing middle class.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

 

Hotel Complex is a Dream for Hollywood Jobs

When one thinks about the visionaries who made Hollywood what it is today, there are a lot of candidates to consider: Sid Grauman who dreamed up the picture palaces and movie premieres, C.E. Toberman, who built most of the grand buildings on Hollywood Blvd. and made the Hollywood Bowl a reality, the Chandler family and their associates who put the huge Hollywood Sign on Mt. Lee, Johnny Grant, who built the Hollywood Walk of Fame into an international icon – the list could go on and on.

And in fact, the list continues to grow. Last week, the long-awaited Dream Hotel opened its doors – the culmination of a 10-year dream by Richard Heyman and Grant King of the Relevant Group. These two gentlemen looked at a very nondescript stretch of Selma Avenue just west of Cahuenga and imagined something no one else saw – a thriving entertainment complex.

Their original vision was to convert an old industrial building into a hotel and to activate the adjacent derelict alley with restaurants. Over the years, that vision grew. They now envision up to four hotels within a two-block area. This is a case study in “place-making” if ever there was one. The two partners envision a vibrant neighborhood something akin to the Meat Packing District in New York. Looking at what they have already created, we can only imagine what another three hotels might do for that neighborhood.

What is especially noteworthy is that the new hotel and the four adjacent restaurants have created 700 jobs. That is significant in a stretch where the previous structure on the site probably provided less than 10 jobs. Not only do the venues provide employment, but they will also offer new entertainment opportunities for Hollywood residents, and will act as a magnet, drawing guests from throughout Los Angeles. It will help to perpetuate Hollywood’s image as the entertainment center of Los Angeles.

If you talk with Grant and Richard, they will tell you of the many challenges they faced to make their dream a reality. When they couldn’t get financing locally for the project, Grant went to China where he successfully raised the needed funding.

They simply did not take “no” for an answer. They wanted to bring the “A-game” to Hollywood, and they did. Besides Dream Hotels, they brought in the Tao Group, one of the most successful restaurant groups in the nation. These unique restaurants in the Dream Hotel complex are already receiving rave reviews, so be sure to check out Tao, The Highlight Room, Beauty & Essex, and Luchini.

When you visit the Dream, you will agree that it will be catalytic not only for that stretch of Selma Avenue, but for Hollywood in general. This type of project perpetuates the excitement about the revitalization of Hollywood. I often speak with developers who remark that they can feel the energy here and that they want to be part of it. They have heard through word of mouth that things are happening in Hollywood. When they come to visit, they experience it.

Hollywood did not become the name synonymous with the film industry by thinking small. It has always been associated with “dreamers” – but dreamers who made things happen.

As the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, we congratulate Richard and Grant on their success and express our appreciation for their faith in Hollywood. We can hardly wait to see their next project.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

 

Musings About a Target

By now, most people have heard the disappointing news that Superior Court Judge Richard L. Fruin, Jr. has once again sided with a very small group of plaintiffs to prevent Hollywood’s new Target from being completed. I thought it might be appropriate to offer of few of my own observations on this sad state of affairs.

Let me first offer a little background. It has now been nine years since Target first filed to build a store in Hollywood. When it was initially approved by the City and threatened with a lawsuit, Target decided to do a complete Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to strengthen its case against lawsuits. However, that later proved to be of little value.

At issue was a quirk in the Station Neighborhood Area Plan (SNAP) that governs development in that area. The SNAP ordinance allows projects that are strictly retail to only be 35 feet in height, but allows mixed-use projects to be up to 75 feet. The City Council and Planning Commission felt that the Target would be a benefit to the neighborhood and granted a variance to allow the project to be built at the 75-foot height.

The La Mirada Neighborhood Association, which is reputed to have only two or three members, sued. Judge Fruin ruled that the EIR was fine, but that the city erred in granting a variance and should have changed the zoning.

The City, in order to comply with the judge’s order, created a new Subarea F zoning category for big box retail centers. Once again, the La Mirada Neighborhood Association sued, saying that the City should have performed a new EIR to justify the new zoning designation. And once again, the judge agreed with the plaintiffs. It serves no purpose to rebut the judge’s rationale for his decision, but I would like to share my thoughts on what a loss it means for Hollywood.

Between 250 and 300 permanent jobs have been lost to the community now for several years because of these lawsuits. These are jobs that could have been filled by many of the low-income residents in the neighborhood close to the Target site. In addition, the Target would have provided expanded shopping opportunities for our entire Hollywood community, and would have been within walking distance for many low-income neighborhoods. It is only two blocks from the Hollywood/Western subway station and so is easily reachable from all areas of Hollywood. We haven’t had a department store since Sears closed its Hollywood store in 2008, so this would have been a wonderful addition to the community.

I get more questions about the status of the Target from both residents and businesses than any other subject. There is overwhelming support in Hollywood for this store. So the question is “What are the specific reasons why these few people are opposing the Target so vehemently?”

Robert Silverstein, the plaintiff’s attorney, usually responds that the plaintiffs aren’t against a Target – they just want them to follow the city’s rules. My objection to that answer is that rules set by a city are not cast in stone. Historically, cities have always had broad discretionary powers to determine land use within their bounds. The SNAP ordinance is not the U.S. Constitution. The City should have the right to make changes as circumstances warrant.

We live in an urban area. What value is achieved by limiting a retail center to one story? When we have attended past hearings on the Target, the main justification of the opponents for their position is that they want housing built in the neighborhood, not just retail centers. If developers wants added height, they have to provide housing as well, they say. They also have voiced concerns over views being blocked or a building built out-of-scale with the neighborhood.

I could understand these arguments eight years ago, but circumstances have changed dramatically since that time and the rationale for those positions no longer applies. In the interim, three projects have been announced and are in the entitlement phase across the street from the Target that will provide 1,293 housing units. These projects will all be as high, or higher, than the Target. So what purpose is to be achieved by forcing the Target to be torn down and rebuilt at one story? My answer would be “Absolutely none.”

The opponents can bask in their latest court victory, but in my view, they should be asking themselves if they are really serving the greater good for Hollywood? If Target pulls out because they are tired of fighting this small group of naysayers, have the interests of Hollywood really been served? Does the loss of these needed jobs and shopping opportunities mean anything to the opponents?

Being with the Chamber of Commerce, I am an eternal optimist. We have been through some difficult times in Hollywood, and despite setbacks, the community’s revitalization continues to move forward. I remain hopeful that a solution can be found so that the Target can be completed. Meanwhile, I would urge everyone who is supportive of having the Target finished, to not be silent. Let the La Mirada Neighborhood Association know how you feel.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

Dreaming Big in Hollywood

Hollywood leaders have a history of dreaming BIG and making things happen that might not happen elsewhere. The Hollywood Sign is a perfect example. Hollywood entrepreneurs put it up on the hillside, and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce rescued it when it was falling down in 1948. It has become the symbol of Southern California.

The Hollywood Bowl is another great case. Who would have thought that a small group of community leaders would have the vision back in 1919 to purchase a hillside and develop an outdoor amphitheater that would seat 18,000 people? Likewise, the Hollywood Walk of Fame has become internationally renowned. It originated as an idea of a president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, E.M. Stuart, who was the general manager of the Broadway Hollywood Department Store. It took six years to make that idea a reality.

People still dream big in Hollywood. Last week, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to join a delegation of the Friends of the Hollywood Central Park. This is another big idea – to put a one-mile long cap (cover) over the Hollywood Freeway in the area where the freeway is below grade between Hollywood Blvd. and Santa Monica Blvd. The cap would create a 38-acre regional park at a cost estimated to approach $1-billion.

Most people would shy away from such an ambitious undertaking, but not the Friends of the Hollywood Central Park (FHCP). Since this nonprofit, grassroots organization was formed in 2008, it has made annual trips to the nation’s capital to brief our representatives. Their president, Laurie Goldman, is passionate about the park. At our meetings in Washington, she explained in detail to numerous congressional representatives, the Department of Housing & Urban Development as well as the Department of Transportation the progress that has been made.

It was obvious that those in the meetings had been briefed before and were extremely interested in and supportive of the proposed park. While other cap parks have been built around the nation, few have been as ambitious as this one or driven by a grassroots coalition. And of course, this one is proposed in Hollywood, which makes it that much more interesting.

Goldman and her delegation explained that Hollywood is one of the lowest resident-to-park-space communities in California (and the nation). Our community has only 0.005 acres of open space per resident as compared to 0.012 acres of open space within the City of Los Angeles. The benefits in improving the quality of life for our residents are obvious. Green space and athletic fields will change the equation for thousands of residents. Air quality will improve substantially, and the two sides of Hollywood will be knit back together after a separation of more than 60 years. And thousands of construction jobs will be created by the project.

FHCP was successful in securing over $2-million in funding for an environmental impact report on the park, which will be released later this year. It is far ahead of all other freeway cap park proposals in Southern California and will likely point the way for them.

Of course, the big question is how you raise a billion dollars. FHCP has turned over every rock looking for possible sources, and is making progress. One possibility they are currently studying is an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (EIFD). The EIFD is a new tool that the legislature in Sacramento authorized and the Governor approved that allows communities to create districts that would tap into tax increment financing for specific projects, such as parks (kind of “Community Redevelopment Agency-lite”). If FHCP uses an EIFD, then they would dedicate 25 percent of the revenue generated for affordable housing. The New Promise Zone for Los Angeles may present other opportunities to seek federal funding.

I came back from Washington convinced that the FHCP can indeed make this park a reality. There is a lot that can be achieved when you do not take “no” for an answer. Sociologist Margaret Meade’s famous quote applies here: “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

We are lucky to still have people who dream big in Hollywood. Our best wishes for continued progress to the Friends of the Hollywood Central Park!

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood

Why it is thumbs down on Neighborhood Initiative

By now, you may have heard of a new anti-growth effort, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, being promoted by a group called the Coalition to Preserve L.A. The initiative would impose harsh restrictions on projects that require major changes to city planning rules – including putting a moratorium of up to 24 months on development projects that cannot be built without votes from elected officials to increase density. It would make it difficult to change the L.A. General Plan for individual real estate projects. It would place City employees directly in charge of preparation of environmental review of major projects. It would require the City Planning Commission to update the City’s community plans to be consistent with the City’s General Plan – even though these initiative supporters often fight any effort to update the community plans.

Let me say the obvious – that the goal of the initiative proponents is to stop any significant development within the City of Los Angeles. They claim that their initiative “will preserve the character of neighborhoods throughout the City of Los Angeles and improve the overall quality of life for city residents.” In actuality, it will worsen the quality of life for city residents – as there will be fewer jobs, higher housing prices, and more congestion.

In order to justify radical initiatives like this one, the proponents always paint City officials as inept and developers as villains out to make a buck and destroy the character of neighborhoods. They never want to discuss the reasons behind the City’s actions or where growth should occur. They have no solutions. They merely want to turn the clock back fifty years to the Los Angeles of another time.

The problem is that you cannot go back. Los Angeles is the least affordable place to lease or buy a home in the nation and has had the biggest housing price increase over the past 15 years in the U.S., primarily because it is so difficult to build anything here. One of the reasons why we have so much gridlock is because of people who over the years have refused to consider smart growth solutions that have been implemented in cities around the globe.

The Los Angeles metropolitan area has reached its physical limits. We cannot keep growing outward and forcing people to commute vast distances. We should not allow the interior areas of the City to deteriorate in order to “preserve” neighborhoods. We should not prevent affordable housing from being built in our city.

Smart growth advocates and planners will tell you that the successful planning model is to direct growth to occur along transit corridors. As our mass transit system is built-out, it will eventually enable people to travel where they need to go without using their vehicles. We are then able to preserve those single-family neighborhoods that are so valued by the initiative proponents. (This used to be referred to as the two-percent solution – to direct development onto two-percent of the land in order to preserve 98 percent of the land.)

Opponents argue that the mass transit system is not yet built-out and that we should wait until that occurs before we build around mass transit stations. However, if we wait, traffic will continue to worsen for everyone because housing and jobs will be built in places that only add to congestion.

They also argue that it is impossible to build new projects without creating more traffic. They are correct that there will be some additional traffic. However, by matters of degrees, the increase in traffic will be substantially less due to the nearby transit, and because jobs will also locate close to these stations. There are currently five mass transit lines under construction by Metro in greater Los Angeles – that is more than any place else in the nation. As these lines come into operation, it will be easier to see the wisdom of guiding development to transit corridors.

Hollywood is the poster child for those opposing development. They point to the 70 or so projects in the pipeline and argue that development will destroy the quality of life and the character of Hollywood. In my view, exactly the opposite is occurring. We are creating a great example of how urban development should happen – with walkable neighborhoods and jobs, shopping, and entertainment close by. Opponents seem to forget how bad things were in Hollywood 20 years ago. What has turned central Hollywood around is the new development. And this development is occurring in the center of Hollywood, close to mass transit. Parking lots are being replaced by exciting new development that make it an attractive neighborhood.

New development has made it possible to preserve historic structures. About 15 years ago, I was visited by representatives of the Los Angeles Conservancy who were concerned about the possible loss of two very historic properties – Columbia Square and the Palladium. Today, because of new development, both of those historic venues are saved and will again be show places.

I was recently told the story of a local resident whose children have moved to the East Coast with no intention of moving back to L.A. Why? Because they are tired of living in an urban area where it is impossible to get by unless you use a car and are stuck in traffic gridlock. Passage of this initiative will only perpetuate that ineffective and outdated model.

So I ask the proponents of this initiative to tell us exactly where they think development should occur. They have no answer to that question. And until they can answer it, then this initiative should be given no credence. If you like the current gridlock in L.A., it will never change with their plan. Their solution to go backwards is no solution at all. They would merely be preserving a model that we already know no longer works.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 23 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood

Leadership Needed to Resolve a Real Crisis

This past week, the Hollywood Chamber had meetings with two of our L.A. City Councilmembers – first with Curren Price who chairs the City’s Economic Development Committee, and then our board met with newly-elected 4th District Councilmember David Ryu.

In both meetings, the issue which quickly rose to the top was the rapidly escalating number of homeless encampments throughout Hollywood. I can tell you that people are alarmed at what is happening on public sidewalks, along the freeway and even on private property. Your Chamber has been active in lobbying for action, through meetings as well as letters to our public officials.

A recent count by Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) found that the number of encampments on Hollywood streets has jumped by 54 percent to 184 since the last count in 2013. Countywide, LAHSA found that there was an 84 percent increase.

Who are these newly homeless in Hollywood? The Hollywood Entertainment District Security Patrols has surveyed many of the newly-arrived homeless and found that most of them are not from the Los Angeles area. A large number are from out of state and drawn to Hollywood. The majority are young.  Even if the City offered them housing, they would decline. They just want to hang out. For further information on this, read a column by Hollywood Property Owners Executive Director Kerry Morrison:http://onlyinhollywood.org/new-faces-contributing-to-increase-in-homelessness-in-hollywood/

Many of them are also on drugs and alcohol and there is an increasing incidence of mental illness and violent behavior. When I was walking to a meeting last week, one of them appealed to me for a contribution so he could do “alcohol research”. At least he was honest!

Hollywood has done a lot to assist our homeless population. There is a consensus here that we need to treat legitimately homeless individuals humanely. Since 2010, the Hollywood 4WRD Coalition has found housing for 440 of those on our streets. The goal has been to find permanent supportive housing for all of our local homeless. That goal has been blown out of the water with the current situation. I have been in Hollywood for 23 years, and have never seen it so bad.

What does the current crisis mean for Hollywood?  It means that residents do not feel safe in their own neighborhoods. It means that employees are afraid to walk to their cars after work. Developers of multi-million dollar office buildings are concerned that businesses won’t want to locate in Hollywood when they see the encampments outside their doors. This is a quality of life issue that impacts everyone.

Do we see these same problems in nearby cities such as West Hollywood, Burbank, Pasadena or Glendale? The answer is “no”. The usual explanation that we receive is that Los Angeles is so large that it is the prime target of lawsuits challenging homeless enforcement, and so the City’s hands are tied.

I recognize that is indeed a problem, but we are looking to our elected officials for leadership, not explanations. This week the Los Angeles City Council is poised to declare a “State of Emergency” and to earmark $100-million for solutions. This is a good first step.

However, beyond that, a plan of action is needed. First, the City needs to differentiate between those who are truly homeless and in need of humane treatment, and those who want to “hang out” and choose a lifestyle of living on the sidewalks and moving from city to city. Separate approaches need to be crafted for both populations. The County and State need to be brought into the dialogue. If legislation is needed in Sacramento to address the challenges imposed by the courts, then now is the time to be speaking to our legislators – when they are beginning to put together their legislative priorities for 2016. The City should be researching what other cities faced with similar issues have done.

The time for inaction is over. We don’t want to accept this increase in people living on our streets as a new normal. We will be watching how our elected officials lead on this issue!

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 23 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.

Millennials Setting the Pace for Hollywood’s Future

At our recent Hollywood Economic Development Summit, keynote speaker Victor Coleman of Hudson Pacific Properties, shared some fascinating statistics.

He said that 35 percent of Hollywood’s population (zip codes 90028 and 90038) is made up of Millennials (those in the 18 to 35 years old bracket). That is the largest concentration of Millennials of any community within Los Angeles County. It is greater than West L.A., which contains 29 percent Millennials and Santa Monica, which comes in with 24 percent Millennials.

When you look at a three-mile radius of Hollywood, the percentages remain strong, with 29 percent of the population composed of Millennials, greater than any other comparable zone except Downtown.

Why is this important to the future of Hollywood? Because this is a key reason why creative companies are interested in locating in Hollywood. We have the right demographic they are seeking. We want to attract firms that will employ these young people so that they do not need to travel elsewhere to work.

Hollywood is at the forefront of developing a new paradigm in Southern California – a place where people really can live and work in close proximity without the need for a car. We have got to stop pushing development to the periphery of the metropolitan area, requiring people to drive wherever they need to go and in turn clog our freeways and streets.

Over the past couple of years, new development in Hollywood has faced opposition from residents, primarily in the Hollywood Hills, who have objected to the growth in central Hollywood. As is usually the case in Southern California, those concerns are primarily focused on traffic and congestion. People just don’t believe that it is possible to change commuters’ habits.

With the Millennials, we finally have a chance to change that mindset. Studies have shown that they are urban centric. They like to walk, bike and take public transit. They are fascinated with Uber or Lyft and other alternatives to having their own vehicles. And they crave 24/7 walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods with a cool, hip factor.

Let me share with you a few statistics that bear this out. One study by Atlantic Cities revealed that up to 86 percent of Millennials said it was important for their city to offer opportunities to live and work without relying on a car. Nearly half of those who owned a car said they would consider giving it up if they could count on public transportation options.

A study by U.S. PIRG showed that Millennials drove on average 23 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 2001 – a greater decline in driving than any other age group. During the same time period, Millennials who lived in households with annual incomes of over $70,000 increased their use of public transit by 100 percent, biking by 122 percent and walking by 37 percent.

These statistics bear out why central Hollywood is so attractive to Millennials. It is a very compact community. You really can walk almost everywhere you need to. There are plenty of entertainment options – and more are coming. As the area fills in with more desirable retail stores, it is easy to see this area becoming one of the most walkable communities within Southern California. We are on the Redline Subway route, the backbone of the Metro transit system. As more lines are added, it will become even easier for residents of Hollywood to get where they want to without a vehicle.

So Hollywood is a prototype of what we need to encourage in Southern California. I would invite the skeptics who believe that this can’t work here to watch what is happening in Hollywood. We must accommodate growth within the Metro area, but we must do it with more forethought. This is the smart way to grow.

Obviously, there are other steps that can also be taken to improve traffic circulation – such as seeing that mitigation funds from new projects are invested wisely in street improvements and taking advantage of programs such as the Mayor’s Great Streets initiative. However, our new millennial generation presents a unique opportunity for Hollywood.

As a business community, we need to foster and welcome these young professionals to Hollywood. The Chamber has already created our Hollywood Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs program (HYPE). It is amazing to see the energy within this group.

I am sure that there is a lot more that we can do. We should all be having conversations with these new Hollywood residents and ask what their needs are and what would make Hollywood a better neighborhood for them. I suspect making it cleaner and safer would be at the top of their list. We have a lot of work to do, but having this key demographic in our community gives us an amazing opportunity to continue the revitalization of Hollywood.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 23 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.