One of the best pieces of economic news out of Los Angeles in recent years has been the emergence of Silicon Beach. A product of the marriage of L.A.’s creative talent with Web and mobile technology, countless Angelenos and transplants are creating a tech-based creative community on L.A.’s Westside that might one day rival its better-known neighbor to the north. This is exciting on many levels, including the many well-paying jobs Silicon Beach companies both large and small are creating.
A key ingredient in Silicon Beach’s emergence has been the advanced telecom and broadband services available to companies setting up shop in Playa Vista. But whether an economic phoenix will continue to rise from the Ballona Creek nest that nurtured Hughes Aircraft’s Spruce Goose is not a sure thing. Concurrent with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s pitches to Silicon Beach startups and established firms like Google and Yahoo, the city, county and Metropolitan Transportation Authority need to address the challenge of transportation to and from these high-wage jobs.
Given L.A.’s crippling traffic, doing things the same way and expecting a different result is hardly a wise economic development plan for the city. As Silicon Beach grows, our goal must be to avoid creating a transit-free Century City West at Playa Vista. If we don’t bring transit to Playa Vista, it is just a matter of time before the welcome buzz about the area being the place to be gives way to the inevitable caveat that Los Angeles is only as business friendly as its traffic allows.
It is not too late to address the transportation inadequacies inherent in Playa Vista. The area is situated along three transit-friendly corridors — the 405 freeway, the route of choice for a future rail line from the San Fernando Valley to the South Bay; Jefferson Boulevard — a wide street that could easily support a light-rail or bus rapid transit (BRT) line; and Lincoln Boulevard, a thoroughfare crying out for a mass-transit solution.
Juan Matute of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies notes, “Right now, Playa Vista is a transit desert, between the service territories of three agencies (Metro, Big Blue Bus and Culver City). Just focusing some attention on it can make it better.” Matute adds that there is a strong case to be made for a Metro Rapid bus line linking Playa Vista to the La Cienega-Jefferson Expo Line station. This could be constructed, with some bus-only lanes before Playa Vista’s construction is completed.
City government and Garcetti deserve kudos for making Los Angeles more business friendly and Los Angeles can certainly use the good Silicon Beach jobs as well as the tax revenues they bring to Los Angeles County’s largest city.
Moreover, perhaps there are untapped opportunities to harness the know-how of Silicon Beach companies to address our broader transportation challenges. Google, which is expanding to Playa Vista, has long been a leader in providing shuttle buses and bikes to employees. While these private-sector transportation solutions are not enough to keep traffic flowing on the already congested Jefferson, Lincoln and 405, real-time transit apps and other unexplored solutions might help encourage more Silicon Beach workers to ditch their cars for the daily commute.
Playa Vista presents an opportunity to get things right on transportation but it will require vision and the conviction to address this new transportation challenge.
Silicon Beach’s expansion at Playa Vista and the foreseeable failure of the 405 widening to puncture L.A.’s eternal gridlock should motivate the business community to get behind the push for a rail line along the 405 with light-rail spurs or BRT lines along key arteries like Jefferson. With the transportation scholars at UCLA, USC, Loyola Marymount and Rand Corp., and companies such as Google, Los Angeles has the bench strength to improve transportation to and from Playa Vista.
Now let’s do it before the construction of those new cubes is finished.
Joel Epstein is an L.A.-based strategic communications consultant focused on transportation, development and other urban policy issues.
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