First, a quick recap of Transit-Oriented Communities: created upon voter approval of Measure JJJ in December 2016, the program grants generous density bonuses, decreases parking requirements, and speeds up permitting for multifamily housing projects within a half-mile of transit, as long as they allocate a share of new units to lower-income households at a rent they can afford. Less than two years later, the LA City Council also approved the Exposition Corridor Transit Neighborhood Plan(TNP) that rezoned 256 acres along the Expo E Line that could enable another 6,000 homes to be built by 2035. The plan has been subjected to a lawsuit from Fix the City, which is ongoing; although it was indeed implemented in December 2019.
These programs were positive steps in the right direction, but the Westside needs leaps and bounds to realize visions of a walkable, affordable community. Abundant Housing LA is reporting on the housing situations near four Westside Expo E Line stations, and this is the second installment of the blog series. Read the first post here. You’ll see what’s changed since these two pro-housing policies went into effect, as well as what’s holding back these neighborhoods from being everything they can be.
Study area: a half-mile around Expo/Sepulveda rail station
What you’ll see within 0.5 miles: There are lots of amenities within a half-mile of Expo/Sepulveda station. It’s within walking distance of the commercial corridors along Olympic, Pico, Westwood, and Sawtelle Boulevards. These corridors are populated with restaurants, entertainment, and neighborhood retail. Sawtelle Blvd, for instance, is the main thoroughfare in Sawtelle Japantown, an area with numerous Japanese restaurants and grocery stores. The neighborhood has a mix of single-family houses as well as apartment communities. Another highlight within a half-mile is the former Westside Pavillion Mall, situated on Pico and Westwood Blvds. It is currently being transformed into a Google campus, which will bring hundreds of new jobs into the area; however, nearby housing options are lacking, with the neighborhood comprising mostly of single-family houses. Commercial establishments along Pico include a self-storage facility, a Smart and Final, numerous restaurants and bars, a 99-cents store, and a pet supply store to the east of the 405 Freeway; to the west of the 405 are another self-storage building, the West LA Animal Shelter, and a Best Buy.
Sepulveda Blvd itself is also a busy corridor. Along Sepulveda and just off the main street, to the north of the rail station is an eclectic mix of mostly light industrial businesses, including a lumber store, auto repair shops, wholesale retailers, furniture stores, animal rescues, veterinarians, and a gym. A few restaurants and a wine shop sprinkle among these establishments. It’s also worth mentioning that there’s a PATH center providing unhoused people with housing and recovery resources. These buildings are predominately one to three stories tall, and many of them have parking lots fronting the street or behind them. South of the station, Sepulveda Blvd transforms into a residential corridor lined with apartments, with a Vons and CVS on Sepulveda just outside the half-mile radius.
What about new housing since the Expo/Sepulveda station opened in May 2016? Immediately north of this Metro station is Linea is a new mixed-use development with 66 affordable units and 529 market-rate units. I should be nicer about a building of this scale so close to transit, but the thought of a $3,185/month market-rate studio puts me in a bad mood. That said, the affordable units are a critical component of addressing Westside’s affordable housing crisis. This project launched before the Transit Neighborhood Plan program began, meaning the builder had to request several zoning changes and scale down their plans in response to aggressive NIMBY opposition. However, it did utilize the state density bonus program, which allowed for more units and a larger building footprint. In exchange, the project featured affordable units for senior citizens with reduced parking. Since the TOC was not implemented until after LINEA was approved, it ended up including more than 900 parking spaces despite being located right next to the rail station. Across from Linea is the aforementioned lumber store, a Party City, and a two-story office complex with a large surface parking lot. The original plan, which was scrapped after encountering NIMBY vitriol, was to replace Party City with Target.
Megaprojects like the Linea aren’t the norm in this neighborhood, though. Instead, smaller apartments and condos ranging from 3 to 25 units have dominated newer multifamily constructions in the area. Urbanize LA documented a few of these developments back in 2016.
Another newer, larger apartment development is 1947 Sawtelle: a mixed-use building in the heart of Sawtelle Japantown that contains 88 apartments, with 8 reserved for extremely low-income families. While the initial application was filed in 2013 for 73 units, the developer was able to reapply under TOC, which allowed them to construct additional units. Measuring only four stories tall and containing ground-floor retail, it adds some density to an area consisting mainly of small apartment buildings. The development contains 120 parking spaces.
Existing densities surrounding the rail station are uneven across the 405 freeway. East of Sepulveda, further away from the 405 freeway, is one street of lots zoned for multi-family residential followed by several blocks of single-family residential lots. Most of these lots appear to be dominated by existing housing stock, so it’s unlikely homeowners would be able to easily take advantage of SB 9 to split their lots or build an additional home there. On the west side of the 405, in Sawtelle, density is higher. There are some big-box stores like Best Buy and Marshalls, with a mix of surface and rooftop parking lots. Another new housing development in this area is 2140 Butler, which was approved in 2017; this is a non-TOC project, although it utilized a 35% state density bonus in exchange for 10% of units set aside for very low-income households. The mixed-use development hosts 77 apartments across six stories, including 7 affordable units, features groundfloor retail plus a two-story underground parking garage with 142 spaces.
Further south, adjacent to the 10-405 interchange, is a mix of one- to three-story apartment buildings constructed from the 1950s to 2010s with parking underneath. To the south along Sepulveda Blvd and to the east along Exposition Blvd is a mixture of low-rise apartment buildings and single-family homes. There’s even a small bungalow literally across the street from the station entrance. Beyond these main roads are a dozen or more blocks of exclusively single-family homes. The existing urban fabric surrounding the rail station largely reflects the underlying zoning.
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Although there seems to be significantly more construction activity around this station than its neighbor to the east, like we mentioned earlier, most construction consists of smaller multifamily buildings that did not utilize TOC. Since Measure JJJ was approved in late 2016, eight approvals for multifamily projects have been issued for this area, representing just less than 900 homes. Unfortunately, the non-TOC Linea project that we mentioned before accounts for the majority of that construction, so there is plenty of opportunity for further growth. Here are a couple of other TOC projects in the works:
- 11434 W Pico: Approved in late 2018, this development takes advantage of the Transit Oriented Communities program to include more units and fewer parking spaces in exchange for designating 11 units as affordable housing to extremely low-income families. It will stand six stories high and contain a total of 102 units
- 2645 Purdue: A five-story, 17-unit TOC development replacing a fourplex. It will include three units for extremely and very low-income families. The project survived an appeal by five neighbors and property owners in 2019.
What should happen*
The upzoning of parcels adjacent to Expo/Sepulveda is a step in the right direction, and the logical next step is to permit large apartment buildings to be built all around the station. Additionally, planners could upzone further-afield lots to allow one-family houses to be replaced with the sort of two- and three-story apartment buildings currently standing along Sepulveda. Upzoning R1 parcels will also make them eligible for TOC density bonuses and maximize the housing capacity in this area. Ultimately, these changes will allow 1,000s of people to ditch their cars and commute to work on the Expo line. Imposing reasonable Inclusionary Zoning requirements on new developments will help maintain affordability and create new affordable units without government subsidies.
The slow rollout of TOC contributed to the lack of actual TOC projects thus far: voters approved the program in late 2016, but implementation did not start until late 2017. While some projects decided to reapply, such as 1947 Sawtelle; others missed this opportunity. Since TOC offers more generous density than the state density bonus, a higher number of TOC projects would’ve resulted in more units, including affordable units. Other policy interventions like removing parking minimums and height restrictions would also help make more housing feasible in general, either under TOC or state density bonus.
In the ideal future, we’d also like to see the massive freeway infrastructure reclaimed to become habitable space. With climate change not getting any better, cities should be planning for a future where people can live, work, play, and travel conveniently without relying on personal automobiles, which currently account for about 40% of our state’s greenhouse gas emissions. There’s talk of capping the 101 in Hollywood with a 44-acre public park, and something similar should be considered on the Westside too.
Taken together, these changes to zoning and land use could help many more Angelenos live near their workplaces and take advantage of the community and cultural amenities that the Westside offers.
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