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Why L.A. caved to NIMBYs in debate over removing a freeway

Just a few days ago, Michael Schneider said his non-profit organization Streets for All was debating whether it made sense to demolish an idea that is sure to be unpopular in Los Angeles: the West Side freeway. I truly believed I had solid enough political support to pursue my research. replace it with affordable housing and expansive parks.

He roamed the streets excitedly touting letters and statements of “immense enthusiasm” from elected officials.

The Marina Freeway (a lightly trafficked 3-mile section of Route 90 that remained unfinished after plans to link it to Orange County were abandoned in the 1970s) was repurposed as a “freeway to nowhere.” Like Mayor Karen Bass’ office called. ”

State Sen. Laura Smallwood Cuevas (D-Los Angeles) also called Schneider’s idea “a forward-thinking project that will help alleviate L.A.’s needs.”[s]”

In fact, as someone who regularly drives the Marina Freeway, I wonder if there are better and better uses for this land than just a shortcut from Marina del Rey to South LA via the 405 Freeway. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. Excited to hear that Streets For All is applying for a federal grant to study for two years, tracking everything from environmental impact to traffic to the opinions of neighbors like me. Did.

But now, like Schneider’s, my excitement has been replaced by a familiar feeling of frustration. True to his image of NIMBY-obsessed Los Angeles, the political support he believed to be rock-solid suddenly became porous.

This includes buses. “I do not support the removal or demolition of the I-90 Freeway,” she said in a statement last week. “I have heard loud and clear from affected communities and I do not support research into this initiative.”

Los Angeles City Council member Tracy Park agrees with her. She said this after she conducted a highly unscientific poll of West Side voters. wrote in her newsletter It said, “District 11 does not support the demolition of Route 90. Your voice is the reason Mayor Bass withdrew his initial support.”

Despite rumors to the contrary, Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell told me: Never decided to support or demolish research The Marina Freeway borders her district in the unincorporated area of ​​Ladera Heights. “But that’s debatable now,” she said.

Meanwhile, Smallwood-Cuevas said she still supported the feasibility study, but warned this week that it could not be done “at the expense of transparent, community-driven input and analysis.” .

Similarly, Rep. Isaac Bryan (D-Culver City) said he has never opposed the study. However, by studying the effects of freeway removal and referring to some renderings of what Schneider envisions as Marina Central Park, Schneider said, “Even though the studies are not complete, we are proposing alternative designs and solutions.” There is a difference between “doing”.

Local nonprofit group Streets for All proposes turning I-90, one of the shortest unfinished freeways in Los Angeles County, into a large public park with about 4,000 homes. are doing.

(Courtesy of SWA/Street for All)

“The I-90 Freeway isn’t going anywhere,” Brian assured me.

The problem is that at a time when roughly 75,000 people are sleeping on the streets countywide and car emissions are exacerbating the effects of climate change, Los Angeles can’t even muster a unified political will to do so. That’s it – study! — Whether to replace highways with housing.

Equally problematic is the reason.

I’m not talking about the message and tactics of Streets for All that some have accused of being overzealous. Or, some say, elected officials were too quick to cave in to the fears of voters who mistakenly believed the Marina Freeway’s removal was imminent.

I’m talking about a fundamental disagreement in Los Angeles over the role and importance of community outreach. How much is enough? How fast should I do it? How much weight should I apply? And for what purpose?

These unanswered questions are why political support for the Marina Freeway study ultimately collapsed, and that bodes alarmingly.

It is natural that most residents want a say, or of What happens to their neighborhoods, whether it’s affordable housing on the freeway now or homeless shelters on the parking lot now.

But given the size of the unhoused population and the scale of housing construction needed to address it and lower rents for others, L.A.’s political leaders cannot continue to give as much weight to residents’ opinions. I increasingly believe that it cannot be done. Not all worthwhile or necessary development projects are popular.

“For a long time now, the loudest voices have been the ones that derailed things,” Schneider said. “What I’m trying to say is that the loudest voice is not always the rightest voice.”

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People don’t like change.

This is a truism that has led NIMBYs to file countless frivolous lawsuits throughout California.

The policy also led Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature to repeatedly roll back local control over land-use decisions. The latest is a law that allows nonprofit universities and religious organizations to circumvent most local permitting and environmental review rules and rezone land to build housing.

Even Mr. Bass, who has made homelessness a top priority, has pushed to break down red tape and streamline the construction of housing and shelters, helping unhoused Angelenos move into hotels through the Inside Safe program. I’m trying to extend the pipeline for.

But the mayor said he still believes strongly in “doing the hard work” of supporting the community. When I shared her skepticism, she explained why.

“This goes back to my time at Community Coalition,” she said. “We fought well when the city tried to push development into South Los Angeles without including South Los Angeles. So you’d think I’d say build everywhere, everywhere. But I am. I don’t feel it.”

Instead, she wants to involve people in the process and build in a way that aligns with each community’s wishes.

“If I were to take the position of “pressure everyone to get the housing done,” the city would fall apart,” Bass said, adding that residents would refuse to develop for any reason other than being forced to do so. He added that he was likely to oppose the move.

This is a big reason why she decided not to support the Marina Freeway study. When she spoke to residents, she said she heard nothing but complaints. About the potential for increased traffic and longer commutes, and about the loss of convenient access to Marina del Rey and the beaches for black South L.A. residents.

But most of all, Bass said she heard surprise at the lack of support for the community.

this is An online petition that became a hot topic last month — written by — even if it is full of misleading claims daphne bradfordan education consultant from Ladera Heights, is running for superintendent against Mitchell in the March primary.

“Ladera Heights is more than just a neighborhood. It holds the distinction of being the third wealthiest African-American community in America,” Bradford wrote, channeling her inner NIMBY. “Our community has worked hard to create a safe and enriching environment for our families. Our voices are heard when decisions are made that directly impact us. I believe it should be heard.”

When I ask about the petition, Schneider sighs.

“The whole point of the feasibility study is to do almost two years of community outreach,” he said. “We are a small nonprofit organization and do not have the resources to do community work before receiving a grant.”

Meanwhile, rumors about the Marina Freeway have overwhelmed the facts, with many residents fighting tooth and nail against whatever their ideas are. Mitchell believes part of the reason is that Streets For All “doesn’t do outreach in the way that we define outreach.”

Rendering of grass, trees and tables at the proposed Marina Central Park site.

The Marina Freeway is an unfinished 3-mile road from Marina del Rey and is one of the shortest thoroughfares in Los Angeles. Now, a local nonprofit is proposing to turn it into a large park and thousands of units of affordable housing.

(Rendering courtesy of SWA / Streets For All)

“You can’t have one meeting at a community center at 10 a.m. on a weekday,” she told me. “We have to be creative, work with our communities, and not be afraid to reach out to those who disagree.”

But community support is a thorny issue, Mitchell admits. Again, people don’t like change. And too many people do not want to “pull up the drawbridge” behind them and let new housing into their neighborhoods.

“When people say outreach, they mean ‘you didn’t ask me.’ And when you asked me, you didn’t do what I said,” Mitchell says. I did. “We can’t expect that. But I believe every effort should be made to ensure affected communities are aware.”

But ultimately, everyone will have to get used to the idea that our neighborhoods will look a little different to accommodate the housing that Los Angeles needs.

“These are really difficult decisions that we all have to make,” Mitchell said.

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Now, back to the story of the Marina Freeway.

Schneider said that even though Streets for All has been abandoned by much of Los Angeles’ political establishment, plans to conduct a feasibility study are not yet complete.

“We live in a democracy. You can’t stop someone from studying something in public. It’s impossible,” he said. “If we get the federal grant, we’ll do it. If we have to raise money privately, we’ll do it. But it’s worth considering, so we’re committed to considering this idea.” doing.”

Whether that study would lead to eliminating the freeway and building thousands of affordable housing units in Marina Central Park is another question.

Schneider admits this is a big political decision. Ultimately, it definitely, and unfortunately, comes down to community support.This is LA after all.

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