Jobs-Homes Balancing Act Called Impractical : Development: It seemed like an easy answer to smog and traffic. Make builders provide a place to work, as well as live. But critics say the concept was never more than a fallacy.
The concept of requiring large developments to strike a balance between the housing and the jobs they create made a splashy debut during the review of the mammoth Porter Ranch project in the northwest San Fernando Valley.
And for a short time it seemed that this land-use planning tool, brandished by regional officials, would become an environmental litmus test that would cause not only Porter Ranch but other huge developments to be reshaped.
Only a few months later, however, Porter Ranch and its 3,395 residential units, 6 million square feet of commercial and retail space and anticipated 21,000 new jobs remains on track. But the much-ballyhooed concept of “jobs-housing balance” is being challenged by critics.
Requiring developers to strive to balance housing and job creation is tantalizingly simple to anyone looking for big-picture solutions to such daunting regional problems as traffic and smog. If people work near where they live, so the thinking goes, they don’t commute, and their cars don’t pollute.
But critics of making the concept a mainstay of regional planning argue that its theoretical simplicity becomes impossibly complex and impractical when applied to the real world of zoning ordinances, homeowner groups and politicians protecting their turf. The concept of balancing new jobs with housing is vague and clumsy, and difficult to measure and enforce, critics say.
“Jobs-housing balance” first became a part of official planning dogma in the clean air plan adopted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District in 1989.
Its first major test in Los Angeles is in Porter Ranch, one of the largest developments ever proposed in the city. It is is backed by Shappell Industries Inc. and Liberty Building Co. Inc.
AQMD planners analyzed the 1,300-acre project and in an 11-page, Jan. 22 letter to the city concluded that it would throw the San Fernando Valley’s relative balance of jobs and housing far out of alignment and would clog freeways and streets with commuters, worsening air pollution.
The AQMD letter was seen by some as an unprecedented bid by the air pollution agency to interfere in local land-use decisions in the name of cleaning up smog.
Dan Garcia, the former president of the city of Los Angeles’ Planning Commission, unabashedly called it a “declaration of war” on local control.
But last week the AQMD, in a new review of the environmental impacts of Porter Ranch, soft pedaled its criticism even though the project has changed little.
In addition, a group called the Growth Management and Transportation Task Force--set up by the AQMD and the Southern California Assn. of Governments--is expected to recommend soon that “jobs-housing balance” be given less importance in the air quality agency’s smog battle. Task force chairman John Mikels, a member of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, makes no bones about the panel’s views. “Jobs-housing balance is a fallacy,” he said recently.
Achieving a balance of jobs and housing, in the mathematical abstract, does not necessarily reduce home-to-work commuting, Mikels and other critics said. At Porter Ranch, for example, there is no guarantee that residents will work in the stores or offices in the project or that workers in stores or offices there will want to or be able to afford to live there.
In its grandest terms, the AQMD’s jobs-housing balance goal was to move more jobs to areas rich in housing and poor in jobs, such as Riverside and San Bernardino counties and the Simi and Santa Clarita valleys. The parallel goal was to move more housing into areas rich in jobs but poor in housing such as downtown and West Los Angeles.
To local officials who must grapple with homeowner revolts in response to proposals to build mere neighborhood mini-marts, such goals seemed nightmarish.
Mary Ann Yamaguchi, a regional planner who advises the Growth Management and Transportation Task Force, acknowledged the concept needs to be made “more palatable” to local jurisdictions.
She said the panel’s recommendation is likely to be that the concept of “jobs-housing balance” be recast as one of several strategies for the air quality plan’s top goal--a reduction in vehicle miles traveled by motorists--not as an end in itself.
“Jobs-housing balance has innate logic and that’s part of its power,” said Mark Pisano, executive director of the Southern California Assn. of Governments. Pisano and SCAG have been leading advocates of planning based on achieving such a balance.
Pisano and public policy theorists like him basically want to reinvent the feel, scale and tempo of pre-industrial cities in which people lived within walking distance of their work or even above their shops.
This proximity was made obsolete by the Industrial Revolution. People did not want to live near the smokestacked-plants where they worked, and streetcars, automobiles and freeways allowed them to exercise that preference.
Now, however, campus-like industrial parks occupied by clean, high-tech businesses can easily coexist with residential areas. “Places of employment are no longer a nuisance,” Pisano said. “In fact, they are winning more and more design awards.”
But to reunify home and work--to create a jobs-housing balance--means overcoming archaic land-use ideas and practices that separate homes and workplaces, Pisano said.
Arnie Sherwood, SCAG’s director of community and economic planning, said jobs-housing balance is nothing new. The center’s concept--the urban planning ideal and dream child of former city planning chief Cal Hamilton--envisioned a multitude of commercial cores throughout Los Angeles, each one convenient to housing.
The concept gained credibility when the AQMD and SCAG promoted it as a solution to the region’s problems with smog and traffic.
These two regional planning agencies concluded that it would not be possible to win public support to pay for the hugely expensive mass transit systems needed to transport people long distances from home to work while breaking the area’s reliance on polluting automobiles.
“It’s a concept that’s now becoming accepted and promoted by the region’s leadership,” Pisano said.
AQMD and SCAG already review “regionally significant development projects” to measure their impact on the ratio of jobs to housing. In June, 1991, the agency is to consider a rule requiring large projects to secure permits from AQMD, and balancing jobs and housing could be a condition of such approvals, said SCAG consultant Glenn Blossom.
As interest in making the ratio of jobs to housing a key component of regional planning has grown, so too has opposition to it becoming a mandatory hoop a project must leap through.
“The big question is if the AQMD will use its power to deny projects on the basis of their job-housing balance,” said Ann Siracusa, city-wide planning chief for the city’s Planning Department. “No one knows the answer.”
Meanwhile, Los Angeles city officials are talking about two far less ambitious efforts to enhance, on a small scale, the proximity of jobs and homes.
One proposal would give priority in the issuance of sewer permits to developers whose projects would improve the ratio between jobs and housing in their geographic region. That would be a “symbolic victory” for the jobs-housing balance concept, Siracusa said.
Another zoning proposal would permit mixed-use projects that could have, for example, retail shops topped with apartments or condos.
Examples of such projects already approved include the Westside’s Venice Renaissance project, which has 30,000 square feet of retail space below 66 market-rate condos and 23 low-income housing units for seniors. Another is on Beverly Boulevard in the Fairfax District, where a 3 1/2-acre project combines 279 apartments and 11,000 square feet of ground-floor retailspace.
Measuring the existing ratio between jobs and housing in a community, setting housing- and jobs-production goals to reach a “balance,” and gauging how specific projects affect those goals is a slippery business, planners all agree.
The Porter Ranch development provides a case history.
A year ago SCAG and AQMD concluded that the San Fernando Valley subregion where the project is to be located, if it wins City Council approval, had a good jobs-housing balance, and that Porter Ranch’s 21,000 new jobs would tip the scales in the wrong direction.
But a later study by the North Hollywood consulting firm of Hamilton, Rabinovitz & Alschuler, a firm hired by the developers, issued a sharp rejoinder to that view.
The firm’s report said measuring Porter Ranch’s impact on the jobs-housing balance of the San Fernando Valley subregion is inappropriate. Instead, the project’s impact on areas within a 30-minute commute should be measured, the firm concluded.
Within such an area, or so-called commute shed, Porter Ranch would actually produce balance by providing work opportunities for nearby residents of the jobs-poor Simi Valley, the consultants said.
Whether it was swayed by that analysis or not, the AQMD dropped its opposition and last week commended the project even though it continued to express the view that Porter Ranch would lower air quality in the Valley.
Dr. Genevieve Guiliano, an associate professor of urban planning at USC, said the problems with the jobs-housing balance concept run much deeper than working out formula wrinkles.
Guiliano contends jobs-housing balance is often achieved naturally. “If we look at the jobs-housing ratio--except downtown--we find surprising balance,” Guiliano said. “Why? Because jobs tend to follow workers.”
She also argued that traffic congestion may be caused by people using their cars for local trips to movies, restaurants, stores and schools as well as by commuting.
A better way to reduce congestion would be to charge people for using freeways. “That’s a very hot political potato,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to impose jobs-housing balance measures on developers than to tax commuters given the current political climate.”
Jobs & Housing Forecast For San Fernando Valley area
1984 2010 Jobs 580,900 809,800 Housing 454,000 643,000 units