Monthly Archives: July 2014

Congestion Pricing Questions

Congestion pricing for freeway capacity is a hot topic. The basic implementation of price-managed lanes known as high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes has been rolled out in many cities, including the new lanes on the Capitol Beltway in Virginia and the retrofit of existing HOV lanes on the 110 and the 10. These lanes operate on a simple principle: when traffic increases in the lane, prices (tolls) are increased to decrease the number of people using the lane and prevent congestion.

Beyond that, though, a wide range of people have called for congestion pricing on all lanes of freeways. This ranges from libertarians who favor user fees, like Randal O’Toole, to urbanists that want to decrease the amount of driving by increasing costs, to cities and states that see potential revenues.

Theoretically, it is easy to extend the concept of HOT lanes to the entire freeway. However, it seems to me that to do so, you have to make a major simplifying assumption about your freeway network – that there are no capacity mismatches. What does that mean? It’s probably easiest to show by way of a few examples. Note that traffic jams on freeways do not necessarily indicate there’s a problem on the road at that location; rather, they are often acting as a queue of cars, pointing towards a downstream bottleneck. There are also questions for long distance trips.

The Off-Ramp Strangler: The 10 at Cloverfield

On weekday mornings, the 10 westbound into Santa Monica backs up starting at the Cloverfield/26th off-ramp. There’s a lot of employment in the area around the future Olympic/26th Expo Line station, and the local streets can’t handle the traffic volumes at peak times. The off-ramp acts as storage for cars waiting to distribute themselves on the local street network, and when the off-ramp gets full, cars start queuing up on the mainline of the freeway.



If you’re managing an HOT lane, it’s pretty easy to keep that lane flowing at a reasonable speed. You’d just charge a higher toll for the lane up to Cloverfield, and then a lower toll beyond that. The general purpose lanes act as a spillway, soaking up whatever traffic comes out of the HOT lane.

What would happen in practice if the whole freeway was tolled? Some people will try to change their travel patterns by leaving earlier or later, which is the real intent of congestion pricing. However, some people will just hop out onto the free local street network. If you charge an arm and a leg to get from Bundy to Cloverfield, maybe I decide to get off at National, Overland, or Bundy. That moves the queue of cars trying to get to office parks in Santa Monica off of the freeway and onto the arterial grid.

Disastrous Lane Drop: The 5 at Norwalk Narrows

Everyone in LA has probably experienced this at some point: you’re cruising north on the 5 in Orange County, enjoying some of the world’s finest freeway engineering, and then boom! You pass the 91 and you slam (figuratively, we hope) into gridlock on the three-lane section of the 5 through Santa Fe Springs and Norwalk. This is one of the last unreconstructed 1950s-era freeways in LA. It’s being widened as we speak, but it’s a great example of a capacity mismatch between adjacent sections of a freeway mainline.



If you’ve got a managed HOT lane here (and the Orange County section is clearly designed for that possibility), you can keep it flowing by charging a punitive toll through the Norwalk Narrows. If the entire freeway is tolled, you’d have to charge very high tolls to keep things moving on the three-lane section – so high, that you might not be able to charge anything on the five-lane section to the south. That results in a very cheap section leading into a very expensive section.

Again, the incentive is going to be for people to use the cheap section of the freeway, and then bail out onto the free local arterial grid.

Alternatives with Issues: The 405 vs North-South Arterials

This one isn’t quite so much about a freeway capacity mismatch as it is about the amount of existing congestion on local arterials.

Northbound congestion on the 405 has several causes. For one, the prolonged steep grade approaching Sepulveda Pass degrades vehicle performance, resulting in some vehicles slowing down. At the top of the pass, you have an intense weaving section leading up to the busiest interchange in the country, the 405 and the 101. Further upstream, you simply have a lot of traffic from Westside employment centers entering the freeway between the 10 and Wilshire to head home to the Valley.


Contrary to popular conceptions of LA, the north-south arterials on the Westside are significantly underpowered. Sepulveda is the only true through arterial between Lincoln and Robertson; the rest – Bundy-Centinella, Sawtelle, Barrington-McLaughlin, Westwood-Overland, Beverly-Beverwil-Castle Heights – are Frankenroads, incomplete, cobbled together from various parts, and not even two lanes in each direction. This contributes to a major lack of north-south mobility on the Westside.

If the 405 were tolled to maintain higher speeds, some traffic would shift to this free ragtag network of north-south arterials. Again, this might be an undesired side effect of tolling all freeway capacity.

Long-Distance Trips

Existing HOT lanes, like the express lanes on the 110 and the 10, are managed dynamically: prices are adjusted to respond to real-time traffic conditions. If the lane starts to get congested, prices are increased to reduce the number of drivers that decide to enter. Pricing information is conveyed to drivers using variable message signs. If you’re already in the lane, the price you saw when you entered is honored for your destination.

This works well for a managed HOT lane in isolation; no one knows what the toll will be when they enter the freeway, so the general purpose lanes just soak up whatever traffic doesn’t want to use the HOT lane. With a network of HOT lanes, this will still work pretty well. The number of destinations you can reasonably indicate on a VMS sign is limited, but you’d always have the option to leave when you reach the next tolling section. Let’s say you’re in the HOT lane on the 10 east and you hop on the 5 south to go visit the mouse, and you don’t like the prices. No problem, you just take the free lanes.

If the entire freeway is dynamically tolled, this starts to fall apart. What do I do if I get on a freeway and I’m not willing to pay the going price? For short trips, you could check before you leave, but for long trips, it would be an issue. If you get on the 101 in Woodland Hills and you’re going to Anaheim, what happens if you get on the 5 and the toll is more than you’re willing to pay? Do you take arterials? Do you just get off and park somewhere, waiting for prices to go down?

Private Parts

Now, you may have been chomping at the bit as you read this post, thinking that there are technological solutions to these problems: use congestion pricing on the arterials as well as the freeways, and quote people a price for their entire trip before they start it.

Those ideas are certainly theoretically possible. However, they may prove politically impossible, for some very good reasons.

Tolling arterial capacity, using existing electronic tolling methods, would prove unreasonably costly. It would more or less require turning every traffic light into a tolling location. It would require trying to communicate toll rates on a block by block basis. Both of these would be impractical. You could do it without any roadside equipment by requiring every vehicle to be equipped with GPS, and having the vehicle’s on-board equipment report the GPS data to a central facility for calculation of tolls.

Getting a price quote for a trip before you take it is something we’re all familiar with for things like flying, ferries, tours, and so on. In the case of flying, the details of your travel are reported to the government in advance. However, flying is something most people do rarely. Requiring advance requests for auto travel fees would bring that level of oversight into people’s everyday lives.

To be blunt, I don’t think many people would be comfortable with having to tell the government where they’re going before they leave, and I don’t think many people want their movements being tracked by GPS. If you don’t like the NSA recording your phone calls and reading your emails, you should be worried about the prospect of having the government follow your whereabouts. While this would obviously still leave walking, biking, and transit as options for anonymous travel, it would be an imposition on people’s right to freedom of movement.


This isn’t to say we should give up on the idea of tolling highway capacity. I would be curious to see research on detailed modeling of a real road network (freeways and arterials) under these scenarios. For example, what would happen on the Westside if the 405 and the 10 were dynamically tolled but the arterials were still free? Regarding privacy, would people be more comfortable if the advance price was obtained through a third-party intermediary (such a car-sharing service) that could make the reservation with the system in the corporation’s name?

In the meantime, a more realistic option than real-time dynamic pricing might be managing freeway capacity the way that street parking is managed in downtown LA. In that model, utilization of street parking is monitored, and then prices at different times of day are adjusted up or down to try to optimize utilization. For freeways, a schedule of prices could be published and updated every month, so that users would be able to determine prices before they leave.  For example, say that in August 2014 it costs $0.25 to go from La Cienega to Robertson on the 10 on weekdays at 12:30pm, and the level of congestion is still too high. The rate for September would be increased to $0.30 or $0.35.

In the case of capacity mismatches, it might be desirable to deliberately underprice freeway capacity so that the amount of traffic diverted to arterials isn’t too large. Many people would rather have a queue of cars on the freeway, leaving arterials a little less congested and available for things like local trips and emergency vehicles.

Congestion pricing has great potential to improve mobility in urban regions. But the devil’s in the details, and we don’t have them worked out just yet.

Bizarro Randal O’Toole

Reading Randal O’Toole if you care about the growth of cities is often an exercise in frustration. (I do it for two reasons – to know what the opposition is saying, and because you never know where you’ll find good data or ideas.) The really frustrating thing is that he frequently lays out principles that seem to favor dense development in some cities, but still manages to convince himself that single-family residence (SFR) neighborhoods never disappear unless urban planners force them out.

I think part of the problem is that while his analysis might be relevant to Portland, as he lives in Oregon, he applies the same conclusion to places where it’s only part of the story, like SF, and places where it’s almost irrelevant, like LA. For example, it seems unlikely the Pearl District would develop the way it did without tax subsidies. O’Toole is right that subsidizing this development is bad policy, and hurts the ability of the city to provide services to other neighborhoods. And no doubt, the fields and rolling hills south of San Jose would be turned into housing if permitted. But when it comes to SF, he’s all like “just how attractive and hospitable will San Francisco be after all of its single-family neighborhoods have been replaced by mid- or high-rises?” Well I don’t know, how popular would Doritos be if they replaced Cool Ranch with Kimchi? Only way to find out is give people a choice and see what happens, right?

The other problem with O’Toole’s analysis is that it’s rarely mentioned that one of the driving motivations behind zoning is “protecting” or “preserving” SFR neighborhoods from development, usually at the insistence of those neighborhoods. If planners are guilty of trying to force dense development in some areas, they’re just as guilty of trying to stop it elsewhere.

With that in mind, I present you with Bizarro Randal O’Toole. Bizarro O’Toole starts with the same assumptions yet ends up with different priorities regarding the problems facing cities.


You get the idea. I’m going to start calling it a “Bizarro O’Toole moment” any time I realize I could use his arguments in favor of denser urban development.

*I’m aware that O’Toole has written several papers in favor of funding freeways with tolls. However, while he frequently criticizes specific transit projects, I don’t recall seeing any editorials against useless rural freeways, of which there are plenty.

Torre David: What is an Informal Community?

Almost a year ago, Torre David briefly flashed through the US city planning universe, thanks to an article on Atlas Obscura that linked to a short film.

Torre David refers to a complex of high-rise buildings in Caracas that were abandoned in the middle of construction in 1994 when the Venezuelan financial sector collapsed. By historical accident, the project was suspended at a point where the buildings were substantially complete. The structural frames and floor slabs were done, stairs (but not stairwells) were finished, and portions of the curtain wall had been attached. The site sat in suspended animation for 13 years until a rainy night in 2007, when people evicted from another squat converged on the tower. The guards relented and allowed them in.

Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities (Lars Muller Publishers) by Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner, with photos by Iwan Baan, offers an attempt at the detailed study warranted by this unusual community. The book is split into four main parts: Past, Present, Possibility, and Potential, including a graphic novella in the first part.

Past and Present

Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of the book is dedicated to the past and present of Torre David, allowing the community’s history and present condition to speak for itself. The authors also provide geographic and social context for Torre David – its place in Caracas, the geography and growth of Caracas, the impact of political upheavals such as the policies of Hugo Chavez. The photographs, for their part, are simply stunning.

The authors are the cofounders of Urban-Think Tank, and Chair of Architecture and Urban Design at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, lending a heavy architectural influence to the analysis. In this regard, the book truly shines. Crisp graphics paint a clear, detailed spatial picture of the buildings. The researchers have surveyed every occupied floor of each building in the complex, including the ingeniously improvised electrical and water systems. Flipping back and forth through these graphics, one can’t help but lament that similar respect wasn’t shown to that other famous informal vertical settlement, the Kowloon Walled City, before it was demolished.

Physically, the complex consists of a ten-story parking garage, an atrium intended to be the main entrance, and three buildings. The buildings are known as Edificio A (the 45-story high rise most often referred to as Torre David), Edificio B (19 stories), and Edificio K (19 stories, connecting the parking garage to Edificios A and B on floors 6-17). Access is via the parking garage, where residents can hire taxis or motorbikes to take them up to the tenth floor, then through Edificio K and across vertiginous 12-inch gap in the floor to Edificios A and B.

The initial occupation focused on Edificio A, now occupied up through the 28th floor, which offers a gym and children’s play space with an airy view. Vertical circulation is through only one staircase, with the other staircase having been converted to a shaft for utilities. Recently, apartment construction has been focused on Edificio B and the Atrium (imagine building an apartment on one of the upper levels of your local indoor mall). In addition to apartments, there are also several small stores, a hair salon, and a church.

Most media refers to Torre David as a vertical slum, but the photographs reveal a wide size and variety of housing. Apartments near the edge of the structure are more desirable, since they offer better natural light and ventilation relative to those near the building core. Apartments range from several bedrooms down to what US city dwellers would know as singles, bachelors, and studios. As time passes, apartments are upgraded with amenities like bathrooms, kitchen sinks, dishwashers, and clothes washers.

Some apartments are undeniably spartan, with minimal furnishings, unfinished concrete floors, walls of large red clay bricks, and no ceiling other than the preexisting steel trusses and concrete deck. However, other residents have invested a significant amount of time and money into their dwellings, installing linoleum floors, floor or wall tiles, and drop ceilings. You could post these places on Craigslist in New York or San Francisco at normal rents and have a lot of interested inquiries. (Actually, how many people in New York or San Francisco would like the opportunity to get an unimproved space and turn it into an apartment over time?) And in any case, however improvised the tenant improvements might be, residents of Torre David have a solid roof over their heads and solid floor under their feet, something not enjoyed by all barrio dwellers.

Converging on Formality

The authors call Torre David an informal vertical community, but it’s an interesting question to ask what we mean by formality in the first place. Certainly, the residents of Torre David do not submit plans to the Department of Building and Safety and dial them up for shower pan inspection when building a bathroom. Yet it would also be inaccurate to describe Torre David as chaotic or anarchical. Far from it.

From the very beginning, the viability of the occupation of the complex depended on social networks. On the day it was initiated, it depended on the ability of squatters to muster a large enough crowd that the complex guards assigned to keep people out would be overwhelmed by the volume of human desperation confronting them.

Torre David also has its own bureaucratic structure, which the authors describe as an authoritarian democracy. The governing cooperative, the Asociasion Cooperativa de Vivienda “Casiques de Venizuela” RL, was officially registered in 2009. Most residents are Evangelical Pentecostal Christians and attend services in the complex church, presided over by Alexander Daza, who is also the president of the cooperative. (The book is notably silent on Daza; perhaps this is the price of access, perhaps he is simply not that interesting.) An inner circle around Daza makes decisions, and then lower level of leadership and floor coordinators work with residents to maintain space and utilities.

Each family pays $15 per month to the cooperative for services including electricity, water, and security. Utilities were pirated at first, but the cooperative now purchases them and employs its own crews to maintain the electrical and water systems of the buildings. The cooperative also employs its own security guards to control access to the compound. Residents can be evicted if they accrue enough violations of a general code of conduct.

The cooperative has guided development of the complex – for example, it has decided that no space above the 28th floor of Edificio A will be occupied. In the beginning, anyone could apply for occupancy every Monday from 5pm to 8pm; now, few new residents are admitted unless there is a vacancy. When the first residents moved in, they lived in tents while they outfitted new apartment space, but that practice was ended in 2012.

The development of social and bureaucratic networks is fascinating, and makes one wonder how we, as a society, decide what is and what isn’t a formal community. The cooperative exists in a very strange place, as a legally recognized entity that does not officially own the property it manages. Yet the increasing formality with which the cooperative approaches development suggests that if the government doesn’t exist, you have to invent one. Torre David may be called an informal squat, but the cooperative provides services in exchange for mandatory fees, enforces socially accepted laws, provides security, and considers resident input. Is that not a formal community? Is that not a government?

Possibilities and Potential

The analysis of possibilities and potential is notably weaker, but overall still interesting and well-done. Happily, the authors largely avoid the impulse to shoot the moon with big, costly design-based solutions, instead focusing on incremental improvements to residents’ lives.

For example, the construction of a dumbwaiter system  in the existing elevator shafts offers great potential. They are mechanically simple, low-cost mechanisms that the cooperative could afford to maintain. They would alleviate the significant burden of climbing and transporting all goods up the stairs from the top of the parking garage on the 10th floor to the 28th floor. This would allow the cooperative to make use of the higher floors of the building for new apartments.

Incremental improvements to water and wastewater systems would also be beneficial. The lower levels of the parking structure often flood during rain storms, and the wastewater system was never finished properly.

However, for better or for worse, we are all captives of the age we live in. While the book does have a  beneficial focus on working with residents to improve the complex, it also incorporates some of the questionable trends in modern planning.

For example, the authors note the unreliability of electric supply in Caracas, and in the name of sustainability suggest that the upper portion of Edificio A be outfitted with an array of small windmills that would provide power and run a pumped hydro energy storage facility. I’m not sure residents need to be dealing with construction and maintenance of wind-generation equipment on the side of their building. I’m also not sure why this is a sustainable solution, since it’s not available to the much larger portion of low-income Caracas residents that live in low rises. And I fail to see why sustainability should entail generating all of a building’s energy on-site. Why not generate it wherever it can be most efficiently generated? (The pumped hydro is pretty basic and could be used without the wind generation.)

I’m also not crazy about the aerial tramway concept. This technology has a place where topography and existing development make bus or rail transit impractical. However, the capacity of an aerial tram system is smaller and its geographic scope is going to be more limited.

Still, on the whole, the authors do a decent job with these sections. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m far more fascinated by how communities evolve on their own terms.

The Human Touch

If there’s anything missing from the book, it’s the human touch. Whereas City of Darkness tells the story of Kowloon Walled City through stories and interviews with former residents, leaving one to wish for better spatial understanding, Torre David provides a complete spatial analysis and a summary of the social structure, without much in the way of personal stories.

Perhaps, as a more complete social and economic unit than Torre David, Kowloon Walled City lends itself to a greater diversity of stories. Torre David is essentially just a residential building, with a few small retail establishments serving residents, while Kowloon Walled City was home to an astonishing variety of retail shops, noodle and fishball producers, metallurgists, dentists and doctors, and small factories.

But even at that, there are thousands of people living in Torre David, and it would have been nice to hear some of their personal stories – where they came from, why they chose to move to Torre David, how they view the community, their hopes for the future. It may be that it was easier to get Kowloon Walled City residents to open up, since the city’s fate had already been determined when City of Darkness was written. Residents of Torre David hope to stay in their adopted home, to which many view their claim as tenuous at best. Marginalized communities – or communities that have been labeled informal – are rightly suspicious when those who determine what is formal show up.

Buy This Book

If you’re interested in how urban communities emerge and evolve, spatially and socially, I recommend buying this book. When I got it last year, you had to order it through the Swiss publisher, but it looks like it’s available on Amazon now (and if the going price for City of Darkness is any indication, you might as well buy it as an investment). It’s a fascinating look at both an architectural anomaly and a developing urban community.

Note: for a substantially contrasting analysis of the tower, see this Jean M. Caldieron article.

One-Way Pair for Clarington and Hughes

After a string of theoretical posts on housing at the regional level, it was nice to bring things back into the civil engineering wheelhouse with a look at some local streets in Palms!

Clarington and Hughes should be a one-way pair from Palms to Venice, or maybe Washington.

Now hold up. Before you start telling me about the virtues of two-way streets, hear me out. Clarington and Hughes are in a weird place where they serve both neighborhood and through traffic functions. They’re narrow (two lanes of traffic and one or two parking lanes in about 32’-34’), and people go too fast, making them a little uncomfortable on a bike.

So put this in your gears and grind them: each street should have one 10’ travel lane (southbound on Clarington and northbound on Hughes), 7’ parking lanes (two on Clarington and one on Hughes), and buffered bike lanes.

Boom! Through traffic and local traffic functionality preserved, plus dangerous lefts from Clarington to Palms eliminated. And if you’re riding between Venice and any possible bike lanes on Palms, now you have a dedicated lane east of Motor, and a solid connection to the Expo Line bikeway, and from the Palms Expo Station to downtown Culver City.


Using the excellent Streetmix, here’s a sketch of what each street would look like. Note that the location of the bike lanes minimizes the risks of getting doored.

Hughes Clarington

If Culver City wants in, between Washington and Culver, there’s enough pavement on Clarington (or Madison as it’s known in Culver City) for bike lanes, and south of Culver, it’s a quiet street that doesn’t need any special bike accommodation. Meanwhile, Hughes (or Duquesne in Culver City) south of Washington is at least 44′ wide, and could accommodate bike lanes while maintaining the same number of travel and parking lanes (two 10′ travel lanes, two 7′ parking lanes, two 5′ bike lanes). That would get you a connection to the Jefferson bike lanes.

Now, in the scheme of things, there’s nothing really that wrong with Clarington and Hughes. But this would just be a few stripes. If it didn’t work, things could easily be changed back. Assuming four 4” solid stripes would be needed on each street, the cost would be less than $20,000. You’d also need some new signs and maybe some signal retimings at Venice and Washington, but still, this would be a cheap project. You could also use the opportunity to get rid of a bunch of the extra pavement at Hughes and Expo, but that part could wait. The LA Great Streets project is focusing on arterials, but a small project like this might be able to get off the ground quickly, and show people that the world doesn’t end when you make room for bikes.

Where’s the Political Constituency for Increasing Housing Supply?

It sounds simple enough. LA, like many US cities, has a housing shortage. Increasing housing supply would reduce the cost of housing, allowing people to save or spend more on other things. It would also allow more people to move to the city and take advantage of economic opportunities. LA is already a city of renters by a wide margin (62% renter to 38% owner), and even at the county level, LA County is 53% renters. By this logic, there should be a lot of people who have an interest in seeing a lot more housing construction.

Clearly, though, the reality in many cities is that the forces opposing development are well-organized and exert a substantial amount of political power. Good ideas, no matter how good, will be doomed to the purgatory of academia and the blogosphere forever if there is no political constituency behind them. If increasing housing supply is a good idea, we need to figure out why there’s not more political support for it – and what could be done to change that.

Consider this a very rough attempt at a first step in that effort.

Diffuse Benefits

It’s hard to get motivated to take political action when the benefits are so decentralized. For example, how much benefit am I personally going to derive from an increase in construction in the San Gabriel Valley? And how seriously is my input, as a Westside resident, going to be considered by local politicians who don’t have to answer to my vote? Meanwhile, vocal NIMBYs perceive impacts at a hyper-local level – a street, a block, an individual property – and it is much easier for them to coordinate action. This is essentially the argument that Matthew Yglesias makes in The Rent is Too Damn High.

I think this is a weak argument. People will be motivated to apply political pressure if they perceive an issue to be important. For example, many people in California will see little personal benefit from the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, yet still support those efforts because they believe it to be an important issue for society. People either do not believe land use in other neighborhoods is important, or they haven’t been provided with an adequate way to express their opinions.

Different Priorities

When a good is scarce, people often try to preserve their own access rather than try to increase supply of the good. This is why anti-immigrant sentiment always increases during recessions – easier to save the jobs for yourself than try to increase the supply of jobs.

In the case of housing, this impulse manifests as things like rent control and anti-eviction regulations. While these policies do something for people who already live in the city and qualify for the policies, they don’t do anything for people who don’t qualify, or for people who live somewhere else but would like to move to the city. In fact, for those latter groups, these policies arguably make things worse.

Policies like rent control and eviction controls are essentially defensive reactions to unaffordability. Increasing housing supply would be going on the offensive. People acting from a defensive mindset aren’t going to have the same priorities.

I like the way that AURA, an advocacy group in Austin, Texas, frames things: we need abundant housing.

When Austin has enough homes to accommodate all those who wish to live here, housing will be more affordable across the entire housing market. However, there will always be a need to provide for those who need it most. Public subsidy should be focused on those most in need, using proven programs such as the Housing First model of addressing homelessness.

Abundant housing includes affordable housing, but goes beyond. Defensive policies don’t do anything about the city being gated; they just decide who gets to be inside the gate. Abundant housing would mean that the opportunity to be an Angeleno would be available to anyone, and let us welcome new residents to LA.

Unequal Access

Many minority and low-income communities remember that for decades, governments and markets conspired to deny them equal access to housing. In fact, in many cases these forces conspired not only to deny access, but to actively destroy minority wealth through housing. Having secured some measure of political power, these communities are understandably reluctant to make themselves vulnerable to market forces.

They also see, and correctly interpret as unfair, calls for more development in their communities, like Boyle Heights, while no development occurs in wealthy SFR neighborhoods on the Westside, like Cheviot Hills, Rancho Park, and Beverlywood. Urban development plans, right up to the present, often treat low-income and minority communities as if they don’t exist or are expendable.

There will only be support for increasing housing supply in these communities if people can believe they will not be treated unfairly. And the policies have to deliver, too! Allowing growth, especially of the smaller housing types, should be a way to build wealth in minority communities. Development should be spread out across the region, too – that’s a more equitable way, and it also makes more sense given LA’s polycentric nature.

Building a Constituency

The task of building a political constituency to advocate for increasing housing supply is daunting.

However, all the impediments to increasing supply are political, and politics can change. If you think it’s impossible, remember that in 1985 the Westside Subway was illegal, and now it’s inevitable. In 1998 Zev Yaroslavsky was banning the funding of subway construction with county sales taxes; in 2008 he was promoting Measure R to build the Purple Line. Residents in the San Fernando Valley prohibited light rail, now they want the Orange Line converted to LRT. If you want a land use example, consider that the last time Houston had a vote on introducing zoning, it was defeated by low-income neighborhoods. In politics, everything is untenable and impossible, until it’s not.

How do you build that constituency? Well, that’s the hard part. And to be honest, I have no idea. I think to start, everyone will have to just listen to potential advocates and allies, rather than telling each other what to do. But if housing supply is going to have a chance, we have to start somewhere.