THE 2022 AIA|LA ADVOCACY PLATFORM
Prioritize Housing Production & Preservation // Lead on Climate Action
WHO WE ARE
As an organization of 4500+ architects, designers, and emerging professionals, the mission of the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA|LA) is to take the power of design and architecture to every corner of Los Angeles. Our vision is for a city that flourishes from thoughtfully designed buildings and the spaces in between.
On behalf of the architecture and design community, we are committed to establishing pathways to design excellence and creating healthy, equitable, vibrant, beautiful, and resilient neighborhoods.
As architects, our role is to protect the public interest through the lens of design. Our programs and initiatives foster aspirations, capabilities, and regional leadership through advocacy, education, inspiration, and the advancement of the core values of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Since 1857, the AIA has represented the professional interests of America’s architects. With a nationwide membership of over 94,000 licensed architects, designers, emerging professionals, and allied partners, AIA is committed to improving the environmental stewardship of the design, construction, and preservation of buildings and spaces.
OUR CORE VALUES
We believe architecture connects communities and empowers people to live healthier and more enriching lives. AIA|LA advances a set of best practices to achieve greater equity, inclusion, and diversity in the profession, which serves as a roadmap for greater civic engagement. We believe compassionate and well-designed architecture creates healthy, walkable, hyper-local, decentralized, strong, and connected communities that are authentic, flexible, adaptive, and resilient with passive, natural, and technologically-responsible systems. We advocate for the value of architecture and give architects the resources they need to do their best work. Our work drives positive change through the power of design.
In addition, to our values, we have developed a series of “Where We Stand” statements that clarify its position on key issues facing the profession:
With a new Mayor for the City of Los Angeles, numerous new city council members, a new city controller, and a new city attorney we have a genuine opportunity to make significant improvements to how we lead our city forward.
We ask civic leaders to:
1. Prioritize Housing Production & Preservation:
Optimize procedures to build affordable housing more quickly & streamline entitlement and permitting processes.
2. Expand & Incentivize Adaptive-Reuse Opportunities Citywide
3. Appoint Architects to Boards & Commissions
1. Prioritize Housing Production & Preservation: Optimize procedures to build affordable housing more quickly & streamline entitlement and permitting processes.
The current permitting and approval processes are time-consuming and cumbersome, often in the service of resolving redundant, inapplicable, and/or contradictory directives. The burdensome time and costs of navigating these complexities often undermine the outcome and detract from the pool of resources available to supply direct and tangible benefits to the public. An institutional change in the culture of city staff is called for to insure better customer service, support business creation, and add much-needed housing and jobs to the region.
Streamline Permitting to address speed, cost, and community benefits: restructure the entire interdepartmental clearance process and eliminate outdated policies.
Mobility Plan: rescind the application of street widening requirements in the Mobility Plan. Instead, prioritize widening sidewalks with landscaping and street trees as essential public space.
ADUs: Direct LACP & LADWP to clear up barriers & challenges to permitting ADUs throughout the city. Consult with AIA|LA for specific issues.
Empower LADWP: Building Decarbonization and Urban Design: As we aim to build more affordable housing and 100% electric buildings, it is essential that LADWP has the funding resources needed to upgrade the infrastructure of our electrical grid, AIA|LA recommends that we:
• Leverage grant funding resources from SCAG, OPR, and HCD to upgrade the grid with REAP 2.0 grants and Infill Infrastructure grants.
• Build support for a comprehensive capital improvement bond to pay for the under-grounding of infrastructure and the development of urban cooling strategies (tree canopy, shade structures, health & wellness kiosks, etc.).
• Improve design standards and internal procedures to optimize site feasibility, quicken the delivery of housing, and ensure that LADWP is not a barrier to achieving greater housing affordability.
Simplify the Application Process To Fund Affordable Housing: Establish one standardized base set of funding design guidelines and applications (vetted, in advance, with the development, management, and design community).
Create a Community Engagement process that welcomes affordable housing: Continue to expand “by right” zoning and clarify ministerial paths to reduce the delay of discretionary actions and CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) exposures on affordable housing projects.
Eliminate and Update Outdated Zoning Codes: ELIMINATE OUTDATED AND REDUNDANT CODES. If a rule offers little to no benefit – eliminate it – now.
Streamline Building Permit Clearances: TARGET REDUCTION IN APPROVAL PROCESS TIME BY 30%. Step 1- Assign a dedicated City staff member to shepherd each project to permit ready status. A type of “concierge” that would get in between and head off City cogs, unnecessary asks, or more stringent interpretations by departments resulting in requirements to file “building code modifications” to help get it done. Also create a monitored online dashboard that illuminates all actions, delays, and accountability for clearances.
Labor Unions can help too: RAISE THE “COMMERCIAL PREVAILING WAGE” THRESHOLD TO 8 STORIES. The solution seems simple; raise the threshold to match the limit for the conventional concrete podium with wood construction.
Rationalize Accessibility Design Tolerances: MAKE ACCESSIBILITY MORE EASILY ACHIEVABLE. Simply implementing a ¼” dimensional tolerance rather than jewel box precision requirements would create a quicker path to occupancy and reduce the padding on subcontractor bids due to overly exacting levels of precision. Every six months the City should publish “issues from the field” to keep designers informed of recent interpretations or issues.
Allow for speedy Electrical Transformer Service Certification: ESTABLISH CERTIFIABLE AND MORE ADAPTABLE TRANSFORMER SERVICE FORMATS. Pre-certified formats would save time and be doubly effective if they were crafted to suit the contemporary urban setting. Allowing infill developments, for example, to locate transformers in alleys and underground with clearances that accommodate forklifts (not giant cranes and large staging areas) to place equipment would increase site feasibility and allow for more developable areas, landscape, and density.
Share infrastructure costs fairly: AMORTIZE NEIGHBORHOOD INFRASTRUCTURE COSTS. The good news is LADWP is currently studying subsidizing line extensions under what they call “first person in fairness.” Amortizing infrastructure improvements over future project utility revenue seems reasonable, support it if you get the chance.
Optimize Rooftop Real Estate: REDUCE CLEARANCES ON UNOCCUPIED ROOFS (those accessed by firefighters and mechanics). Allow safe and reasonable access but at the same time, maximize areas for renewable energy photovoltaics and amenity open spaces.
We need to plant more trees: MAKE ROOM FOR TREES. Tighten allowable street tree spacing from 30’ to 20’ and allow trees with the right attributes (height, canopy width, etc.) to reduce clearances to other elements on sidewalks.
2. Expand & Incentivize Adaptive-Reuse Opportunities Citywide
It is often cited that the greenest building is an existing building. One of the most effective ways to address the embodied carbon of our built environment is to adaptively reuse, re-program, refurbish, and revitalize our existing buildings.
Although adaptive reuse has been proven effective at revitalizing the historic core of Downtown Los Angeles, we have an opportunity to expand the program citywide. However, the challenges of time and money continue to make the majority of adaptive reuse projects financially unfeasible. The City of LA’s regulatory policies and administrative procedures both delay projects and add substantial costs to building owners and tenants.
Furthermore, the vacancy and/or under-utilization of our city’s existing buildings harms the health, safety, and vibrancy of neighborhoods with blight and lack of pedestrian activity.
1. Adopt a citywide adaptive reuse program in 2023. Don’t wait to include it in each community plan update, which will take years to complete.
2. Make more buildings eligible for adaptive reuse by decreasing the 25-year rolling timeline to a 10-year timeline, which will optimize our built environment’s flexibility to respond more rapidly to each community’s unique and often urgent needs.
3. Allow for adaptive reuse housing conversions in Manufacturing Zones I & II when appropriate for the exact needs of that community.
4. Incentivize adaptive reuse conversions as a community benefit and allow for greater flexibility in the program so we can more rapidly respond to future social and market challenges.
5. Rather than mandate affordability provisions, incentivize adaptive reuse projects to include affordable housing with greater access to Affordable Housing Sustainable Communities (AHSC) funding and matching grants.
6. Respect the validity of the California Existing Building Code and allow the Structural Engineer of Record to use their engineering judgment when analyzing the seismic risk of the new use of the building. Licensed architects and engineers (and their insurance carriers) own the risk and carry the legal responsibility, not City departments.
7. Provide financial incentives to promote the conversion of vacant and underutilized buildings by waiving the school fees associated with new residential units and deferring property taxes until after a certificate of occupancy is issued.
8. Implement a vacancy tax for empty, unoccupied buildings AND match this tax with an incentive program modeled after the City of Calgary’s Development Incentive Program, which provides grants of $75 per square foot for office to residential conversions.
9. Create a “By-right” administrative mechanism for all adaptive reuse projects and establish a “pathway to yes” culture within LADBS and LAFD plan check divisions, which allows them to be more proactively involved with ensuring project feasibility.
10. Appoint adaptive reuse plan check liaisons with consistent support through the Mayor’s office and empower them with the authority to make decisions. By eliminating the hurdles of navigating the 14 interdepartmental clearances currently required, liaisons can help provide greater clarity and consistency and reduce the conflicts that often occur interpreting codes and regulations.
11. To ensure reasonable code equivalency, approve requests for modifications (RFM) early in the design phase or during the review of the first Parallel Design-Permitting Process (PDPP) submission.
12. Maintain consistent LADBS and plan-check personnel for a project’s review to maintain persistent interpretations and resolve code interpretation discrepancies between plan-check engineers and field inspectors.
3. Appoint Architects to Serve on City Commissions & the Board of Public Works
Design is a critical factor in the consideration of projects and policy initiatives that will significantly affect and shape the future of the City of Los Angeles. There are many commissions, boards, and committees empowered to review development projects and to create and implement public policies that have a significant impact on land-use regulations and the built environment of our city.
Architects, landscape architects, and other design professionals are trained to understand and think critically and creatively about issues involving the physical and natural environment. Architects and design professionals are necessary on appointed bodies that review projects and develop and implement design policies in Los Angeles.
AIA|LA maintains a list of architects interested in serving as members of the commissions, boards, and committees. These names are available to the City upon request. The City will benefit greatly by including architects in the decision-making process concerning the built environment.
Appoint an architect to serve as the next Chief Design Officer
For a city as complex and multifaceted as Los Angeles, it’s vital that the role of the Chief Design Officer be elevated in prominence in the City’s hierarchy of decision-makers and is empowered with the direct authority to ensure safe, resilient, equitable, and health outcomes in all matters related to the architecture, design, and urban planning of Los Angeles.
Additionally, we encourage the Mayor to hire more architects to serve on the Board of Public Works and in leadership positions for city departments. Integrating more ‘design-thinkers’ into executive management roles will help Los Angeles address critical issues impacting the functionality of city governance and elevate the performance of all city services.
With the upcoming transition in mayoral leadership, AIA|LA wants to highlight the essential responsibility of the Chief Design Officer to ensure that design excellence remains a core tenet of the City’s goals and priorities. The Chief Design Officer can serve as the executive leader who connects the resources of the Office of the Mayor with all city departments impacting the built environment, such as Public Works, Bureau of Engineering, City Planning, Building & Safety, LAFD, LADWP, LADOT, LAHD, Recreation & Parks, and the CAO’s Municipal Facilities Committee.
For previous AIA|LA Advocacy Platforms:
The 2021 AIA LA Advocacy Platform
The 2020 AIA LA Advocacy Platform
The 2019 AIA LA Advocacy Platform
The 2018 AIA LA Advocacy Platform
Designing Complete & Inclusive Communities
Los Angeles Architecture: Empower, Connect, Thrive
Design Thinking & Regional Awareness
Los Angeles: Designing Our Future
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Will Wright, Hon. AIA|LA
Director, Government & Public Affairs