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A Plan for Rebuilding the Northeast Valley

The Northeast San Fernando Valley has had a rough time over the last 100 years. Residents of northeast communities have endured some of the worst living conditions and environmental degradation in Southern California. Now, there is a serious effort underway to develop a strategy for long-term improvement of the area. The Mulholland Institute, a Valley-based think tank, has received a grant from the Southern California Association of Governments – the regional planning organization better known as SCAG – to create a model for the northeast Valley. SCAG provides a forum for cities to address regional issues, such as transportation, sustainable community strategies and regional housing needs. The Mulholland Institute has been responsible for a number of vision and strategy projects for Southland communities over the last 20 years, including the creation of the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments. At the end of World War II, the northeast Valley’s once-rich farmland, olive and citrus groves gave way to the middle-class housing boom, and was absorbed into the vast suburban landscape of the San Fernando Valley. Owing to the modesty of the housing, and proximity of heavy industry and mined aggregates, the northeast became the de facto center of affordable housing for the region. Unfortunately, some of the same industries and activities that provided post-war job opportunities also had a dramatic effect on the quality of life, and on the residents of the region. Many of the cleaner industries passed them by. The current project is officially known as the “Northeast San Fernando Valley Sustainability & Prosperity Strategy.” It aims to provide a roadmap of innovations, tools and tactics to help the northeast reach its full potential. The L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has plans in place to develop an East Valley Transit Corridor. The line would run from Sherman Oaks in the south to the Sylmar/San Fernando Metrolink station in the north. This is especially meaningful due to the high public-transit dependency in the northeast. Advocates are seeking sufficient funds to build a light-rail alternative to a bus rapid transit system. The reason for much of this activity is the enactment of Assembly Bill 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The act requires a sharp reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, gradually transitioning to a sustainable, low-carbon future. The goal is to improve the environment and natural resources, while maintaining a robust economy. This is a tall order that has fallen to SCAG and local jurisdictions to implement, employing what are called sustainable community strategies. Senate Bill 375 was enacted in 2009, dubbed California’s Sustainable Communities Strategy and Climate Protection Act. The measure mandates the integration of local transportation, land use and housing planning. The Northeast Strategy will provide tactics for linking land use to transportation planning, to develop an overriding strategy for “location efficiency.” By rethinking the basic urban form of our communities, we can enjoy the dividends of reduced travel times and reduced fuel consumption. The result is less environmental impact and more time to enjoy an improved quality of life. Mobility Improvements will provide access to community, lifestyle and job centers, creating Transit Oriented Districts, including active transportation such as walking and bicycling. Livable Communities can be enhanced by improving environments and aesthetics, and by developing “Town Centers” for each community, featuring a full range of amenities and assets. Shared Prosperity is possible through visionary leadership, entrepreneurial investment and educational programming that aligns with future career opportunities. Re-Industrializing Local Manufacturing can eliminate toxins, pollution and blight, while preserving the economic base, cultivating employment and promoting prosperity. Sustainable Strategies are the key to assuring long-term community success, environmental justice and the ability of stakeholders to maintain and improve their gains. It’s a model that can be applied to other sub-regions in SCAG’s six-county jurisdiction – areas that have similar demographics and quality-of-life challenges. We address the risk of gentrification or displacement of existing populations. Our goal is to develop strategies that will encourage access to new opportunities to those who already live in the community – an approach characteristic of the emerging “opportunity urbanism” movement in local planning and development. Robert L. Scott is executive director of the Mulholland Institute. Michael Shires, senior consultant on the Northeast project, contributed to this article.

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