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Parking Standards Continue to Waste Land

Next Monday, the Anaheim Planning Commission will once again be hearing a request for a variance from established parking standards. This time, it’s for a martial arts studio in an existing commercial/industrial building.

The 6.9 acre site, located at 5100 East La Palma Avenue, currently has 498 parking spaces, and is required to provide 464 based on the current uses of existing buildings. It seems like there are enough parking spaces, unfortunately, 124 of those spaces are compact, so the City does not count them as “Code compliant.” I guess that means people don’t park there. (Oh, wait, yes they do.) Since the compact spaces aren’t Code compliant, the City only counts the 374 full-sized spaces on the site.

However, City staff was nice enough to conduct a parking count, and found that at most, only 143 spaces were occupied at any one time. So on a site with nearly 500 parking spaces, less than 150 were ever in use. The other 350 spaces are a complete waste of land.

To put this in perspective, 350 parking spaces take up over 100,000 square feet of land area, or about 2.5 acres. That means that more than a third of the site’s area is wasted by unnecessary parking. This site could provide 50% more usable building area, which would increase the amount of social and economic activity in the area, increase the property value, and in turn, increase property tax revenues to the City.

Anaheim’s current parking standards are wasting one of the few real resources the City has, its land. We could be doing so much more, simply by reducing the waste of our land by making our parking requirements in line with actual demand.

Anaheim Canyon Specific Plan: Development Standards

Note: This is part three of my posts regarding the Anaheim Canyon Specific Plan, here are parts one and two.

Since the goal of the Anaheim Canyon Specific Plan is to encourage the redevelopment of the area and enhance its competitiveness in relation to other industrial centers in Southern California, one of the primary focuses must be on the standards by which new and refurbished buildings must operate.

While many of the buildings in the Anaheim Canyon are old, there still must be incentive for building owners to demolish their existing buildings and construct something new. Simply allowing them to replace their existing buildings with very similar structures won’t encourage that redevelopment.

The draft Anaheim Canyon Specific Plan simplifies the development standards for the area, but does not radically change them. The result is that there will be little incentive for developers and property owners to redevelop their properties. Two areas must be addressed within the standards to fully realize the benefits of the Specific Plan: setbacks and parking.

The current requirement for setbacks, especially along the major through streets of the Specific Plan area, maintain the existing setbacks. This is done in order to ensure an orderly appearance of the area while it’s being redeveloped. However, the current setbacks, some as large as 50 feet, ensure that the buildings and roadways are not pedestrian friendly and do not provide additional buildable area for existing lots.

The existing and proposed setbacks ensure that all of the major streets are fronted by parking and not buildings. This creates expanses that are uncomfortably wide to walk down, even if sidewalks are built, and ensures that pedestrians negotiate terrain designed for cars in order to reach their destination. The proposed setbacks do nothing to support the walkable, bikeable, transit oriented development that the Specific Plan is trying to create.

Similarly with the parking requirements, the Specific Plan proposes to use the City’s existing parking standards, which have already been recognized as too high. This reduces the amount of land available for productive use, reducing property values. Once sidewalks and bike lanes are installed throughout the Anaheim Canyon, and with the availability of the Metrolink station and expanded bus facilities, fewer people will need to drive in order to reach their destination within the area. This further reduction in parking demand needs to be acknowledged and addressed in the Specific Plan.

If the Anaheim Canyon Specific Plan intends to achieve its vision of a multimodal industrial center, the development standards must ensure that new buildings support a more walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly area.

Anaheim Canyon Specific Plan: Roadways

Note: This is part two of my posts regarding the Anaheim Canyon Specific Plan. Part one can be found here.

The Anaheim Canyon Specific Plan intends to create a more transit oriented, walkable, and bikeable industrial area for Anaheim. To achieve this, the Specific Plan proposes streetscape improvements including the installation of sidewalks and bike lanes throughout Anaheim Canyon, as well as enhancements to the Anaheim Canyon Metrolink Station and bus routes in the area.

However, many of the roadways within the Anaheim Canyon will remain too wide to effectively encourage walkability and multimodal transit. Currently, La Palma provides three, wide travel lanes in each direction, allowing motorists to race down the road at freeway speeds. These speeds, and the width of the roads, do not make pedestrians feel safe even if sidewalks are provided, and therefore will not achieve the goals of the Specific Plan. While the streetscape improvements being proposed are necessary, roadway widths must be reduced.

Roads like La Palma are designed to move cars from one end of an area to another, and do little to provide benefits to the area they traverse. In such cases as the Anaheim Canyon, when these roads traverse a productive place, through traffic should be discouraged in favor of local traffic. Furthermore, the goal of the roadway system in a productive place should not be to move cars, but to move people within the productive place in order to enhance commerce.

Reducing the speed of traffic on roads like La Palma has an added benefit, it improves traffic at bottlenecks. Currently, motorists are able to race down La Palma only to find traffic jams getting on to the freeway at Lincoln, Tustin, and Kramer. These intersections do not have the capacity to ensure the freeflow of traffic from La Palma onto the roads that access the freeway. By slowing the flow of traffic on La Palma, cars become more spread out. Instead of a bunch of cars hitting these congested intersections at once, the cars trickle into the intersection and are able to be handled much more efficiently.

For the Anaheim Canyon Specific Plan to create a walkable, transit-oriented industrial area in Anaheim, the roadway network must be reconfigured to support modes of transportation other than cars.

Anaheim Canyon Specific Plan: Development, Decline, and Reinvestment

Note: This is part one of my posts regarding the Anaheim Canyon Specific Plan. I will update this note with links to the remaining parts as they are written and posted.

Next Monday the City of Anaheim is bringing forward the Anaheim Canyon Specific Plan for consideration by the Planning Commission. The Anaheim Canyon Specific Plan sets out goals and policies to revitalize the industrial portion of Anaheim, north of the 91, between the 57 and Imperial Blvd.

During its initial development starting in the 1950s through the 1980s, Anaheim Canyon was home to many of Orange County’s aerospace companies. The area was anchored by Rockwell and then Boeing, and had numerous other smaller and support companies located throughout the area. However, towards the end of the Cold War, many of those aerospace companies moved out the Anaheim Canyon and the area started to decline. Over the next 20 years, the area continued its decline as the building stock aged and the public facilities and rights-of-way were neglected. The final signal of decline happened in 2006 when Boeing shuttered its plant entirely and moved the remaining 4,000 workers to their facility in Long Beach.

While Anaheim Canyon declined, other industrial areas in Southern California were created and grew. Many technology companies moved to or were founded in the Irvine Business Corridor, and logistics, warehousing, and fulfilment companies found fertile ground in the Inland Empire, especially in Moreno Valley. Anaheim Canyon had lost its competitive edge. It was cheaper for developers to build on greenfield sites outside of Anaheim than it was to demolish the existing buildings within the Anaheim Canyon. Companies looking for a home could move into newer buildings, with nicer surroundings, at a comparable price elsewhere.

As Anaheim Canyon has continued to decline, real estate prices have followed a similar trajectory. At the same time, the land in the other industrial centers has been largely built out and real estate prices there have increased. Anaheim Canyon now has a price advantage over some of the other industrial centers in Southern California. It is now possible to purchase real estate within Anaheim Canyon for demolition and redevelopment at a comparable price to greenfield development elsewhere. We are already starting to see this redevelopment on some parcels within Anaheim Canyon and the Anaheim Canyon Specific Plan intends to capitalize on this competitive advantage and maximize the value of the area for the City, as well as businesses, residents, and employees in the area.

Over the coming decades, nearly every building with the Anaheim Canyon will be demolished and rebuilt. The Anaheim Canyon Specific Plan is the template from which the new buildings will be drawn. The Specific Plan must create the appropriate conditions to encourage and ensure a vibrant industrial area of Anaheim.

In following posts, I will look at the ways the Anaheim Canyon Specific Plan will encourage redevelopment of the areas and some places where the Specific Plan may be improved.

Learning from our Sister City

Two interesting items are coming before the Planning Commission at the end of this month, a revised proposal for A-Town in the Platinum Triangle, and the Anaheim Corridor Specific Plan. Until those two items come forward, there hasn’t been much interesting to talk about in Anaheim planning. However, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, a Sister City of Anaheim’s, has made some news due to their efforts to become more walkable and urban.

Ten years ago Vitoria-Gasteiz created a Sustainable Mobility and Public Space Plan to reduce resident’s reliance on cars, to enhance community value, and create a more financially and environmentally sustainable future for the city. At the time, Vitoria-Gasteiz was one of the most car-dependent cities in Europe, very similar to Anaheim today. Seeing that this wasn’t sustainable, financially or environmentally, the City created this long-term plan to improve mobility and enhance community.

Many cities have developed similar plans from whole cloth, coming up with new solutions to the problems they face. Taking a slightly different approach, Vitoria-Gasteiz looked at the solutions other cities had implemented and modified them to fit their own problems. This enabled the City to implement sustainable solutions faster and with less cost than had they developed wholly custom solutions.

Anaheim can take a similar approach to the one taken by Vitoria-Gasteiz. Our Sister City is a perfect example how a city like Anaheim can transform from auto-dependence into a sustainable, rich community. All it really takes is some planning and a belief that it can be accomplished.

Commercial, Industrial, and Office Parking Standards

This past Monday was my first meeting as a Planning Commissioner. Before the Commission were two items, both items were for industrial properties along La Palma Ave. and featured parking variances.

Item No. 2 on the agenda was of particular note, which was for a CUP and variance for a small gym located in an office and industrial center. The Code’s requires 466 parking spaces for this center, but it only provides for 374 spaces. However, as part of the required research for this item, Planning Staff conducted two parking surveys of the center during peak business hours and found that the maximum number of occupied spaces was 216. Under current conditions, the center is oversupplied on parking by 73%, and Code would require more than twice the amount of parking as this center needs.

A common issue that is raised by Anaheim residents is a lack of parking. While providing too little parking creates obvious problems, especially in our residential neighborhoods, providing too much parking creates some less obvious problems for the City and the development of our community. The primary issue with providing too much parking is that parking takes away from other productive uses. This in turn lowers property values, minimizes walkability, and creates for an unappealing city-scape.

Land value is directly related to the value of productive uses that can be built on the land. By reducing the amount of required parking, additional land can be used productively (i.e. more square feet of retail, more office space, more homes, &c.). By providing more productive uses that generate more revenue, land prices go up. From the City’s perspective, this also raises property tax revenue, growing our General Fund.

In addition, an excess of parking ensures that each building is an island in a sea of parking, instead of being integrated into the fabric of our community. Instead of helping keep one another afloat, businesses must sink or swim in this sea on their own. Patrons of one business cannot easily go to other nearby stores without getting in their cars, at which point it’s nearly as easy to go to other destinations that are far away than right around the corner. In many retail shopping centers, where there is twice as much parking as is needed, the storefronts are set so far back across the parking lot that simply walking from the street to the store becomes a chore. Anaheim Plaza and The Festival are two good examples of this negative consequence of too much parking. (I have written elsewhere about why walkable shopping centers are a benefit to communities, I won’t belabor the point.)

Finally, this sea of parking is simply not attractive and does not contribute to a sense of place for a community. Despite the addition of an archipelago of trees within the asphalt sea, parking lots are terrible to look at and terrible to move through as a pedestrian or a driver. Parking lots are a necessary evil for communities that aren’t accessible via alternative modes of transportation. They should be minimized as much as possible while still providing sufficient parking.

When I asked about this at the meeting on Monday, I was told that the Planning Department would like to reexamine the City’s parking standards, especially within non-residential zones. This would be a good step towards maximizing the value of our City’s land and improving the walkability and character of our community.

Supporting the Entertainment Tax Reimbursement Extension

I have attached my name to a letter supporting the proposed extension of the City’s Entertainment Tax Reimbursement Agreement with Disney, which is an agreement that would refund any tax revenue the City might collect from the sale of Disneyland admissions tickets to Disney. While this is not a planning issue, this is a matter of public debate that I’ve decided to lend my support to, so I thought this was a good opportunity to follow through with my plan for this site by explaining why I support extending the Entertainment Tax Reimbursement Agreement.

The current Entertainment Tax Reimbursement Agreement was adopted when the City approved Disney’s California Adventure and the related improvements to the Resort. The Agreement is between the City and Disney in which the City agrees that, in the event the City levy a specific tax on tickets to the City’s entertainment venues (i.e. Disneyland, Angel Stadium, and the Honda Center), the City would refund the tax revenue collected on the sales of Disneyland admission to Disney. This agreement expires in 2016.

In broad strokes, the current agreement up for adoption between the City of Anaheim and Disney at Tuesday’s Council meeting provides for two extensions to the current Entertainment Tax Reimbursement Agreement. The first extension would extend the Agreement for thirty years, from 2016 until 2046. In exchange for the City agreeing not to collect additional taxes from tickets to Disneyland, Disney would commit to investing $1 billion into Disneyland and California Adventure by the end of 2017. The second extension would extend the Agreement for an additional fifteen years, from 2046 until 2061. In exchange, Disney would commit to investing an additional $500 million into the parks by the end of 2045. Combined, this is an amount greater than what Disney invested when they remodeled California Adventure and built Cars Land a few years ago.

If the City of Anaheim levied a tax on admission to Disneyland, it could raise millions of dollars for the City every year. My best guess is about $20 million per year, in current dollars at current park attendance levels.

On the other hand, we’ve seen what an investment of this magnitude can do to the demand for Anaheim’s tourism industry. Already, due to Disney’s investment in Cars Land and California Adventure, the City has seen its receipts from Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) increase by about $15 million. We are also seeing a building boom in the Resort with eight hotels currently under construction, which will further increase the TOT. Once this building boom is done, I expect we will see a total increase of tax revenue to the City greater than the revenue we could get by taxing admissions tickets. This is the direct result of the type of investment Disney is committing to make again.

In order to make such an investment, Disney needs to have as much assurance as possible that they will see a return on the investment greater than they would get if they invested elsewhere. The extension of the Entertainment Tax Reimbursement Agreement is one such assurance that they will be able to get the full value of the increased demand their investment will create. I do not believe Disney will make a $1.5 billion investment in Anaheim without the extension of the Entertainment Tax Reimbursement Agreement, if the Agreement isn’t approved, Disney can be more sure of the return on their investment if it happens at one of their other parks.

Additionally, I do not believe the City will levy a tax on Disneyland tickets for the foreseeable future. While council districts might change that (and let’s be honest, that’s what Disney fears), I would expect Disney could successfully counteract any push for an additional tax in the future. So I don’t think the City is giving up much with this new agreement.

I trust that Disney will use their newly acquired properties, Star Wars and Marvel, to do something spectacular in the Resort. I expect they will not wait until 2045 to invest the additional $500 million, but instead will invest it in the next few years. This way, the City will have 45 years of benefitting from the additional tax revenue this investment will bring to the City. An additional $20+ million a year in TOT, sales, and property taxes for 45 years is of greater benefit to the City than reserving the right to levy a tax on tickets at some point in the future, on the off chance that such a tax would be approved. And that increased tax revenue due to Disney’s investment is the reason I’m supporting the extension of the Entertainment Tax Reimbursement Agreement.

Opening a Dialog

In order to create vibrant and prosperous communities, residents need to feel ownership of the planning process that shapes the built environment around them. One of the best ways to create a sense of ownership is to open a real dialog about planning decisions. To feel a sense of ownership, members of the community need a way to provide input into overarching planning goals and objectives, as well as into specific projects, and to see that input implemented.

As a newly appointed Planning Commissioner in Anaheim, I am going to do what I can to open that dialog about planning issues within the City. Prior to each Planning Commission meeting, I hope to have a chance to discuss my thoughts on items before the Commission (especially the controversial items) and to provide a forum for discussion. While I may not agree with everyone on any specific topic, I will always listen to any reasoned and considered argument in favor or opposition to a project or policy.

I will only be one vote among seven on the Planning Commission. Even if this discussion on this site is compelling, there is no guarantee that we can change the overall planning process to allow for greater community input. But hopefully this website will help start a conversation about residents taking real ownership of the planning of their community.

Please come join me as we create a vibrant and prosperous Anaheim.