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California’s New ‘Gold Rush’ is Transit Oriented Development

For developers wanting to expand and cash in on the prototype of mixed-use properties located near Metro’s Gold Line , this indeed is the new gold-mining, Transit Oriented Development. – Photo by Terry Miller / Beacon Media News

Communities are experiencing ‘unprecedented’ development interest

By Terry Miller

The discovery of gold in the Sacramento Valley in early 1848 generated what became the “California Gold Rush.” Conceivably, this was one of the most important events to shape American history during the first half of the 19th century which sprouted California’s population explosion.

Have you noticed the number of new apartment buildings/mixed-use complexes being erected near light rail stations in San Gabriel Valley and other cities all over the United States?

It’s a relatively new and this is the new, unadulterated ‘Gold Rush’ for California.

For developers wanting to cash in on the prototype of mixed-use properties located near, or in some cases right next to Metro’s Gold Line and the continued expansion, this indeed is the new gold-mining – Transit Oriented Development or TOD.

Locally it started in Pasadena at the turn of the century and now that Gold Rush has now spread to cities like Monrovia where developments like MODA have sparked some mixed- reaction from residents. Many have questioned the changing architectural values within the city limits.

As a way of helping residents understand the rash of growth, Monrovia’s city manager, Oliver Chi, launched a new website to “provide more information on the unprecedented development interest taking place in Monrovia, the City has spent the last few months creating a new website focused on helping residents and businesses not only learn more about each project that is being considered, but also answer questions about the impacts these development may have on the community. The website includes pages on all the major areas of concern, such as:

  • Parking
  • Traffic
  • Affordable Housing.
  • Water
  • Public Safety.”

Four major projects -which will apparently provide over 1000 residential apartment units as well as a hotel project – are all in the works for Monrovia alone.

The idea of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) has been around for some time. It was architect, Peter Calthorpe’s concept in 1982.

Which was then picked up by like-minded municipal designers with a handful of projects which linked transit to mixed-use walkable centers in the following two decades—and then TOD took off as a major real estate trend in the mid-2000s.

“TOD primarily occurs when regional or local governments encourage it through land use planning, zoning laws, and changes to building codes, among other things. When a TOD coincides with a federally funded transit project, FTA may provide financial assistance, technical assistance, training, and other resources to complement the regional or local TOD,” according to The Federal Transit Administration’s website

With a studio apartment – 620 square feet – starting at $2,200 and a two-bedroom at almost $3,000 plus, MODA in Monrovia, which is right next to the Gold Line station, hopes to fill those luxury aparments.

Nevertheless, it’s­ not just Monrovia, cities all along the Gold Line route are rushing to grab the developers’ monies.

With the Foothill Extension continuing east, more and more cities are becoming overwhelmed with developer proposals that could be easily rubber-stamped by cash hungry cities, especially in the wake of the loss of redevelopment funds.

State law requires every city and county to adopt a housing element as part of its general plan. And each year a housing element report is submitted to California Department of Housing and Community Development. The report outlines zoning plans that lay out how much residential construction the city will allow. The purpose of the housing element is to ensure local governments meet the needs of their communities, regardless of income. 

For developers wanting to expand and cash in on the prototype of mixed-use properties located near Metro’s Gold Line, this indeed is the new gold-mining, Transit Oriented Development. – Photo by Terry Miller / Beacon Media News

This means there has to be, by law, a percentage of affordable housing allocations per city, per state. Pasadena, for example has drastically changed over a few short years…again, due in part to the Gold Line expansion and demand for housing near public transportation.

The theory behind all this is good when cities become more environmentally aware. However, the cons may just outweigh the pros. Some call it urban blight, giant monstrosities that tower into the sky only to disguise the natural beauty of a mountain once visible. Backyards and pools are definitely becoming a thing of the past, making room for those millennials moonlighting as home bodies who travel by light rail to work when they’re not driving their electric car.

Just last week another, rather controversial, Pasadena planned development at Space Bank has garnered huge public concerns and councilmen Gene Masuda and Victor Gordo voiced their disdain for the 8-acre housing  5-story  development citing toxic land at the former Navy lab at 3202 E. Foothill.

Another strong opponent of over development is Pasadena resident, Christle Balvin. In a recent email, Balvin told the Pasadena Independent:

“To me, Pasadena is on the horns of a dilemma and has made the wrong choice in trying to solve its problem. By catering to developers, many now coming from outside this country, our elected leaders have accepted the argument that any development, particularly high-end, is good because it helps increase our tax base. In doing so, our city now exceeds the Southern California Association of Government’s (SCAG) numbers for requisite new high-end housing developments while falling far short on affordable housing. In fact, affordable housing is being eliminated to make way for projects that will provide a more lucrative tax base. Why is the council doing this? Because of the potential budget gap caused by the need to pay out on public employee pension funds (CalPERS), a problem that is afflicting many cities, the county and the state. This important decision about how to fill the gap should not be made by the city council alone. Public meetings about the choices and options the city faces must be talked over with the community. For example, do residents of Pasadena really want or need more hotels and the Singpoli project on Union and Lake? Let’s talk about it and not be pressured by the lawyers now appearing regularly before the Council and speaking on behalf of their deep-pocket developer clients. That’s not the Pasadena Way.”

The State of California has adopted stringent new laws which essentially have put a throttlehold on local municipalities when it comes to developments of any kind.

The new regulations adopted by the State stipulate that if a project conforms to a City’s applicable development standards (i.e., no variances or exceptions are sought), it will be extremely difficult for the City to legally deny any housing project.

Furthermore, while a City can still institute a design and neighborhood compatibility review process, the City essentially now cannot deny a housing development project, or impose conditions that the project be developed at a lower density, unless strict findings can be identified which indicate that a project would have a specific, adverse impact on public health or safety.

Seventy-five percent of Pasadena, for example, is zoned for single family homes according to Mayor Terry Tornek. Tornek also said that the city needs more hotels, particularly due to the Convention Center or any of the big events like the Rose Parade. “Pasadena has become a ‘destination location’ and we’re in a tug of war with (some residents) and a lot of misleading information.”

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