Unlike some others that cover wars or government, as a local business reporter it’s rare that I get to witness history in the making. But this, I think, is one of those times. The more I worked on the special report that appears in this edition of the Business Journal, the more I realized what is happening now isn’t just one more real estate cycle. A mighty change is coming, and it will transform the San Fernando Valley in the same way that the first backyard barbecue signaled the end of farming in the region. Secession or not, the Valley is headed for cityhood, classic cityhood, where anonymous crowds rub shoulders on the streets and there are too many neighbors to know them all, or even care about them. Residents know it. That’s why Gerald A. Silver, the president of the Homeowners of Encino is so ticked off. He and many like him didn’t sign on to be a city dweller when he settled here. He came for the other Valley. The one where home ownership was in reach of the average Joe, where your kids could play out in front of the house without worrying that a passing car would plow them down. But whether Silver and others like it or not, and no matter how loud their calls for a moratorium on building, that Valley is as good as gone, a victim, ironically enough, of a thriving economy that encourages its residents to grow and prosper here while it draws newcomers from elsewhere, bloating the population. The development underway, more than 7,000 new residences already in the pipeline and, bet on it, more to come, will transform this Valley into a city no different from all the other major cities across the country. It’s already begun to happen. It’s just a matter of degree. The warnings issued by homeowner groups of ruthless developers out to make a quick buck with no concern for the community, of traffic gridlock and a lack of infrastructure to support this population boom are often dismissed as NIMBYism. Some of it is, and a lot of it is simply untrue. Building a community From my admittedly uncharacteristic seat at this computer, as I listen to both sides of the story developers and residents I have little doubt about the motives of the developers that have come into the Valley. By and large, it is a group that seeks to build a community, not tear it down. Some of them, like Chandler Partners in Burbank, have worked in this community for decades. They are as invested in the future as any homeowner. And even those who are not local AvalonBay Communities is a case in point keep their holdings for too long not to care about the long term impact of what they do. But truth be told, you don’t have to be a NIMBY to worry about the looming future. Most troubling of all, all these new apartments and condominiums will exclude the very population of folks that built the Valley. Right now, the median income needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles is north of $47,000. The new apartments now coming into the Valley are averaging just short of $2,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. That rules out social workers, lab technicians and high school teachers, not to mention carpenters and a whole range of other skilled workers. And we didn’t even get to home prices, now affordable only to about 40 percent of the population. Or new condominium prices. And what of the people who can afford to remain? Even now, I dare not drive down Ventura Boulevard from my apartment on Moorpark Street in Sherman Oaks on a Saturday afternoon. I drive blocks out of the way to avoid the gridlock. The argument, of course, is that once the housing density along the boulevard increases, it will encourage more merchants to the area, building mini, self sufficient neighborhoods where cars are not necessary. The folks who settle in some of the new apartments in Warner Center will be able to walk to their jobs. Those who move into the NoHo Commons or the apartments JSM Construction is building close by, will hop on the Red Line. It sounds good, especially to an ex-New Yorker like myself who knows how convenient it can be to walk to the corner to pick up a loaf of bread, a last-minute bottle of wine or the dry cleaning. Different town But this isn’t New York. The Valley doesn’t have the same cultural imperatives for speed and efficiency. If you’ve any doubt, watch the way folks mill around the supermarket counter waiting for their number to be called. There’s a lag time any self respecting New Yorker would never allow. And even if Valley-ites can be persuaded to get out of their cars, what’s the alternative? The Orange Line can transport workers to the workplace, but what happens when they’ve got a sales call, they have to pick their sick kid up from school mid-day or they attend an evening meeting? The bottom line is that this rash of development will bring infrastructure problems that, so far at least, city officials seem ill-equipped to address. They don’t even want to. One developer I spoke with told me he didn’t want to discuss certain details of his project because he promised an elected official he’d stay under the radar until after the election. Brad Rosenheim, a land use consultant who does a lot of work in Warner Center and other parts of the Valley, made an interesting observation recently. He pointed out that you may hear elected officials talk about the need for more housing, the need to fix roads and the school system, but you don’t hear them talking about how to accommodate growth. “There are some elected officials doing it on a smaller scale, but when all is said and done, there’s not a holistic policy to address the issue,” Rosenheim told me. He’s right, and not just because that’s what our elected officials should be doing. But because what is coming to the Valley is inevitable and unavoidable, and the only option we have is to find a way to deal with it effectively. Senior reporter Shelly Garcia can be reached at (818) 316-3123 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Development Boom Brings Change in Valley Character