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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

Which Path Shall the Valley Take?

The San Fernando Valley is my hometown, and I love it. The rest of Los Angeles is OK too, I guess, but the Valley is where it’s really happening – the entertainment industry, the middle-class beating heart of Los Angeles, the kitsch neon signs, the immigrant-run restaurants from all over the world, the wide boulevards surrounded by mountains on every side. This is where I caught my break, and it’s where a lot of other people have caught theirs, too. I’m not blind to the challenges of the Valley. Many of them are the same challenges the rest of Los Angeles faces, but shaped by our unique history and circumstances. We have a rapidly rising number of people experiencing homelessness – but unlike some parts of Los Angeles, many of our homeless neighbors are hidden, in garages, over-crowded apartments, or in the dangerous washes and underpasses that crisscross the Valley. We have a housing crisis, although the traditional affordability of the Valley means we don’t see the eye-popping rents of downtown Los Angeles or the Westside. But the shortage of housing is still pushing artists, families, and students further out, as they compete for the limited units available. And we have a transportation crisis, as anyone who has sat on the 405 or the 101 freeways recently can confirm. When I think of the hours I have spent sitting in my car, when I could have been spending time with my kids, I know that something has to change. I love the Valley. And I love our suburban lifestyle. But if something’s gotta give, smart leaders will start figuring out how to preserve what’s important about the Valley, without reflexively shouting “no” to any change at all. I’ve been a proponent of investment in transit for years, and the transit-oriented development that goes along with it. Transit only works effectively if you have riders who can use it to conveniently get from their home to their work, their gym and their kids’ school. Maybe one day, Valley residents can even get by without needing to own (and park) a car at all. A lot of people have been reflexively opposing any push to open up development near the transit that we’ve spent billions on, and that reaction is shortsighted at best. At worst, this reaction will hurt the Valley in the long term. Sure, I love my single-family home. But there are already arteries in the Valley which are home to multi-family housing, retail, and businesses. In other words, a vibrant community which could be made more urban, more cohesive, and more attractive to a new generation of Valley residents who want to make their homes here too. Transit-oriented development will support those refreshed arteries. Most Valley homeowners live near a busy artery, but they still drive their car because the stores they need are spaced out along single-story strip malls on wide, pedestrian-unfriendly boulevards bursting with their neighbors’ cars. How much nicer would it be if these traffic arteries were developed with denser, mixed-use developments so that people live, work, and shop along them, making them safer, less threatening, and more human scaled? I can think of two options for these existing corridors. Option one is encouraging mixed-use developments with new homes and businesses. Option two is refusing new development, so that traffic keeps increasing and tents appear along even more sidewalks. As a single-family homeowner who lives adjacent to one of these arteries, I can’t imagine who would prefer option two. And for the record, the seeming preferred option of some people – for the Valley to be frozen in time – is the equivalent of a my four-year-old covering her ears to pretend she didn’t hear something she didn’t like. That is not a viable or productive strategy. We’re seeing some of the results from our short-sighted reflex against change: homelessness, traffic, increased rents. And it’s only going to get worse. That’s the real threat, not smart new development that brings new life and the next generation into the Valley. Stuart Waldman is president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a business advocacy organization based in Van Nuys that represents employers in the San Fernando Valley at the local, state and federal levels of government.

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