Rambla La Cienega

Los Angeles is full of wide boulevards whose potential to be great urban corridors, like Parisian boulevards, has been well noted. However, overcoming funding challenges, along with entrenched interests like motorists and auto-oriented development, might make it seem daunting. So how about a starter project on La Cienega Ave.

La Cienega Blvd? No, La Cienega Ave. Just south of the 10, after it crosses Venice, La Cienega Blvd swings east before resuming its southward course towards the oil fields. Where the boulevard swings east, the avenue runs straight, south to Washington. A look at ZIMAS gives some insight.

LaCienegaZoning

Judging from the odd layout of property lines on La Cienega Blvd between Washington and Fairfax, and the strange property lines heading due west from the curve in Adams, here’s a guess at what happened. The original layout of La Cienega went straight south from Venice to Washington. Meanwhile, Adams went straight west from Fairfax to Washington, and then curved northwest to the intersection of Venice and La Cienega.

Later, when it was decided to create La Cienega Blvd as we know it today, a new road was laid out from Washington to Fairfax, across the pre-existing property lines. Rather than accepting a skewed five-way intersection between La Cienega, Washington, and Adams, the latter was realigned to curve northwest and intersect Washington east of the new La Cienega, which took over the route of Adams from the old La Cienega to Washington. This would have been done to create a better north-south arterial roadway; Fairfax north of the 10 has a narrower right-of-way (ROW) than La Cienega, and this change would eliminate the dead-end on La Cienega.

Got that? All speculation based on the property lines, but next time you’re out there, note that LADWP’s power lines follow the initial route for Adams suggested here. The important thing is that this change left La Cienega Ave dangling in urban design limbo, a 100’ ROW that became a minor street.

Most of that space has been given over to angle parking. While it doesn’t look like much space, this is actually about the same ROW width as the famous La Rambla in Barcelona. Redistribute the street space, and you could build a mini-rambla on La Cienega Ave.

I won’t even try to design or render that green space – that’s what landscape architects are for! Leaving the street in their hands, what about adjoining land use?

La Cienega Ave is currently zoned C2, which allows many commercial uses and also R4 residential density (the denser end of the dingbat spectrum). However, this zone is limited to a total FAR of 1.5, which won’t cut it. It should be upzoned to something like RAS4, which allows mixed use with FAR 3.0, or better yet, a hypothetical RAS5 zone with FAR 6.0, allowing denser residential development. ZIMAS uses orange for multi-family residential zones, but don’t let that fool you: the residential streets here are almost all RD2 and RD1.5, which allows only 2-3 units per lot. The side streets feeding La Cienega Ave, Hargis and Melvil, should be upzoned to R4 or RAS4. Parking requirements, as always, would probably need to be relaxed.

Ultimately, the hope would be to create a mixed-use district centered on the rambla, something like Americana at Brand but without the inevitable overplanning and uniformity of design that come with a single owner.

The upzoning might be able to help pay for the improvements to La Cienega Ave, which should be a minor burden if distributed out. As for transit, this area is less than a mile from both Culver City and Jefferson/La Cienega on the Expo Line, and well served by bus routes 33/733 on Venice and 105/705 on La Cienega.

Dingbat Renaissance

Note: for ease of understanding, all costs, prices, rents, and so on are presented in 2014 dollars, adjusted from 1964 dollars per the BLS inflation calculator.

Discussions on affordable housing in Los Angeles, and California in general, often include debate on how to maintain existing affordable housing stock. These buildings, constructed mainly in the 1950s and 1960s, are referred to as dingbats. They are invariably low-rise wood-frame and stucco construction, though there’s some variability in scale, from the classic single-lot six-unit dingbat to larger buildings constructed on several assembled single-family lots.

While there’s a lot of interest in preserving the affordable housing units in these buildings, there’s a curious lack of interest in how dingbats came to exist. Despite the fact that many were speculative, they were purpose-built affordable housing, and they were built in mass for decades. It stands to reason that a city facing a huge shortage of affordable housing should want to understand how the dingbats were built, and if we might build large amounts of affordable housing by the same process today.

Fortunately, the dingbats are not a mystery. In The Low-Rise Speculative Apartment, published in 1964, Wallace Francis Smith offers a detailed analysis of the dingbat construction boom then taking place in Oakland. Presciently, Smith concluded that dingbats were serving a useful function in society, and that their construction ought to be encouraged. As we will see, the opposite happened, but to start, let’s consider the factors that, per Smith, enabled construction of dingbats:

  • Savings looking for investment, and thus lending institutions with excess lending capacity.
  • Investors looking to buy small residential properties upon completion.
  • Depreciation tax incentives that made the properties attractive investments for high-income individuals, even if the nominal net cash flow from operations was very small.
  • Low cost of land per dwelling unit (du), median $10,700.
  • Low cost of construction per du, median $47,185.
  • Short duration of construction, median 7-9 months but as little as 3 months.
  • Zoning that allowed single-family residences (SFRs) to be replaced by dingbat apartment construction.

Parking requirements, as enacted by Oakland in 1961, were determined to increase construction costs, but not to the extent that they stopped construction altogether. Rather, marginal projects (which logically include the most affordable dwelling units) became impossible to build profitably.

These conditions produced a large quantity of affordable units. One bedroom units, averaging 635 SF, rented for an average of $820/month. Two bedroom units, averaging 835 SF, rented for an average $1,055/month. You can scarcely rent something in the oldest buildings in the cheapest neighborhoods in LA today, let alone new construction.

Dingbat Factors Today

Ok, all of that is great for people in 1964. What about 2014? Could the same combination of factors allow for a boom in affordable housing construction in Los Angeles today?

The first three factors relate to availability of financing and willing investors. This is not the area of expertise for this blog, but lending capacity does not seem to be an issue. Neither does the ability to find investors; consider the current level of foreign interest in owning real estate in US cities. Tax structures relating to depreciation are not something that can be addressed at the city level, and would require federal action.

The next three factors concern the costs of planning, permitting, and building the project. Cost of land per dwelling unit was very low for the dingbats. Assuming R4 zoning, which allows 12 du on a 5,000 SF lot, you’d have to be able to buy such a lot for $125,000 to get similar land costs per unit. You simply cannot find buildable lots that cheaply in LA today.

Construction costs were also very low, with the figures above equating to about $75/SF for building a dingbat. This is not out of line for construction of SFRs today; you can buy new SFR construction for as little as $85/SF in places like Adelanto. Perhaps it’s possible to see classic dingbats as big SFRs. On the other hand, dingbat construction is universally considered to be low quality, good enough only to meet the building codes of the time, lacking in amenities like, say, soundproofing between apartments. In addition, changes in seismic building codes in response to the 1970 Sylmar earthquake and the 1994 Northridge earthquake have undoubtedly increased construction costs for structures with open stories on the ground floor, like the classic dingbat carport. Today’s multifamily construction costs are much higher, often over $200/SF.

Duration of construction indirectly impacts construction costs, because carrying costs are increased when the duration of construction is longer. Much construction, including many of the original dingbats, is financed by a construction loan, which is paid off and replaced by a permanent loan when the building is complete (or when the speculative builder sells the completed building to an investor). Construction loans usually have higher interest rates than permanent loans. The faster construction can be completed, the faster the building can be put into revenue use and the construction loan retired. The city can reduce duration of construction by facilitating permitting and working to schedule building inspections so that they minimize downtime on the jobsite.

Lastly, there’s the need for zoning that allows dingbat construction. In LA, this generally means R3 or R4, which allow 6 du and 12 du on a typical 5,000 SF (50’ by 100’) lot, with R3 corresponding to the classic image of a dingbat. R5 zoning allows 25 du on such a lot, but this can’t practically be accomplished with wood-frame construction given setback, height, and floor-to-area (FAR) zoning requirements. Since 1970, zoning changes have significantly reduced the amount of R3 and R4 zoned land, especially in areas like the Westside. While small apartment buildings are still built in neighborhoods like Palms, in most places, they are precluded by zoning.

Parking requirements are part of zoning; in LA, zoning stipulates 1 spot per studio, 1.5 spots per 1 bedroom apartment, and 2 spots per 2+ bedroom apartment. As we shall see shortly, they have a major impact on the cost and feasibility of small apartment building construction, particularly on small lots.

Let a Thousand Dingbats Bloom

Given these parameters, let’s try to make dingbat construction work today, and see what cost inputs we might be able to change.

Dingbat, 1964

Now, what do good engineers do before performing tests? They calibrate their equipment! So first, here’s a shot at analysis of dingbat construction in 1964.

dingbat costs

The columns on the left present a breakdown of total costs and costs per unit. “Soft costs” refers to things like design and permitting; other cost categories are hopefully self-explanatory. At center, you can see we are assuming a classic 6-unit dingbat, the typical 635 SF 1-BR apartment size, and construction costs of $75/SF. “Efficiency” refers to the ratio of usable apartment space to total building size, which includes unproductive areas like stairwells. At right are assumptions for several cost categories: soft costs are assumed to be 10% of construction, marketing 1% of construction, carrying costs 8% of land plus demolition plus construction, and profit 6% of land plus demolition plus construction.

To convert this to a monthly rent, we first calculate a monthly mortgage payment by taking the cost per unit and amortizing it out over 30 years, at an assumed loan rate of 6%. Since rents must also cover building operating costs and unit vacancies between tenants, we divide the mortgage payment by 70% and then 95%, thereby accounting for 5% vacancy and operating costs equal to 30% of gross rents. Operating costs of 30% are a little on the lean side for LA apartment buildings, but not unreasonable.

And, voila! We get a monthly rent in the vicinity of the rents reported by Smith in 1964. Note two things here. First, a rough guess of monthly rent is about 0.90% of total costs. This is a little higher than some other estimates I found (0.75% to 0.80%), but let’s err on the side of caution. (If you assume an equity investment of 20%, you could cover the mortgage and operating costs with monthly rent of 0.73%.) Second, we can assess the contribution of each cost category to monthly rent. As you’d expect, construction costs dominate, followed by land costs.

Palms West, 2014

Back to the present. What would a small development look like on the Westside? Fire up ZIMAS and look to the north and west of Palms, and you’ll see large areas in yellow, which indicates R1 single-family zoning.

ZIMAS

Looking at some of the less expensive areas, you can find an SFR in for something like $800,000. Let’s assume it’s upzoned to R3, which would allow six units. I know a lot of readers don’t like bundled parking, but for the sake of argument, assume it’s hard to sell condos in these neighborhoods without parking. Since they’re primarily single-family, there’s not a lot in walking distance and it might be a hike to decent transit. Yes, condos. Not your parents’ dingbats, but when you’re paying that much for land, it’s probably the way to go. Here’s one possible configuration, meeting city parking and setback requirements.

WV1

Four stories, parking on the ground level, and two units per floor above that. I assumed elevators would be required for all buildings. This gives you as simple a design as possible for the podium, which would probably have to be concrete. Costs are presented below.

Westside 1 costs

Soft costs were increased to 15%, to account for increased permitting and design costs, and marketing to 8%. Construction costs were assumed to be $225/SF, a rough estimate based on a variety of sources for podium type construction. Could you sell these generously sized 1-BR condos for about $525,000 on the Westside today? I think so.

Here’s another option for Westside development, with a three-story building that has four small units and two large units. I bumped construction costs up to $250/SF to account for the higher proportion of concrete.

WV2

Westside 2 costs

For this option, I split all costs except construction equally among the units. This gives some units just under $400,000. Distributing costs differently would decrease the price for the small units, but increase it for the large ones.

Vermont Knolls, 2014

Fine, you say, but wasn’t the point of this post to look at affordable housing? Let’s take this model to Vermont Knolls, a part of South LA bounded by the 110, Normandie, Manchester, and Florence. Some areas are zoned R3, but most are zoned for less density (RD, R2, or R1). Here, the cost of a single-family lot is something like $300,000.

To drive down the cost of land per unit, let’s assume it’s upzoned to R4, which again allows 12 du on a normal lot. Here, we can really see the impact of parking requirements. Even if all 12 units are nominally studios, the zoning requires 12 parking spaces, which would be nearly impossible to configure on a 5,000 SF lot with only 50’ of street frontage. Let’s assume the city eliminates parking requirements; we’ll still throw in a few parking spaces out front – they’re nearly free and would generate some additional revenue.

SLA1

Three stories, four apartments each floor. Construction costs were assumed to be $140/SF, on the low end of what I’ve seen for low-rise construction in LA. Soft costs were dropped back to 10%, on the assumptions that design costs would be reduced by working from a cookie cutter plan and that the city would facilitate permitting and inspection. Marketing was dropped to 1%; affordable apartments rent themselves.

South LA 1 costs

Hitting rents under $1,300/month is a big deal. Why? Well, if we raise the minimum wage to $13/hr, a full-time minimum wage worker would make about $26,000/year. A two-worker household would earn about $52,000/year. Using the 30% of income standard, a brand new $1,300/month apartment is affordable for such a household. If construction costs could be driven down more, all the better; for example, at $100/SF, the rent would be about $1,000/month.

Here’s another option, going with four stories and a mix of studio/1BR (ground floor), 2BR (floors 2-3), and small 3BR apartments (floor 4). Costs were apportioned the same way as the Westside plan.

SLA2 South LA 2 costs

I’m not sure if these larger size apartments would be competitive with existing rental stock. Again, driving construction costs down would make a big difference; at $100/SF, the 1BRs would be about $1,000/month, the 2BRs around $1,200/month, and the 3BRs $1,550/month.

ADU Sidebar

What’s even more affordable than dingbats? Accessory dwelling units. These can be very basic one-story wood-frame projects. If the property owner does the development, there’s no land or demolition cost, and we can safely assume true SFR construction costs, say $80/SF. For a 700 SF ADU, we get the following costs.

ADU costs

Importance of Single Lot Projects

Readers have probably noticed that all the development concepts in this post are based on single lot projects. Lot assembly greatly facilitates things; for example, by putting two lots together, you eliminate the lost space of the side setbacks between them, which lets you offer larger apartments. This will also drive down costs per square foot, because larger apartments usually include more cheaply built living space, rather than more expensive kitchen and bathroom space.

However, I think the ability to profitably develop a single lot is crucial, because it eliminates the potential for adjacent owners to hold out for huge payouts. Indeed, as Smith notes, most of the original dingbats were built without even considering lot assembly, which was deemed to add too much time to the process. If a single lot can be developed profitably, it’s mutually beneficial if adjoining owners decide to consolidate and develop a larger building. This also eliminates the need for city planning agencies to go down into the weeds and use eminent domain to assemble lots large enough to be feasible. The city could facilitate single lot projects by reducing or eliminating parking requirements and reducing setbacks.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive

An approach to affordable housing that strives to enable market-rate construction of projects like these all over the city is a more proactive policy. Trying to save existing affordable units, while necessary in the short run due to California’s terrible housing situation, can only slow down, but never reverse, the worsening affordability problem. Note that projects like the Westside condo examples presented are critical to this approach to housing, because they alleviate market demand for upscale neighborhoods. If development is strangled on the Westside, gentrification elsewhere is almost inevitable.

This approach isn’t available to every city. LA is large city, and have a variety of neighborhoods, including some where land costs are not prohibitively high. This may not be true for a place like San Francisco, where it seems improbable that $1,500/month 2BRs could be built in the city under current conditions. Because counties and municipalities are smaller in the Bay Area, there will likely need to be more cooperation between jurisdictions.

In LA, though, we should be able to permit and encourage construction of a variety of housing. We ought to do so while we have the chance.

This post owes a debt of gratitude to this post on costs in SF by Mark Hogan, and helpful interaction from @markasaurus, @eparillon, and @mottsmith on Twitter.

*Smith gives $44,315 as the permit construction cost. In Appendix A, this is estimated to represent 82% of total development costs, which included lending and marketing costs. Actual construction costs were estimated as 87.31% of total development costs. Therefore, I assumed actual construction cost per unit was 0.8731 * ($44,315 / 0.82) = $47,185.

Metrolink Ridership Update – September 2014

Time for an update on Metrolink ridership, including FY15Q1 (July-September 2014) data. Here’s the breakdown of data by stations.

stations-20141127

Here’s the update of the rolling 12-month averages, broken down by line.

Ventura-20141127 AV-20141127

BG-20141127 SB-20141127 Riverside-20141127 91-20141127 OC-20141127 91OC-20141127 AC-20141127

Ridership continues to be on a troubling downward trend.

Here’s a look at the top 10 and bottom 10 stations for ridership gained (or lost) over the period from June 2010 to September 2014 (all based on rolling 12-month averages). The top 10 and bottom 10 stations are unchanged, except for Anaheim Canyon entering the top 10 and Fullerton dropping out, and Rancho Cucamonga entering the bottom 10 and Via Princessa dropping out. These are both bad changes, because Fullerton and Rancho Cucamonga are higher ridership stations than Anaheim Canyon and Via Princessa.

abstop-20141127 absbottom-20141127

Since June 2010, 43 of the 54 stations (excluding LA Union Station) have lost ridership, up from 42 of 54 at the last update. Fullerton has now gone from having an increase in ridership to a loss. 17 stations have lost more than 20% of their ridership in the last 4 years, up from 12 at the last update. With the exception of Pomona Downtown, every station that’s gained ridership is either in Orange County or on the 91/OC-IE Lines.

LACMTA Bus Ridership October 2014 – Wilshire Update

Update to the post on bus ridership: commenter calwatch noted that, since the 720 extends onto Whittier Blvd, a more proper accounting would include local boardings on the 18, which operates on Whittier and 6th. I updated the bus ridership data to include the 18; the revised graphs are below. I also created a plot for the combined Wilshire/Whittier corridor showing the breakdown of ridership between routes 18, 20, and 720. The recent decrease in ridership is largely due to a decline in boardings on route 18.

For the next update, I’ll add boardings per route-mile for these bus routes.

bus-raw-201410a bus-wkdy-12mo-201410a bus-Sat-12mo-201410a bus-Sun-12mo-201410abus-share-201410abus-split-Wilshire-201410

LACMTA Ridership Update – October 2014

Note: see the update to bus ridership here.

Another three months has passed, so it’s time for another LACMTA rail ridership update.

First, the raw data. Highlighted cells represent the top 10 months for that line (since January 2009).

rawdata-201410

Ridership was generally up a little bit on all lines. The Green and Blue Lines remain well below their peak ridership months in the second half of 2012, as is the Red Line below peak months in 2013. Gold Line ridership remained near all-time highs, while Expo Line was flat except for Sunday ridership. Expo Line ridership was flat in the second half of 2013 as well, so we’ll have to see if 2015 brings another surge. Trends were similar across weekdays, Saturday, and Sunday, except for the Red Line on Sundays, which had some of its best numbers on record.

Here’s the rolling 12-month average of weekday ridership:

wkdy-12mo-201410

On the rolling 12-month graphic, the recent dips in Blue and Green Lines ridership look a little less troubling. The sharp drop in Red Line ridership is likely due to fare gate locking.

For this update, I decided to include the Saturday and Sunday rolling 12-month averages as well.

Sat-12mo-201410

Sun-12mo-201410

Note the sharp uptick in Gold Line ridership on Saturday and Sunday starting in July 2013, while weekday ridership is little changed. This is probably because Metro started running 7-8 minute headways on the Gold Line on weekends. While this is nice for Gold Line riders and led to a bump in ridership, you have to wonder why the Green Line – which has identical ridership overall and on a per mile basis – only gets 15 minute service on the weekend, and the Blue Line, with higher ridership, gets 10 minute service.

Boardings per mile is a better way to look at productivity. Here’s the update for the rolling 12-month average of boardings per mile:

wkdy-bprm-201410

Now Featuring Bus Ridership!

As experts like Jarrett Walker and Juan Matute have written elsewhere, an extensive, successful rail network will only be part of a successful transit network for LA. Bus will always be important. With that in mind, here’s a look at ridership trends on five of LA’s major arterials. Each arterial has both a local bus route and a Metro Rapid bus (700-series route numbers). Therefore, the ridership presented is the sum of the local and the rapid. The chosen arterials and bus routes are Santa Monica (4 & 704), Wilshire (20 & 720), Venice (33 & 733), Vermont (204 & 754), and Western (207 & 757). The Orange Line and Silver Line are also included.

Here’s the raw data, and the rolling 12-month averages for weekdays.

bus-raw-201410

bus-wkdy-12mo-201410

Orange Line and Silver Line ridership grew steadily throughout the period, and Wilshire and Venice had growth as well. Santa Monica was flat, while both Vermont and Western saw considerable drops in ridership – nearly 12% in the case of Vermont.

Here’s the Saturday and Sunday rolling 12-month averages.

bus-Sat-12mo-201410

bus-Sun-12mo-201410

On the Saturday and Sunday graphics, we can see some interesting structural changes reveal themselves. The 733 service on Venice was introduced in July 2010, and this seems to have resulted in an increase in ridership. Meanwhile, the 757 service on Western was discontinued on weekends in July 2011, and this seems to have resulted in an immediate drop in ridership. By late 2012, ridership on both streets had leveled off. This change is also evident in weekday ridership on Venice, though not as pronounced.

Lastly, we can look at the percentage of trips on each arterial being served by the rapid route.

bus-share-201410

The 720 dominates ridership on the Wilshire corridor. On Venice, the rapid captured about 50% of ridership when introduced, and has since slipped a little. On Western, service changes in July 2011 resulted in a quick jump in rapid share, followed by a continued increase. Vermont also saw a slight increase in rapid share, though in both the case of Western and Vermont, total ridership on the corridor declined.

It’s impossible to discern what caused ridership changes from this data. An improving economy means more people have jobs, which increases ridership, but it also means more people can afford cars. Some of the neighborhoods served by these routes have been undergoing changes that often decrease ridership, such as gentrification.

There are two ideas I would feel comfortable floating out. One, because the Silver Line on the 110 is just a little over half a mile from Vermont, some Silver Line ridership may have been captured from Vermont. The Silver Line is limited by poor stop spacing, but it goes directly downtown, so it may have captured trips from Vermont that were transferring to the Red Line. Two, the Expo Line may have captured some ridership in the USC area.

The most important thing here, though, is that ridership on these bus corridors is higher than many of LA’s LRT lines. Wilshire and Vermont have more riders than any LRT line except the Blue Line. These bus routes are a critical part of mobility in LA. We’ll have Wilshire BRT, but maybe we should have a Vermont, Western, Santa Monica, and Venice BRT too.

That’s it for now, stay tuned for Metrolink!

How Does Your Grid Grow?

Every city has an underlying historical layout that shapes growth. For example, New York is dominated by a continuous grid of avenues and streets, first deployed in Manhattan in the early 1800s, then repeated again and again in Brooklyn and Queens. In Boston, development is shaped around “squares” (which might more properly be called “crossroads”), along the major roads connecting the squares, and then into local grids of varying regularity.

In Los Angeles, development is shaped by a grid of north-south and east-west arterial roads, generally on half-mile spacing. The grid is somewhat distorted by topography and historic land grants, such as the old pueblos and ranchos. While some areas have New York-style continuous grids in between the arterials, much of the city has features such as irregular grids, curvilinear streets, and jogs in the grid, all of which discourage through traffic and transit. This reinforces the importance of the arterials.

Navigating a city requires forming an internal map of this structure – where the roads go, and how well they do it. For example, if you spend a lot of time in the Inland Empire, you probably know Milliken, Haven, and Archibald, and which one isn’t continuous around Ontario Airport. If you live on the Westside, you know Pico, Olympic, Santa Monica, and Wilshire, and which ones will ruin your bus ride in the afternoon. In Boston, you might know that Somerville Ave takes you between Porter Square and Union Square, while Cambridge and Washington Streets take you between Union Square (Allston) and Oak Square. On the other hand, Manhattan’s continuous grid devalues knowledge about the east-west streets; you’re better off knowing the major streets and the few areas where the grid is disrupted, like Morningside Park.

When I started posting about north-south transit on the Westside, I found that I didn’t really like any of the readily available maps. For my eye, Google Earth and Maps are too busy, while highly stylized maps, like LA Metro’s system map, are too distorted. I wanted a map that was roughly geographically accurate, but stripped down enough to show the underlying structure. So I made my own map of the mile-spaced arterials, scaling distances in Google Earth and drafting in CAD. The original plan was to just do the Valley and the LA Basin, but I ended up doing all five LA area counties (LA, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, & Ventura).

This exercise was very revealing because it shows how much editorializing is involved in mapmaking. While maps are often presented as unbiased fact, the content is strongly influenced by the personal, social, and cultural background of the person making the map. Even on this map, which only includes streets, we must decide which streets are important enough to be included. As suburbia faded to desert in the Antelope Valley and farms in the Coachella Valley, I kept putting in the arterials as long as they were paved. Do Avenue A and Hayes (named for Rutherford B Hayes in one of the most extensive presidential street grids you’ll find) really belong on the map? You tell me.

This map only includes arterial roads. There are no freeways and no rail lines. Yet if you know LA’s geography, you can probably pick out many regions by their arterial structure – the regular grids of the Valley, the LA Basin, northern Orange County, and the Coachella Valley; the growth-boundary-stunted grid of Ventura County; the irregular layout of hilly areas like the Santa Clarita Valley and southern Orange County; the established grid of the older San Bernardino County cities and nascent grid of the newer Riverside County cites; the ill-defined edges of growth in the High Desert. You’ll also see features from where there aren’t roads, like the immense expanse of the San Gabriel Mountains. And finally, you might see things you didn’t realize before, like the oddly distorted north-south arterials between Main and Cherry in the LA Basin.

Despite showing only arterial roads, the map can be read in many ways depending on your point of view. Does the anticipatory grid in the Antelope Valley portend endless sprawl, or room for opportunity? Or is the lonely view along 200th Street E to Hi Vista that and nothing more? What about golf courses and subdivisions creeping southeast into the farms of the Coachella Valley?

Anyway, enjoy. Click to embiggen. . .

LAmap

Why Don’t We Build Trailer Parks Anymore?

Trailer parks are the rural and suburban answer to “the projects” in urban areas: both unfairly and fairly maligned, poorly understood, a convenient shorthand for looking down on a certain group of people.

This is really unfortunate, because trailer parks are a great way to provide affordable housing in a rural or suburban setting. Now, I’m not talking about the trailer parks that persist in places like Santa Monica because zoning and NIMBYs preclude redevelopment, with hugely subsidized rents for people like UCLA philosophy professors earning six figures. Not at all. I’m thinking about places near the suburbanizing edge of western Riverside County, like Nuevo or Hemet; places like the Coachella and Imperial Valleys, with high cost of housing burden for low income service and agricultural workers.

Popular stereotypes hold that trailers and mobile homes are shoddily built. This is probably because the housing stock in most trailer parks is pretty old. Modern manufactured homes, as the fabricators prefer they be called, are well built in a controlled factory environment, and they meet the building codes like any new construction. There’s probably a parallel with dingbats, which everyone holds to be a crappy form of construction, just because we zoned new construction out of existence and all the dingbats we have are 50 years old.

Mobile home park densities aren’t going to knock your socks off, but they’re not bad for suburbia. This large area in Hemet checks in at around 6.3 dwelling units per gross acre. Hop over to Zillow and enjoy the affordability. The lot sizes aren’t too much smaller than the classic 5,000 SF lots that were developed into low-rise apartments in places like Palms, which raises the enticing prospect of neighborhoods of mobile homes slowly getting replaced by dingbats.

Note that there are also many older subdivisions of conventional construction about the same size and comparable (or higher) densities, like say this area just west of that Hemet mobile home park. Properties there are selling in the high $100k’s, a considerable premium over the manufactured homes. Meanwhile, new conventional SFR construction in the area starts somewhere around the mid $200k’s. You can see a similar dynamic over in Menifee. Shouldn’t there be a market for new subdivisions of manufactured homes, selling at a similar discount to conventional construction?

So why don’t we build new mobile home parks? Is the market really just not there? Have communities zoned them out completely, because they attract the “wrong” kind of people? Are cities worried they’ll attract people with kids but not generate enough revenue? Other thoughts? Like low-rise apartments in cities, manufactured homes in suburbia seem to be yet another affordable option we’ve denied ourselves.