Tuesday, December 31, 2013

La Habra Subreddit

I decided to invade the not very interesting La Habra subreddit. For the past few months I have been one of the main contributors to the urban planning subreddit. I figure that cross posting some of the more relevant links to the La Habra subreddit gives some chance of bringing decent zoning decisions.

Monday, December 30, 2013


I decided to play the anti-NIMBY in my neighborhood. After reading a draft of the Housing Element of the General Plan for La Habra I went ahead and sent this email to the director of housing development:

I am a new home owner in one of the developments which have recently been constructed in La Habra. Recently I read through the housing element document on the website. There was much I agreed with, such as allowing mixed use developments. There are a few aspects I strongly disagree with though. Is there still time to influence the final document?
In particular I couldn't agree less with the following:

"There is a height limit of 2.5 stories or 35 feet on all multi‐family zones, which allows for a partial subterranean parking garage with two residential stories above. This restriction is in place due to La Habra residents’ expressed preference for preserving the low ‐ rise appearance of their neighborhoods, and is consistent with policies of the General Plan"
La Habra should aspire to be more like Pasadena or Paris and less like San Bernardino or Fresno. Taller buildings should be courted, not pushed out. This is particularly true on La Habra boulevard where there is a both a desperate need to tear down virtually every building to build new, and an opportunity to construct a decent downtown if enough developers can be attracted. The wild success of Avo and Brio should make condo builders interested if the city will just give them terms that make sense. The best way La Habra boulevard could proceed is to allow up to seven story mixed use buildings without any type of zoning violation. This would allow expensive enough developments to justify both the hassle of buying several small lots and the risk of building in what is not a very attractive neighborhood.
Also parking requirements for new construction should be relaxed, once again this is particularly on La Habra boulevard where new development is vital. La Habra boulevard is the most walkable part of La Habra so commercial space does not need as much parking as a great many customers simply walk from home. If parking requirements are not relaxed there is a real risk of turning it into the developments on beach and imperial where you can hardly go from one store to the next without getting in a car.

What options are still available to me to influence this document and the La Habra General Plan?

It really is true that the plan for [La Habra](http://www.reddit.com/r/LaHabraCA/) is a good example of stereotypical bad urban planning. All the height limits and parking requirements which have killed public transportation in America. Hopefully the obvious need for more development will help them be less anal.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Map of Average Commutes

This is an impressive map of average commutes from around the country.

I have long known that Fresno roads were designed to be much faster for cars than those in most other cities I have been to. Fresno has average commutes of less than 20 minutes which reflect this reality. Cheap homes probably help too, you don't need to head to the exurbs to find an affordable place.

On the other end of the extreme, lower Manhattan does well with average commutes right about the national average 25 minutes. This is impressive because most people there walk or take public transportation.

In almost all cities, living downtown will result in far shorter average commutes than living in the suburbs. The reason is obvious, even if you don't work downtown your commute will be against traffic. If you decide to take public transit it will also likely be of much higher quality downtown. More residential construction downtown is one of the best things most cities could do to reduce the time wasted.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Pictures of Space

When a scientist says how many stars there are, it is just hard to visualize. You think there is a lot, but a lot doesn't really make as large an impression as this image(If it doesn't get really big try this link):

Just about every little dot is a solar system.

A few hundred years ago people figured out that planets orbit the sun. After a few generations they started figuring out how far away those planets were. Then someone invented rockets. Now we are able to calculate just how long the rocket needs to burn to get all the way to that little dot in the sky. Not only do we get impressive fly by photos of other planets, we actually have pictures from the surface. Here are some of my favorite Mars photos (click for the quite impressive full size images):

Curousity Rover:


Opportunity Rover:

Spirit Rover:

Monday, December 23, 2013

New York Stuck, Montana Didn't

I just took the language quiz which has been spreading around. A lot of the questions cheated, and were really not asking about language as much as local laws and wildlife. Still though the results were rather interesting:

I was not surprised that it put me as being from central California. I took it twice, once it said I was from Fresno, Modesto, or Sacramento, the second time it said Fresno, Modesto or Santa Rosa. Since I spent at least half my life in the triangle from Fresno in to San Francisco and back to Modesto this makes sense.

I also spent three and a half years in Ithaca New York, along with about the same amount of time in Montana and Southern California. My language is very West Coast according to the quiz so Southern California would be easy to hide in the blob of red. However there are a few other dots around the country, the one that surprised me was the big orange spot in Western New York. I suppose it isn't so different in size from the one in Chicago where I have never spent much time but it still seems unlikely to be coincidence. Some of the way people in New York speak stuck.

Montana though shows little sign of having stuck. I guess this makes sense because all the time I spent there was with people from California.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Little sign of affordable housing

Reading through the comments on this New York Times article gave me much less hope for the place. Most of the comments complain about at least one of the following: too much development, too many ugly large buildings, and too expensive of housing.

Almost no one seems to understand the basic problem. Several million more people want to live in New York City then actually live there. Either they build enough new housing for all of these people, other cities step up and become competitive with the city, they make the city a worse place to live or housing prices continue to go through the roof. There is no magic option where the city stays exactly like it is today, but prices become reasonable.

I am a huge advocate for creating several new Manhattans around the country while building like crazy in the real one. Unfortunately almost no one seems to understand that by fighting development, they make sky high prices inevitable.

Hopefully Los Angeles steps up and takes this role. From a technical standpoint it would not be an issue to build a couple million high density housing units and a few hundred subway stations near downtown. All the city would need to do would be make the permitting process dead simple for new skyscrapers while demanding money from developers for subway expansion. There are some signs of this with the tallest building on the west coast under construction along with a handful of new subway stations and quite a number of light rail stations. Still, the NIMBYs are strong and current levels of development are too slow.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Electric Buses

I am still rather skeptical of electric cars, although I admit to be pretty impressed by the advances of the past five years. Electric bikes have made sense to me for a while, and on some days other small electric vehicles such as a segway don't seem entirely crazy.

Electric buses actually make a whole lot of sense to me though. Rather than charging in the morning, then running all day most have overhead wires which power them. Modern battery technology means that they don't have to stay under the wires all day. They can charge for most their route, but if they need to move away from the wires for short distances during emergencies or to pick up passengers they can do so.

This seems like a best of all worlds. The problem with electric cars is the battery. The cost per mile of buying batteries eats up the entire cost difference between gasoline and electricity. Also they have to recharge for so long limiting range. By running off overhead wires a trolley bus seems to eliminate those problems.

The only downsides I can see are the wires which are pretty ugly, and the fact that like all public transportation it only works well in high population density areas.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Favorite Pundit

Recently my favorite pundit has been Matthew Yglesias. He seems to be one of the few people out there with reasonable plans which if they could just be adopted would lead to dramatic improvements in the country. Here are some examples of recent articles from him:

Central Planning in America
Long Term Unemployed: Doom
Housing Costs: Its the Zoning, Stupid
Raise the Gas Tax!
How Inflation Helps Heal Financial Crises
If Corn Loses, We Win
We Need More $88 Million Apartments