Aiding and Abetting Traffic Gridlock and Expensive Housing

The general lack of will to permit marketplace infill development in high demands areas have led to worsened long-distance traffic congestion on California freeways and soaring housing costs.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

I hope everybody has kept up on my recent posts over the serious growing traffic issues plaguing the Inland Empire as well as the rest of Southern California. As reported all over the media, the south half of the Golden State continues to rank among the worst in congestion and the resulting lost productivity.

Another major problem is a general lack of housing infrastructure near jobs. Earlier this week, I was in west Anaheim and did a field study of the La Palma Avenue transportation corridor during the afternoon rush hour. It is densely populated. Pedestrians and cyclists can be seen on each block. Nearly every bus stop along the route had people waiting. Orange County Transportation Authority Line 38 serves this street and is one of the busiest routes in the system with weekday headways of 15 minutes between the Kellogg and Knotts Berry Farm short turn segment.

However, suppose one factored out the population density and judged the street solely by its development infrastructure. It would look like a suburban corridor with the single-level retail shopping centers, tract houses, and some apartment complexes. But with the presence of the giant job hub in Placentia, downtown Anaheim, the regional hospital, the Buena Park Mall and Knotts Berry Farm combined with a busy transit line, this section of La Palma Avenue is urban, period. Because of this situation, I believe multiple tenants and families are squeezing into the expensive and crowded housing units. Besides some apartment and condo complexes, where's the additional infill housing infrastructure to better support the local workforce? What is stopping the land owners in the retail areas from redeveloping the properties into urban villages with housing units above ground-level retail and expanding the number of residential units which would actually add value to the land?

Workforce housing shortages like this are seen all over Southern California and this trend has crept into the Inland Empire. Yesterday, the lead editorial of the Press Enterprise mentioned this troubling topic and how the lack of development will hurt the IE working class. The fact is both purchase prices and rents have escalated to points where workers and their families cannot afford to live anywhere near the jobs along La Palma Avenue. Meanwhile, working salaries have generally not kept up with the living cost hikes. Demands for government-assisted subsidies for the high rents are soaring with extensive waiting lists and selection lotteries. Working people should not have to depend on the government to live; they should be self reliant.

From an impartial point of view, I believe this situation is an example of economic injustice.

Many local jurisdictions and the state government have not acted to control these price escalations. To be fair, Anaheim, Irvine and a few other areas are trying to draw infill development. Suburban-style industrial parks in the Platinum Triangle and Irvine Business Complex area are being redeveloped with urban, European style housing. Irvine is finishing its housing master plan in the Spectrum area. Houses are sprouting along Ortega Highway just east of San Juan Capistrano. This brings up an interesting point: These cities can take leadership positions on this issue which could draw the non-participating jurisdictions to follow and pressure the state to reform trivial regulatory rules. Will they?

Meanwhile other corridors in Anaheim including La Palma are long overdue for such better infrastructure. Because of the slow development pace and resulting high prices, many workers have moved into the Inland Empire and commute long distances to and from work. With the increased vehicle miles traveled, that has led to disastrous traffic conditions on Southern California highways. It turns out that the lack of will from the government to expand workforce housing near the job hubs has actually aided and abetted California's traffic gridlock problem.

Meanwhile, the cities in the Inland Empire cannot sit this one out. They too need to allow developers to address demands for better local marketplace jobs in the city hubs and ensure continued housing development keeps prices in line with working salaries. The twin county seat cities of Riverside and San Bernardnio should be the metropolitan hubs for the region with plentiful workforce residential units available to keep our rents and unit purchase prices affordable, competitive and innovative.

Next week, I'll show you how other regions throughout the country have allowed its workforce to live very close to their jobs without any subsidies from the government through robust housing choices. Our neighboring metropolitan areas across the state border are good examples to follow and are living proof that infill development could work in reducing traffic congestion and demands for long distance commuting here at home.

We need to finally solve this serious example of economic and social injustice here in Southern California.