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Real Estate & Property Law: Kelo and Beyond
Are They Nuts?
By Greg Alvarez, Esq.
As a former West Coaster, I like to look in that direction every so often to catch up on the happenings in my former stomping grounds. Aside from the dismal results from this network television season that is coming to a close, there is some other signs of change that have the potential to rock the Los Angeles Basin to its core with greater force than an 8.0 earthquake. The thing that jostled my own equilibrium was a recent plan advocated by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that sought to convert two of the city's massive Westside east-west boulevards, Olympic and Pico, to one-way thoroughfares stretching from downtown to the beaches of Santa Monica. A Superior Court judge has temporarily stalled the scheme designed to alleviate traffic congestion in the hopelessly clogged area, forcing the city to perform an impact study before moving forward with the plan. The thought can be characterized as either revolutionary or just plain nutty. Either way, it seems to ignore the elephant on the roadways that costs in the neighborhood of $4 per gallon, and rising.
Another off-kilter story from the leftist coast comes from a hotbed of conservatism that Richard Nixon could have loved, and did. In the Orange County community of San Clemente, which is halfway between LA and San Diego, grassroots political activism fueled by NIMBYist tendencies have brought to life the denizens of the place that the disgraced president once called home. A growing contingent of residents in this built-out 'burb have been standing up to recent attempts to squeeze a bit more value into the limited space left to develop. One plan would have brought a new residential subdivision to 9 holes of the Pacific Golf and Country Club, who would have still had 18 left after the construction. However, buttressed by the ability to send the matter to voters that the "activists" won by having a City ordinance adopted declaring it so, the plan failed public muster. The biggest fallout came at the golf club, where ten members who were opposed to the plan were summarily expelled. Is it a democratic groundswell, or a movement by a few, strong voices? Either way, in this neck of the land, it appears that developers have met their match in their golfing buddies. To call the protesters "activists" puts an interesting spin on things, just as the recent "protesters" who occupied Honolulu's Iolani Palace did, seeking to highlight the group's desire to restore the monarchic ways of the government that once ruled the islands. At least they have an elected leader.
Nonetheless, just down the road from San Clemente, in Irvine, a swath of 40,000 acres surrounded by the sprawl of Orange County has recently been designated as the first California Natural Landmark, a ceremonial title that state officials, including Governor Schwarzenegger, hope will lead to stronger protections for the tract. Perhaps the folks over in San Clemente may see a cause more worthy than the preservation of nine precious holes of golf. Other less fortunate areas are contending with far worse fallout from the lack of open space. Back up in LA, the City Board of Education approved a plan to construct a new elementary school campus, in particularly its fields, on a site contaminated with toxic substances, and already next to a middle school too small for the numbers of students it teaches. "This is by no means an easy decision. . . We have looked for every piece of land, and in this mid-Wilshire area . . . density is a challenge," voiced the Board's president. Are they nuts, or just plain desperate?
Admittedly, there are some other strange proposals happening around the country that begs for a question in the neighborhood of: How crazy are our elected officials? Take for example the happenings in South Florida, where plans are afoot to construct a massive reservoir the size of Manhattan Island to save the natural water flow in the beloved Everglades region. Part of a larger plan to both re-supply the historic flow of water to the wetland region, and provide a flood protection measure for the development that has taken the place of most of the swamp that once covered South Florida, the reservoir is designed to preserve, as best is still possible, the gloriousness of the area before it is lost forever. Will it work? Time will tell.
On the other end of the spectrum, leave it to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada, where instead of seeking to redevelop its decaying downtown area, has instead decided to acquire a 60-acre tract next door, and build a new one. The ironically-named Union Park area will be developed with a number of Las Vegas style projects, including a Frank Gehry designed Alzheimer's research facility, a performing arts center, and associated casino and residential development. Sure, it took five years to acquire the property, and the economic problems of today may slow things down, but eventually, as everything in Las Vegas seems, it appears inevitable that the ambitious plan spearheaded by Mayor Oscar Goodman will come to be. Not even robust and bloated LA is immune to the economic vagaries of the times, and its mammoth Grand Avenue project has hit a rough patch in obtaining the necessary funding.
On a different scale, in Camden, New Jersey, more modest goals prevail, in that the city's planning board is reviewing an application for a new Hilton Garden Inn, that may signal a turn in fortunes for the long-beleaguered city across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. A new hotel has not been built in the city for about seventy years. Although there are recently-added attractions including an aquarium and a minor league baseball stadium, Camden still faces the problems of attracting attention, and money, that it has confronted for decades. Its proximity to its larger neighbor in Pennsylvania may be Camden's best asset, as it may be able to cater to the overflow in people and tourists that flock to the City of Brotherly Love. For the moment, the prospects remain guarded, and less fabulous, than Vegas.
And with all this nuttiness going on, who can forget the constant thoughts in all our minds (except for those fortunate enough not to ever require a car), the daily reminders of how much driving actually costs - not just the gas our vehicles suck dry. Based partly on New York City's failure to adopt congestion pricing, Los Angeles has been offered $213 million to create its own version of congestion pricing to help alleviate its clogged "freeways." In Chicago, which may also receive a portion of New York's lost booty, is also proposing installing bus-only lanes on its major highways into the central city for express lines, and increasing the costs of parking meters downtown. Is Mayor Daley concerned what the effects may be on commuters who drive? "No, no, no." Okay. Back in New York, the city has refocused on its biking commuters, proposing massive improvements to bicycle lanes, racks and helmet programs. One percent of commuters in the city do so via the two-wheeled method. That number is expected to grow as the price at the pump continues to climb.
In the end, looking at the state of things, there are a lot of plans out there that seem kind of nuts -- and not just those in the greater Los Angeles area. But these are nutty times, and only increasing in nuttiness by the day. At the bottom of it all, at least we are still trying to make things better, and adapt to the increasingly evolving world we live in. When we stop trying, that's when we should be really concerned.
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