Los Angeles' gridlock is bad, and it is going to get worse. But contrary to politically correct thinking, it is not the fault of real estate developers.
I live and work on the Westside, so I am quite familiar with traffic in the second largest job center in Los Angeles. Why is there so much development on the Westside? No, it isn't because developers built their projects there. It is because the demand for development on the Westside comes from those who live on the Westside members of those same homeowner organizations the NIMBYs claim to represent.
Century City was developed based on promises made by government in the late 1950s that there would be a Beverly Hills Freeway, and, yes, even back then there was talk of a Wilshire Boulevard subway from downtown to the sea, with a stop in Century City. Who derailed the Beverly Hills Freeway? The NIMBYs did with their talk of how it would divide the community. I know as I was there. Of course, the city of Beverly Hills also opposed the freeway.
It was also the NIMBYs who fought the concept of a subway along Wilshire. While West L.A. was a divided community, the federal money went elsewhere. It was the NIMBYs who fought the original plan for Santa Monica Boulevard of five lanes in each direction. They wanted the same three lanes that already existed. The Santa Monica Parkway recently was dedicated and much was said about the six-lane roadway, but no one mentioned that before the $115 million was spent, we had six lanes of traffic.
Why did the NIMBYs fight every attempt to improve traffic capacity or develop rail transportation? For the last 36 years they said that allowing those improvements would bring more development. What was the result? The development came anyway as people of the Westside demanded the construction of those buildings, the growth of UCLA, and all the other new businesses that ended up employing the children of their constituents and even the children of the NIMBYs.
Even after 36 years of a failed program the NIMBYs continue to do things to prevent improvements to traffic capacity and rail transportation. Who stopped the Exposition line at Robertson Boulevard instead of allowing it to go all the way to the sea, to ensure its success? NIMBYs who didn't want to have a rail system go by their house.
Years ago Mayor Tom Bradley developed some innovative traffic mitigation programs. One was banning trucks from our roads during rush hours. Who screamed the loudest? The NIMBYs who said they didn't want truck noise in the wee hours of the morning or during the early evening as trucks delivered goods to commercial establishments.
By the way, much of the traffic is a result of L.A.'s booming economy. Everything that is good in this city is paid for by the money generated by this economy. Where does all the money it takes to fund all the social service agencies, private and governmental, come from? Right, a growing economy. Where does the money that funds all the charities, museums, hospitals, social welfare programs, our universities, scholarship programs, etc., come from? Right again. Where do the taxes come from to pay for our police and firemen? Right again.
Is traffic bad on the Westside? You bet. Is traffic throughout Los Angeles bad? You bet. Is it going to get worse? Without a doubt. What will it take to improve things? The silent majority must wake up and stop blaming "dastardly developers." The public and elected officials must stop listening to NIMBYs and they must start thinking 20, 30 and 40 years out. The London subway is over 160 years old. Amortize a subway's cost over 200 years and it is not that expensive, and on certain streets such as Wilshire, there are no alternatives.
Traffic is never going to flow like it used to. There is no way to go back to the 1940s and 1950s. The war on developers, like the war on drugs, cannot be won until the demand for development stops. You have an equal chance of stopping both wars: slim and none.
Harold L. Katz is a partner in a CPA firm and a citizen activist.
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