Streetsblog Los Angeles » This Week’s Transportation Committee: Focus on a Progressive Van Nuys


“All of a sudden, Van Nuys is a hot bed of transportation reform. First came a report from the city that Van Nuys Boulevard would be a perfect place for another separated bus lane or even a light rail line. Next, the City is working on a plan to increase metered prices near the Van Nuys Civic Center to encourage more people to use the local parking garages.

From a policy standpoint, this should reduce local VMT, as people cease “cruising for parking” as savings for curb parking are reduced and could free up some public space on the streets.

A motion by Council Man Tony Cardenas and seconded by Transportation Committee Member Richard Alarcon explains the problem:

Optimal utilization for parking lots occur when the maintain 90% utilization throughout a typical day. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation has found that in the first half of FY2009-10, that average occupancy of the Van Nuys Civic Center parking lots is 57%, with a high of 76% (Lot 609) and a low of 28% (Lot 752)” Clearly, these lots are underutilized, partially due to the surrounding inexpensive on-street parking and lack of adequate signage directing drivers to the lots. LADOT piloting new meter technology that will adjust parking rates to maintain the desired level of use, but it will be provided in limited areas.”- Source: LA Streetsblog

Let me understand this.

The city wants to increase parking meter rates so that drivers will be motivated to use the local parking garages?

Drivers are looking for a convenient place to park. They are not hunting for places to park. And who is self-motivated to shop in Van Nuys anyway? How many of us spend, say our Saturday afternoons, shopping in bail bond outlets?

Is the type of irrational “planning” that Mr. Cardenas supports? Will forcing drivers to pay more to park on Van Nuys’ streets help local businesses?

8 thoughts on “Streetsblog Los Angeles » This Week’s Transportation Committee: Focus on a Progressive Van Nuys

  1. Wad-

    I cannot dispute that Van Nuys Blvd. has some good qualities, but I don’t necessarily agree on your negative assessment of Sepulveda.

    Sepulveda, up to Victory, has sort of remade itself into a semi-respectable area of office buildings, Target, Bevmo, Costco and Savon.

    North of Victory, there are also some fine ethnic supermarkets, including 99Ranch and Jons.

    Sepulveda is actually a more thriving street, in terms of commerce, than VNB, and I think its due to parking. The large lots in front of the stores encourage business by automobile drivers. I hate it, it’s ugly, but we shop by loading our cars up with goods and spending money.

    VNB must have a plan. Without a plan there is no future. And what is the arrangement going to be? The street looks and feels dated and neglected. The gigantic cobra lamps are out of scale and belong to the era of muscle cars and cruising.

    I think that any reorganization and redesign must start at the Busway. As a public transit advocate, you must agree on this. When are the walkable neighborhoods and amenities of Van Nuys Blvd and the Busway going to start? $500 million is not too much an amount that must be committed in the redevelopment of a sustainable and socially healthy Van Nuys.

    I don’t fear planning. I fear doing nothing.

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    1. Big box stores? Big whoop.

      The upside of the big boxes setting up shop on Sepulveda Boulevard is that it takes pressure off of Van Nuys Boulevard to build the giant parking lots in front. Plus, Sepulveda is closer to the 405 Freeway, so there’s bound to be more car traffic.

      Another reason Sepulveda was chosen is that the prime land for big box stores (Ventura Boulevard or the malls) is either too expensive or the market is already penetrated. Maybe the Sepulveda-area customers had been going on farther away trips to Ventura Boulevard, the Woodland Hills-Fallbrook cluster or the Northridge cluster.

      I’ll still maintain that Van Nuys is a healthier street. For one thing, you have a lot more small businesses. These starter entrepreneurs have a greater stake in any future turnaround. Second, storefront businesses provide “eyes on the street,” the conditions needed to reduce criminal activity and later for aesthetic improvements. Third, these small businesses were able to exist in the shadow of widely available big box stores. What is better — taco shacks, $1 Chinese food and quinceanera boutiques; or a sea of “This Space Now Available” signs from Ventura to Roscoe boulevards?

      Big-box stores certainly have their place, but they have side-effects as well. They produce sales tax revenues and jobs, but these are also self-contained economic units. They have closed distribution networks, so their supplies can be sourced from anywhere. As for the jobs they produce, the stores produce paychecks but little else. The workers are de-skilled, meaning they don’t pick up any appreciable knowledge set that can be applied anywhere except for where they work. (A cashier is taught to move customers through quickly, but the exposure to cash handling doesn’t accrue any higher finance skills. A cook at a fast food restaurant would not have the skills to run his or her restaurant since the task didn’t involve food purchasing, quality control, combining ingredients, menu planning, and so on.)

      Van Nuys, despite being a wide boulevard, can be oriented around pedestrians and transit. That is one of its assets. There are few other streets that look like it in the Valley. Sepulveda’s big boxes look no different than the ones on Vanowen, Sherman Way, Balboa, Topanga Canyon … . So Van Nuys can clearly differentiate itself.

      The pedestrian-transit component would work because Van Nuys doesn’t have to remake itself. It has all the ingredients in place now. It has old storefronts, heavy pedestrian flows and high bus ridership. It’s a tougher slog than to transform a derelict area into a desirable one. It is the people, not the urban form, that make the transformation possible.

      Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade succeeded because the city closed a street to cars that was teeming with pedestrians. Other cities looked at Santa Monica and said, “If we close off streets to car traffic, then the pedestrians will return.” Those failed, notably in Sacramento and Fresno. Why? There weren’t pedestrians to begin with to allow success.

      As for the Orange Line’s right of way, it doesn’t need to be redeveloped. You have longstanding neighborhoods, as well as dense multiunit homes that predated the transit service. The Orange Line also became the Valley’s busiest bus line — busier than the champion Van Nuys Boulevard — the day it opened. The other thing is that you don’t really want to encourage that much more ridership on the Orange Line — at about 22,000 riders, it’s already at capacity.

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  2. Cardenas has the right idea, but WRT Van Nuys Boulevard, he may be putting the cart before the horse.

    The parking-pricing optimization that you’re hearing about is the works of UCLA “parking scientist” Donald Shoup. He published a book, “The High Cost of Free Parking,” and he basically tries to turn everything we know about parking on its head.

    He does it for both off-street and on-street parking. For off-street, he says that the U.S. builds too much parking spaces for an arbitrarily set minimum.

    For on-street, he theorizes that cruising for a parking space is a leading cause of surface street traffic congestion. His remedy is to establish an 85% utilization rate for on-street parking through the use of peak-period pricing. At times when there are shortages, the prices would be higher. At times when they are empty, they can be a rock-bottom rate or even free, just as now.

    The big problem is not the street spaces, but the off-street city lots. Even the best, at three-quarters full during peak, is bad. The real problem for the city is that keeping this parking land is a financial drain. Yet at the same time, the city can’t redevelop it because it can’t afford to lose the spaces.

    Parking prices would be raised on the city streets, either through the meter charge or through time restrictions, to push cars into the lots.

    If you say that Van Nuys Boulevard has little to offer, then the street spaces aren’t utilized heavily to begin with and it would be an exercise in futility.

    That’s putting the cart before the horse.

    Yet Shoup shows various strategies cities have employed to tame the parking beast.

    Old-town type cities have successfully used a “park-once” strategy to encourage people to walk around. The best example is San Luis Obispo. Another relatively good example is Santa Monica. Ventura has also moved in this direction. These involve steering drivers into parking garages and charging them a low price (in Ventura’s case, the garage is free). Curb spaces available are time-impacted; they are reserved for people to conduct quick business. Limits are usually 30 minutes to 2 hours.

    Pasadena has another strategy that Van Nuys ought to consider. It’s hard to believe that its Old Town and Colorado Boulevard looked exactly like Van Nuys does right now. When it did, Pasadena’s business interests were worried that charging for parking would kill off a marginal area already on the skids. So Pasadena offered a carrot: Revenues generated from parking in the area will get to stay in the area. It could be used to fund streetscape, facade and business promotion improvements. Look at Pasadena now.

    So the idea isn’t bad, once you know the background of it. It’s applying it judiciously that could mean the problem, especially when dealing with L.A.

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    1. Now that you mention it, the two shopping areas I do patronize, Santa Monica and Pasadena, are also the ones where I park in a garage.
      But Santa Monica allows two free hours and I normally do not stay there for longer than that time. The same holds true for Pasadena.

      If “downtown” Van Nuys were actually a destination that brought people in from other areas (including Van Nuys) I could understand the gradual change to demanding more expensive parking. But other than the large government agencies and offices, Van Nuys has nothing to offer in terms of shopping or dining. I’ve lived in Van Nuys for ten years and have NEVER eaten in one restaurant on Van Nuys Blvd. north of Burbank Blvd.

      That’s not to say that the situation couldn’t change for the better. Los Angeles has many examples of areas where low cost rents produce an outstanding array of dining choices (Koreatown, Thai Town, the San Gabriel Valley). But those areas have grabbed onto an ethnic identity whereas VN has not.

      So parking or no parking….it comes down to planning and imagining and building. And I do not have confidence in Mr. Cardenas, whose record shows indifference to the quality of life in Van Nuys.

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      1. Andy, Van Nuys boulevard isn’t as bad as you think. Van Nuys isn’t upscale, but it is very busy. The stores on the boulevard meet the needs of the low-income residents nearby, and Van Nuys Boulevard is home to starter entrepreneurs and franchisees, many of whom are immigrants. So you do have the ethnic factor working on the boulevard.

        These starter businesses don’t provide many jobs, and aren’t destinations in their own right, except for the residents of the even poorer Northeast Valley. (Hint: The Van Nuys Boulevard buses are the busiest lines in the Valley outside of the Orange Line).

        These businesses provide vitality, though. You have Mexican, Korean, Indian, Pakistani and Persian entrepreneurs providing affordable foods, goods and services. These bring people to Van Nuys Boulevard. People and open shops, regardless of how much value they generate, keep a street alive.

        If the storefronts were all vacant and no one was walking around, Van Nuys would be a far worse place.

        A fate even worse than emptiness and abandonment is what you have on Sepulveda Boulevard. Van Nuys could have been Sepulveda, but you had just enough people to care about it not to let it fall into dereliction.

        This is doubly tragic because not only did abandonment lead to reactivation by a zone of degeneracy, but also because degeneracy now has an ecosystem in which to thrive.

        Sepulveda is a window into the stratum of society Karl Marx called the lumpenproletariat. It’s basically a class that suffers the same low status and deprivations of the poor, yet they choose illegitimacy (criminality for subsistence or personal gain) because they occupy a higher social status as a lowlife.

        You can generally tell a zone of dereliction by looking at what’s on the street. The preponderance of all those motels is a dead giveaway. You’d have to take a picture of Sepulveda with the car windows rolled up so you’re not overwhelmed by the smell of sex.

        You also see it in liquor stores, check cashing places, and junk and salvage yards. These are only the tip of the iceberg. There’s a deeper level of depravity that is going undetected.

        In light of this, Van Nuys is an undervalued asset. Van Nuys Boulevard has the ingredients to improve over time, if given enough time and a chance to evolve. That’s how it happened in the San Gabriel Valley and some other ethnic neighborhoods.

        This is where a hands-off approach to planning, like the one you say Cardenas and City Hall are practicing, is actually beneficial.

        Planning done wrong leads to more Sepulvedas. Jane Jacobs predicted the Sepulveda effect, as it has happened everywhere. It was due to planning. The process began with a master plan imposed on a neighborhood. The existing neighborhood assets can’t or won’t adapt to the plan. Businesses begin to leave, residents move out and landlords disinvest in properties. If the plans fail, or if changes result in lower land values, the zone of degeneracy reactivates the area to the detriment of many.

        Degeneracy accelerates decline, and it sets in a feedback loop that crowds out or smothers attempts to correct it.

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  3. Part of the problem is the parking itself. Don’t think that many of the retailers/restaurateurs have not looked at the area, yet with every property on the west side of Van Nuys Blvd. having different ownerships, there has never been a cohesive development put forward to create a better retailing environment.
    Yes, many of the fast food establishments would love to be there, yet would like to do it their standard way, you know, parking lot, drive-thru, etal.
    With parking in behind these shops/stores, most of the time it is not seen, witness the occupancy rates per the article.
    Banana Republic and the likes of will never locate here as the demographic does not fit, meaning incomes not high enough, and especially in this economy.
    They really need to get a master plan for the area, yet somehow all council people seem to have had other things going on, whether Wachs, Gruel or Cardenas.
    Maybe this time?!

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  4. Who do they think is going to use the parking garages anyway? As you asked, who is self-motivated to shop in Van Nuys anyway nowadays? There is, unfortunately, no real shopping district to speak of anymore, and there hasn’t been in decades. What a ludicrous idea!!

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    1. We agree Alma. Thank you for your comment.

      Normally, you can charge more when there is an increasing need for a service or product.

      But there is no great demand for shopping in Van Nuys. If there were, we would see Starbucks, Banana Republic, etc.
      Despite the thousands of people who utilize the government buildings everyday, none of these national chains have thought
      downtown Van Nuys a suitable place to locate their businesses.

      The problem with Van Nuys goes back to planning. We simply have no plan for Van Nuys. Mr. Cardenas offers nothing.

      I wonder if the parking lot operators somehow are putting the muscle on the Councilman to get some action going?

      The whole idea of charging more for parking, in a district starving for patrons, is utterly illogical.

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