By Dick Platkin, September 11, 2015
PLATKIN ON PLANNING-If you want a
sense of how much Los Angeles has changed in the past 30 years, you
could hardly do better than compare current subway and related land use
planning in the traffic-clogged Miracle Mile/Fairfax area of Los
Angeles, to the early 1980s, when a similar project was proposed,
carefully planned, and nearly constructed.
in the late 1920’s, the Miracle Mile was Los Angeles’s upscale,
suburban department store destination, but by the 1980’s that era had
ground to a halt. By then the Broadway, Ohrbach's, and the May Company
struggled to stay open. Going-out-of-business sales marked their end
once the Beverly Center and Beverly Connection shopping centers opened
less than a mile from LA’s premier transit and commercial corridor,
the construction of a third shopping center, The Grove, also less than a
mile away, almost sealed the fate of this busy corridor. In addition to
museum construction, such as LACMA, the City and County’s other
strategy to revive this section of the Wilshire Boulevard Corridor was
why the original MetroRail Red Line (since renamed the Purple Line)
subway did not stop at Western, but was routed west on Wilshire
Boulevard and then north to Fairfax Avenue, where it joined Santa Monica
Boulevard, and from there circled back to Hollywood and ultimately
Universal Studios and North Hollywood through the Cahuenga Pass.
planning for this previous subway alignment was detailed and extensive.
Paid for by the Southern California Rapid Transit District – now called
METRO – beginning in 1981 Los Angeles city planners, SCRTD staff, and a
team of private consultants held numerous public meetings in each of
the proposed station site areas, including Wilshire/LaBrea and
Wilshire/Fairfax. Furthermore, these station areas extended a quarter
mile from the subway portals in terms of data collection, outreach,
circulation and design, and specific public policies and programs,
including transportation and land use. Furthermore, the SCRTD contracted
the Los Angeles Department of City Planning to prepare 13 detailed Specific Plans for each of the neighborhoods surrounding the proposed MetroRail station.
Specific Plans were based on extensive community analysis and outreach,
and each was assessed through a separate Draft Environmental Impact
Report. Completed in 1985, these Specific Plans and their EIRs, not only
included land use regulations, design guidelines, and local linkages to
each subway station, but they capped overall real estate development in
station areas to street capacity, Transportation Demand and
Transportation Systems Management programs, and finally the operation of
the subway itself.
of the extensive efforts that went into these Specific Plans, they were
deliberately designed to function even if the subway’s alignment
This, in fact,
is almost what happened. But, because of a methane explosion in the
Fairfax area, Rep. Henry Waxman introduced legislation that barred
Federal transit funds from the alignment in the Miracle Mile and Fairfax
SCRTD officials then argued that subway tunneling could be safely
conducted in these areas, this did not deter the Federal legislation.
Why? The presumed reason for the construction ban was not really
methane, but opposition to the original Wilshire/Fairfax alignment from
influential homeowners groups, especially in Hancock Park.
for the Specific Plans themselves, their primary opposition most likely
came from large commercial real estate interests in the Wilshire
Corridor and Fairfax areas. They did want their future real estate
speculation constrained by new zoning restrictions that linked building
height and density to street capacity.
both the subway alignment and the Specific Plans disposed of, the
Fairfax area, which had large amounts of low density and open land near
the Farmers Market, was transformed into The Grove.
the Specific Plans remained, The Grove would have been substantially
smaller because it is not located on a mass transit corridor, nearby
streets are highly congested, and it does include TSM and TDM programs.
all of the Planning Department’s 13 station area Specific Plans were
dropped, not just those prepared for the the abandoned stations, such as
Wilshire/LaBrea and Wilshire/Fairfax, that were subject to Congressman
Henry Waxman’s funding ban. These developments strongly suggest that the
land use constraints of these Specific Plans, not subway construction
safety issues, were the deep political reasons for throwing these
Specific Plans overboard.
This is why the current Red and Purple Line alignment only has one specific plan, at Vermont and Western.
Another legacy of this scuttled planning process is City Planning’s land use and landscaping plans for
the Exposition and Crenshaw light rail corridors. There is a critical
difference, however. The Metrorail plans limited real estate projects to
street capacity, while the new plans are designed to promote, not
restrict, development fostered by transit.
This history is particularly ironic because METRO was eventually able to overturn the Federal legislation and revive the extension of the Wilshire Purple Line subway from
its terminus at Wilshire and Western to the Beverly Hills city
boundaries at LaCienega. It is further ironic because the nearly
three-mile stretch on Wilshire Boulevard, from Western to Fairfax, has
already been extensively studied and planned. In fact, all of the
planning and environmental documents are still available. The Specific
Plans and EIRs for the Wilshire-LaBrea and Wilshire-Fairfax
neighborhoods could easily be updated from where the planning and
environmental processes were frozen in time 30 years ago.
there was recently a proposal to revive the transit corridor on Fairfax
Avenue, from Wilshire Boulevard to Third Street. It is Rick Caruso’s
proposed extension of The Grove’s hokey block-long tourist trolley
onto local surface streets, especially on Fairfax and on Third. If
built, his shopping center would be connected to the Miracle Mile and to
the Beverly Center. While running a fixed rail trolley down the middle
of busy commercial streets is a gimmick that has nothing whatsoever to
do with any adopted land use or transportation plans, we can at least
say it has one thing in common with the revived subway alignment on
It is based strictly on an impulsive, short-term, research free
approach to planning a city. Instead of turning back to the SCRTD’s
approach of extensive community outreach, followed by Specific Plans for
communities adjacent to transit stations and transit lines, it totally
abandons any systematic land use and transportation planning, and just
wings it with separate projects that are treated in total isolation from
Furthermore, the neighborhood context, in terms of
cumulative environmental impacts, architecture, transportation capacity,
parking issues, local infrastructure needs, demographic trends, and
comprehensive monitoring, unlike three decades ago, has absolutely no bearing on projects.
each project simply advances in isolation from each other and the
surrounding community. For example, what are the cumulative impacts of
these two transportation projects, the Purple Line and the Caruso
trolley, on each other? And, what about their relationship with the
re-engineering of Wilshire Boulevard for a Bus Rapid Transit System?
about the reconstruction of the old May Company building at Wilshire
and Fairfax as the new home for the Academy of Motion Picture, including
a museum, theaters, and large meeting and banquet areas? What about the
demolition and reconstruction of much of LACMA? What about the
outlandish redesign of the Petersen Museum, also at the corner of
Wilshire and Fairfax?
about the many new commercial/residential projects on Wilshire
Boulevard? What about several new projects on Fairfax Avenue, to the
north and south, such as the Shalhevet School? What about extensive
construction on LaCienega, where another Purple Line station will be
the massive traffic jams created by The Grove, the Beverly Center, the
Beverly Connection, Restaurant Row, Cedars-Sinai Hospital, Pacific
Design Center, and numerous stores and restaurants on Third Street?
even ask these obvious questions is to stare bug-eyed at our elected
officials and the professional engineers and planning managers they
hire. When, if ever, will they make a rudimentary effort to connect
these many dots, like their predecessors did only several decades ago?