Dynamist Blog

The Great (Housing) Divide, Cont'd

Here's an interesting followup to my Atlantic column (free link good for three days), discussed below: a chart comparing the number of building permits per 1,000 population in different metropolitan areas. It demonstrates the same phenomenon I discussed. The cities toward the bottom of the list, those with the fewest permits issued, fall into two categories: those with low demand and low prices (Detroit, Buffalo, Rochester, etc.) and those with high demand and high prices (LA, San Francisco, Boston, etc.). The fast-growing Sunbelt cities where housing is cheap are at the top of the list. Compared to the economic research I cited, this is a fairly crude way of cutting the data. But it did help reassure my Pasadena-based fact-checker that, despite the new construction she sees around her, it really is hard to get a permit in our area.

As you can see from these charts the number of permits in L.A. proper has grown a bit, no doubt as an effect of the run-up in housing prices. But the numbers are small--9,889 permits for multi-unit buildings, 1,969 for single-family homes in FY06--compared to the demand. They're also skewed geographically (bar charts here and here), with local development policy favoring downtown while making it difficult to build on the westside and in the south Valley, both places with high prices and lots of local opposition to new construction. One result, as Mitch Glaser discusses on his interesting blog, is that more and more people are commuting to the increasingly job-rich westside, making the traffic jams horrendous. (I make it a point to walk anywhere I need to go around rush hour.)

As the decade-plus struggle over the Playa Vista development near LAX demonstrates, westsiders will fight like crazy to beat back new construction even on vacant land, in this case the last large tract on the westside. Thanks to litigation, the project's second stage is now on indefinite hold, as Gary Walker of the Argonaut explains in this detailed news story:

A state appeals court in Los Angeles voted unanimously to halt construction on the second stage of commercial and residential development for Playa Vista, dealing the Playa Vista Capital real estate group a powerful and potentially costly legal setback.

The California Second District Court of Appeal found that the Los Angeles City Council violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) after it approved an environmental impact report that permitted construction for the development's second phase in 2005.

"The [environmental impact report on the project] was deficient in its analysis of land use impacts, mitigation of impacts on historical archaeological resources, and wastewater impacts," the court declared in its ruling.

The California Environmental Quality Act, a landmark state environmental statute, is the basis for environmental law and policy to protect environmental quality in California.

The judicial order covers two consolidated cases involving groups as diverse as the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust, the Tongva/Gabrieleno Tribal Council of San Gabriel, the City of Santa Monica, the Surfrider Foundation and the Ballona Ecosystem Education Project.

The verdict calls for the immediate stoppage of construction of the 111-acre Phase 2 project, which includes The Village at Playa Vista, the commercial linchpin of the development.

The appellate court overturned all city approvals for the project and revoked all of the permits acquired for the construction work.

Under the court ruling, Los Angeles City Council is mandated to comply with CEQA, write a new environmental impact report (EIR) and hold new public hearings.

Amenities for The Village include new public parks, a neighborhood retail center and 2,600 residential units. It was slated to have 175,000 square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of retail space and 40,000 square feet of other uses.

The ruling means not only that L.A. will have 2,600 fewer residential units but that the office and retail space that would make Playa Vista more self-contained, thereby generating less traffic out of the neighborhood, won't built. (Thanks to my friend Cosmo Wenman for the tip on Playa Vista.)

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