Thursday, January 2, 2014

Open Letter to La Habra City Government

I just sent the following letter to a dozen members of the local government in La Habra. Initially I wrote a more strongly worded one, but I backed off after realizing that the La Habra General Plan was much better written than some of the older documents I read.

I recently moved into La Habra and am writing this to encourage changes to the La Habra General Plan, Housing Element, and zoning that encourage the urbanization of La Habra. I am concerned that La Habra seems to be stagnating when it should be building at a rapid pace to expand the housing supply and replace the large number of buildings which have reached the end of their useful life.
Because of my interest in seeing La Habra thrive, I just read through many of the planning documents posted online. The La Habra Boulevard specific plan written in 1999 is remarkable in that it could have been written yesterday. The problems with La Habra Boulevard are exactly the same as they were fifteen years ago. There are too many buildings in poor condition, too many closed storefronts and too many single family homes still remain which should be replaced with commercial or mixed use.  Clearly those ideas failed, and La Habra is in need of better plans.
While La Habra Boulevard is ugly it does have a real advantage that should be preserved over the rest of La Habra when it comes to walkability. Whenever you find yourself driving from Harbor to Beach on Whittier, La Habra, Lambert, or Imperial count pedestrians on the sidewalk as you pass. What you will find is that there are few if any pedestrians on Imperial or Lambert. There are more on Whittier but because of how fast the cars move it does not feel safe so the numbers are still low. La Habra Boulevard is the only place with a reasonable amount of pedestrian traffic. This is because homes have been built near businesses and paths to these businesses are direct and unimpeded. This strength should be expanded by putting more apartment buildings on and near La Habra Boulevard and altering zoning to allow them to be higher density. Also, this pedestrian traffic means that parking requirements should be lower on La Habra Boulevard than in the rest of the La Habra, customers have alternate ways to get to these stores and city policy should reflect that. There is a surplus of parking at the moment and no reason to use that as an excuse to block development.
The community development section of the September draft of the La Habra General Plan outlines a reasonable way of fixing up the city. Apartment buildings and mixed use developments up to five stories tall would come to La Habra replacing many decrepit buildings and creating an actual downtown where little more than for lease signs exist today. Still, it is less ambitious than it should be. Too few areas were zoned for the highest density and the proposed rate of development is only modest. The average of 175 new housing units a year the document proposes is a step in the right direction but it will take a very long time to clean up the city at that rate. To speed up the process the highest density mixed use zoning should be extended. The entire length of La Habra Boulevard would benefit from these buildings so every lot touching that street should get the highest density mixed use zoning.
Unfortunately when I read the housing element it was not as encouraging. A draconian height restriction of 2.5 stories was mentioned which would make it much more difficult to revitalize the city.  La Habra should be pushing ahead to become an urban center, if anything height requirements should be increased to 7 stories along the entire length of La Habra Boulevard and it certainly shouldn’t be left at 2.5 stories.
Height restrictions should also be made less stringent for single family homes apartments and condos around the city. Many new developments, such as The Groves and Amerige Heights in Fullerton and even the Avo development in La Habra include three story homes. These should be allowed throughout La Habra. Three story homes more efficiently use space which is of utmost importance now that La Habra lacks large empty lots. Judging by the $690,000 that homes in Amergie Heights start at these three story homes are also highly in demand. The city should not be standing between people and their dream homes.
I have no business interests influenced by these ideas and these views are by own, not the views of my employer. I am solely motivated by a desire to see La Habra made into a more interesting and livable town.
To gain publicity for these views this letter, along with quite a number of articles supporting similar policies, were posted to the La Habra subreddit on ( )

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