Local Lessons on Contracting for both California and the Feds

There was a reason I was riding a car from Los Angeles to San Diego, and it was one that I’d cracked up to the failures of the California government. For decades, the state has talked about building a bullet train that will connect both cities, and the ones further north, at speeds of 220 mph. But none of the train has yet been completed, and so there I was late Saturday morning, still stuck in traffic outside downtown L.A.

The same lethargy that’s curtailed this project has affected similar ones across California. San Francisco’s BART system, which will eventually connect the East Bay to Silicon Valley, has remained incomplete for even longer. Future transit lines for Sacramento are also but a pipe dream. There still isn’t a subway that goes all the way down Los Angeles’ main boulevard, Wilshire, nor one connecting to its airport. And these examples, limited to passenger rail, don’t even begin to stress California’s shortcomings on other needed infrastructure. Continue reading

Downtown L.A.: Splashes of Color and Soul on a Blanket of Asphalt

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The comment popped up randomnly while walking along Spring Street, which has been the center of revival in downtown Los Angeles:

“L.A.’s downtown is very ghetto fabulous,” said Lee, who was my drinking companion that night. “And sometimes, it’s just plain ghetto.”

What he meant, using generation Y’s version of the word, was that the neighborhood had the workaday authenticity now lacking in other downtowns: it was diverse, dimly lit, industrial and unclean, with few tourists or green spaces, and a shocking number of street people. By “fabulous” he meant that it also had the traditional amenities expected in a major city, like stunning architecture and fancy restaurants. But in combining the two, downtown L.A. was the type of neighborhood that Richard Florida—who celebrates such mixtures of grit and cosmopolitanism—couldn’t have drawn up any better on his own canvas. Continue reading

At the FHA, an American Dream Narrowly Conceived

While some may argue that America is an inherently suburban nation, full of citizens who want their own homes and yards, they forget that the federal government’s subsidization of this the past eight decades has likely distorted preferences. In 1934 the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was formed to boost a lagging market, and was soon insuring long-term mortgages that required little money down. Over this time it favored housing in suburbs rather than cities, and following these incentives, consumers began moving out to them, transforming farmlands into the subdivisions of today. Although with time the FHA adopted a more urban focus, perhaps to atone for past redlining policies, it still disproportionately favors suburban-style housing. The comparison of mortgages insured for single-family versus multi-family units in the history of the FHA and HUD are a whopping 34 million to 47,205, and ratios are little different even now.

But in a recent turnaround spurred by changing consumer demands, these FHA policies were shifted by HUD to narrow the playing field. Continue reading