Housing / 2013

LA v2.0: Transforming LA into a World Class Place to Live

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Angelenos Against Gridlock

Our goal is nothing less than to lay the foundation so we will transform Los Angeles into a world class city and region by 2050, by tackling the biggest obstacle to meeting the housing problems LA2050 lays out.

The reality is that we cannot solve the region’s housing challenges without first addressing that sibling of land use issues: transportation. An adequate rail transportation system – like most other large cities have -- is the means to an end here for making it politically possible to build the ample, denser housing needed to increase affordability and meet current and future needs. The biggest challenge to building the housing supply that will meet demand and lower costs, and to making areas with affordable housing accessible, is our traffic and lack of adequate mobility options, which causes citizens to block new housing construction.

Our LA2050 project will propose, legitimize, and build a movement for a fully-built out, fast rail transit system in Los Angeles County: fast, ubiquitous subway lines that connect housing, jobs centers, and major destinations; and frequent, expanded commuter rail to connect more affordable housing areas. New York City has it. London has it. Tokyo has it. Paris has it. Chicago has it. Los Angeles doesn’t, and we’ll never be a world class livable city until we do. And we certainly will never be able to meet our housing challenges until we do.

We won’t just propose a vision; we will legitimize it and build a movement of supporters.

To do so,. this year we will host an international distinguished speaker series bringing top global thinkers & doers to LA to inject global thinking into the civic conversation in LA, and to speak to the impact that other cities’ fully built-out rail systems have had on livability. Modeled on an expanded version of the Dutch Embassy's 2011 ThinkBikeLA weekend, which resulted in green bike lanes in LA, we will invite speakers of the caliber of Boris Johnson (Mayor of London), Tyler Brûlé (founder of Monocle & Wallpaper, Financial Times columnist, known for Monocle’s Global Quality of Life report), and Bruce Katz (director of Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program). Beyond our own events, we will invite the LA Mayor and other civic elites to host additional receptions, high-level meetings, or workshops to maximize the visitors' influence.
We also propose to make infographics & a video to build momentum for our vision and to highlight other cities that have coordinated and met their housing and transportation challenges, to inspire Angelenos that we can do so, too. (We have already have an Emmy/Peabody- award winning documentary producer who wants to do a longer, multi-year documentary project for us (funding permitting); this YouTube video could either be a short 2-3 min. documentary-style video, or an independently produced viral video similar to “Did You Know?” (http://youtu.be/PHmwZ96_Gos).

We will make presentations on our LA2050 vision -- and how to fund it to make it happen -- to major business, civic, labor, environmental, and land use groups and leaders, signing up endorsers and building a coalition of supporters. We will work through the media to attract signatories from the broader legions of frustrated commuters, and we will do other efforts advancing our mission.

INDICATOR There are three primary reasons that a fully built out rail transportation system impacts the Housing Indicator:

1) despite housing shortage – and the according increase in housing costs, the lack of a fully built out rail system causes traffic gridlock, blocking new housing construction from being approved due to community concerns about traffic impacts of new development. (Our group’s president used to staff the Land Use Committee at a major business group and saw this firsthand.)

2) areas that do have (more-) affordable housing in the suburbs and exurbs lack subways or adequate commuter rail linkages, unlike counterparts in other cities.

3) Angelenos have less money to spend on housing due to high transportation costs. Unlike in other cities, transit often isn’t a practical option. The average Angeleno could save $900 per commuter per month by taking transit and giving up a car (http://bit.ly/XFWdVk), money that could go towards housing expenses.

But perhaps the issue is best illustrated by this anecdote from a LA Times article by Christopher Hawthorne: "Ron Galarze, who works in the epicure department at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills ...takes the bus to the store from his home in Whittier, a trip that takes between 90 minutes and 2 1/2 hours each way." Housing & transportation issues are intimately linked.

By building a comprehensive rail transit system, we will be able to remake LA, with dense housing developments along transit lines and near job centers. We can--and must–remake LA into a livable, world class city.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

Before we tout our own horn, we should note you don’t have to take our word for it about our achievements. Some of Los Angeles’ most prominent leaders and foundations have given major donations – and in each case, major follow-on donations – to us, including business leaders Elon Musk (of Tesla & SpaceX fame), the David Bohnett Foundation, and Robert A. Day (of Trust Company of the West). They’ve found our achievements worthy of repeated funding, and we appreciate the Goldhirsh Foundation’s consideration of joining the ranks of our funding partners.


  • Laying the groundwork for $40 billion in transportation funding: our CEO Summit at the City Club on Bunker Hill brought together prominent business leaders to get everyone together on the need to dramatically increase the momentum for change. The next day’s LA Times announced the support by business leaders for a sales tax for transportation, and the LA Business Journal featured a dedicated editorial praising the event and the newfound sense of possibility. Speakers included David Fleming (recent Chair of the LA Chamber, and Chair of BizFed), Bob Lowe (Chairman/CEO of Lowe Enterprises), Pam O’Connor (Metro Board Chair), among others; event partners included Metro, the LA Chamber, and BizFed.

  • Programs attracting key elected officials and policymakers. Our events have attracted leaders from the LA City Council & Mayor’s Office, Santa Monica City Council, Assembly, Senate, Metro Board, etc.
  • Raising expectations and pushing for change. From outreach to op-eds, our efforts have gained widespread media attention:

PRINT / ONLINE / WIRES: LA Times, LA Daily News (article & op-ed), Los Angeles Business Journal (front page article, editorial, and op-eds), Patch, LA Observed, Curbed LA, Metro’s The Source, Streetsblog LA, Reddit, HuffPost, Rough & Tumble, City News Service
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING: “We would be happy to share [Angelenos Against Gridlock’s “Transit 101” How to Ride Guide] internally with our 30,000+ employees through our many different internal communication vehicles. We truly appreciate all of the work you are doing for all Angelenos. It is our sincere hope that we will help to accomplish some of the change you are striving towards.” – Ralphs Grocery Company / Food 4 Less
“It was invigorating for me to attend last week’s rollout meeting…. It was reassuring to hear David Murphy, one of the organizers of the group, say in opening comments: ‘It’s time to come together…. Enough is enough.’”
– Editorial by Charlie Crumpley, Editor, LA Business Journal

“I think your sympathizers are in the millions.” – Warren Olney, host of KCRW’s “Which Way, L.A.?”, introducing us on the air.

(Our efforts under the names Angelenos Against Gridlock, and our predecessor efforts under the name Building LA’s Future are covered herein.)

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Our past event partners include the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Metro, FAST, and BizFed, and we’ve collaborated with civic elites and organizations in DC & LA too numerous to fit into the space here (email us for details). After LA2050 green lights our new project, we will reach out to potential collaborators such as: The new LA Mayor & groups like the Mayor’s Council on Innovation & Industry ( PDF: http://bit.ly/15R8kCc), and local housing/transportation advocates like ULI, LAANE, Move LA, the LA Chamber, etc; national/international experts; GOOD/CORPS: if GOOD might consider pro-bono advice on infographics/messaging, we’d love to widely distribute our own leaflets on this issue. (LOVED GOOD’s work for Starbucks.)

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

Given that our project seeks to lay the stage for the transformation of Los Angeles in the long term, we have developed the following metrics to assist with evaluation in the shorter term:


  • Through the Media: the quality and quantity of media coverage of our vision for LA and of the projects in this proposal
  • Key influencers: what civic elites and key influencers and policymakers have we reached with our efforts?
  • Presentations/meetings: what groups have we made presentations to or met with?
  • Event attendance: how many people have attended our events? what types of audience members have we reached – have we reached a broad spectrum of people (business leaders, housing/transportation advocates, advocates for working families and the poor, policymakers, etc.)
  • Distribution of materials: how have our outreach materials been distributed? how many people have they reached?

    Ultimate goal is for denser housing (as opposed to endless sprawl) in LA made possible by a fully built-out transit system.


  • Are we thinking big enough? Are we pushing LA to break the status quo?


  • What groups/organizations/prominent leaders sign on to our vision for LA? (Conversely, are we attracting naysayers – a sign and gaining attention?)
  • How many citizens have signed on to our vision for LA?

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Let’s face it. Life right now in the Los Angeles region is a dysfunctional mess. Millions of us suffer every day through the infamous reality of how difficult it is to slog from far-flung housing to jobs, without the adequate commuter options that other cities around the world have, but we have never managed to achieve. With high demand versus available supply, some choose to move to more affordable suburbs and exurbs – but then contribute to the traffic problem (given the lack of adequate transit options), contributing to the gridlock that blocks new housing from being built closer to job centers and bringing down costs in the first place.

Revolutionizing access to housing by transforming Angelenos commuting options will transform the daily experience for commuting Angelenos, open up a revolutionary number of new, denser housing options constructed near rail stations and near job centers, and reduce costs for transportation bared by working families, freeing up income to be able to afford housing in the first place.

With a functioning transportation system anchored by fast, frequent, subway, light rail, and commuter rail options – plus bike-friendly and walkable neighborhoods, community fears about developments’ traffic impacts won’t stop transit-friendly housing from being developed. And LA will be able to build the housing density around job centers needed to meet our housing challenges, making housing more affordable as supply increases to meet demand.

Meanwhile, existing areas with more affordable options – from the San Fernando Valley to traditionally lower-income areas across the region, will gain better access to jobs.

And Angelenos with the newfound practical option of ditching their car and commuting by fast, efficient transit options, will see huge savings (estimated at $900/month: http://bit.ly/XFWdVk) that they can use to help them afford their housing costs.

OTHER BENEFITS Getting LA a fully-built-out rail system will bring huge gains in quality of life for Angelenos, dramatically changing the game for many, if not all, of the LA2050 indicators, e.g.:

  • environmental quality: car dependency and sprawl leads to smog and public health problems
  • income & employment: LAEDC says Measure R’s transportation construction will create 409,080 jobs with labor income of $24.9 billion over a thirty year period (PDF: http://bit.ly/14mznJk); we propose something significantly more ambitious than this, which will create magnitudes more jobs
  • public safety: improving mobility would improve emergency response and free officers to attend to public safety issues instead of inching along in bumper-to-bumper traffic
  • social consecutiveness / arts and cultural vitality: Angelenos are less likely to volunteer, participate in nonprofits, or attend arts and cultural events because traffic (and lack of rail alternatives) makes getting there so onerous.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

Los Angeles will no longer be the laughing stock of the nation – our infamous deficiencies will be wiped clean, replaced by Los Angeles version 2.0: a revamped region with ubiquitous, intensely used rail transit, leading to dramatic increases in housing availability near job centers and to easy access to affordable housing. In short, Los Angeles will be able to join the ranks of world class cities, by tackling head-on our most dysfunctional problem.

Now, crippling traffic gridlock (with no competitive transit alternatives in most areas) means that Angelenos’ intensely fight new housing construction, including density near jobs centers and affordable housing projects. These problems will fade away. New housing developments – including dense developments near rail stations with affordable housing components – will be built near jobs centers, given the new capacity that a rail system will bring. As the housing supply increases to meet demand, prices will fall. Meanwhile, Angelenos who choose to live further out in more affordable areas won’t have to face hellish car commutes, finally getting hugely improved commuter rail options. (But make no mistake, the main purpose of a rail system won’t be to encourage more sprawl, but rather to allow more Angelenos to be able to have and afford housing closer to job centers.)

Angelenos’ transportation costs will be dramatically decreased as public transit becomes widely adopted, freeing up family budgets to be better able to afford housing in the first place.

Not to mention, with a fully built out subway/light rail system and ample commuter rail options Los Angeles will be a dramatically more livable place, with faster mobility and improved environmental quality. Bikeable and walkable communities will support public health goals.

In the meantime, we will have make a big impact on income and employment issues, too, by creating hundreds of thousands of well-paying construction jobs over the decades leading up to 2050. (LAEDC notes that the less ambitious Measure R construction will create 409,080 jobs with labor income of $24.9 billion over its thirty year period http://bit.ly/14mznJk).

In short, Los Angeles will be a livable region. Angelenos will actually be able to get around quickly and easily, access ample new housing options, and have a dramatically improved quality of life.