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Joel Kotkin
Let L.A. Be L.A. « Back to Story

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I can understand your arguments that government should not discourage growth in the suburbs. However, I find your argument that it should prohibit growth in cities (through government caps on density) vexing. LA's urban form is undoubtedly a function of its freeway system, subsidized by the federal government. This may, as you argue, have created a great city because it is full of single-family homes. However, if consumers in LA want single family homes,then why not let the market (not density restrictions) lead to the demise of dense urban corridors, such as those proposed by Villaraigosa. If policy is going to support the free market, then it needs to allow expression of consumer preferences.
Wait. All the city council is doing is changing zoning laws to _allow_ for high-density development. They aren't requiring it and, except for the hotels, don't appear to be subsidizing it. If Hollywood's population is declining and developers don't sense that people want to live in condos there then, unless they are foolish, they won't build there.

If the market can bear high-density housing then governments should allow it. Restrictive zoning, as Kotkin is endorsing, reduces supply and increases prices. I'm surprised a free-market leaning magazine like City Journal would print anything to the contrary.
If the market can bear building high-rises, then how would allowing them make Hollywood like East Germany beyond aesthetics?

Wouldn't the prevention of market-driven investment, which is what you advocate, in fact be much more akin to central planning?

It sounds like the crux of your argument is that people don't want high-rises because of the aesthetics and the urban feel that comes with them. People also don't like getting fired too, but isn't that what makes the market efficient? So should be the right to develop property the way one likes. Worked for Houston...
OK let me get this straight. The "best hope for Los Angeles" lies not with the free market determining the optimal building mix for Hollywood, but with a bunch of strict rules determined by government social planners?

If the market is "unwilling to embrace density", then the upzoning doesn't matter; after a few more dud projects, the "cut-rate New York" won't get built. If the market might allow for more density, why should government stand in the way?
Wait, so we should have more stifling zoning regulations that kill jobs by limiting how people develop their property? You don't have much faith in markets.
Perhaps the contrast is not so stark. Most of the world's great cities have both high and low density, and much in-between. LA could use some very high density cores, but this does not mean giving up all of its low- and mid-density areas, the sunshine, views or architecture. A mid-density plain dotted with a little Hong Kong would be exciting. It would also provide the transit system the origins and destinations, clustered together, to make it possible to break the grip of the car on LA residents. It also makes it possible to provide public services such as community centers, swimming pools, and such, on a much lower unit cost basis than to spread-out neighborhoods. Exclusively low-density and reaching outward will condemn LA's people to worse and worse traffic, which isn't appealing as a future. Moreover, dense clusters are exciting for residents and visitors from the lower-density areas, just as central London, Manhattan or Paris are for people coming in from lower-density neighborhoods in those regions. Low-density also condemns LA to unaffordable land prices for those who are not rich.
I am not particularly familiar with LA, but the few impressions I got was that this is the area of traffic jams and "rush hours" that last perhaps eight hours each day while in NYC driving is surprisingly easy (although parking is not), and if you do not like the traffic or parking, you have an alternative. In the same time, millions of New Yorkers in outer boroughs have their backyards. Clearly, every metro area achieves its balance between mass transit and individual traffic and between low- and high-rise buildings.

The question that can be asked in this magazine is: what is wrong with relaxing regulations so that free market will have larger input in finding the balance?

Without a doubt, some high density projects make more sense than others. Perhaps 4-level housing for middle income families with playgrounds etc. would find ample demand where luxury 20-level tower does not. But the idea that with smaller families and high fuel cost we need a different mix of housing than before is worth testing.
Having just returned from my first-ever trip to LA, I was so pleasantly surprised at how the city fel,t at mostly 3-4 story buildings and shopping centers, - relaxing and inviting. With the exception of downtown and some pockets around Wilshire, it was such a different feel than NYC and Miami. Ashame to change that.
Joel, many can agree that we should let LA be LA, instead of forcing an outside planning vision upon it. But our metro population continues to grow. How best do we plan for that? We can expand the city at its edge, or we can make it more dense within the existing boundaries. Aren't those the only choices? Do you disagree with the urbanists only in degree, but agree with them in their general approach, or do you think that expanding our boundaries is better?
These ideas need wider circulation! What can be done to ensure that that happens?
I think some density increases are OK such as allowing ADU's (Accessory Dwelling Units) to a property that can be rented out but not sold separate from the residence allow for higher density without changing neighborhoods. Or high rises that use neighboring air rights so there is an occasional spire as opposed to a canyon.
says Swan, a retired bookbinder. “We have always said that we love Manhattan—in New York.”
Too bad no one is allowed to say " We have always loved Mexico City, in Mexico!"
It very well might take a developer - like Rick Caruso - to stop the plans of the developers. Just like only Nixon can go to China.
Curtis:

Just think of how many more people would be living in cities today if developers didn't have to contend with the added financial burden of union labor. Well-written, you should consider contributing to www.WriterBeat.com.
Aye yai yai.
When you read your statements out loud that transit oriented development and higher density permissible zoning codes as either/or i) a conspiracy to allow welcome more illegal immigrants ii) is a conspiracy to move people from red to blue areas, and iii) is a conspiracy (that word keeps popping up, funny enough) under the UN's Agenda 21, does it not make you shiver in intellectual embarrassment and make you wish you could press a recall button?

I'd also add to that list using the word subsidy when discussing urban development supported by cities and not knowing what a tax abatement, PILOT or TIF bond financing is or how they work, but that would be too esoteric.

If each new suburban subdivision house had to pay for the sewers, stormwater management, water lines, utility and gas lines, and roads built to service it, there'd be a heck of a lot more people living in places where they can walk to a store or own one less household car. I'm a small and efficient government kind of guy who is critical of the welfare state and many European governments, yet I have no problem conceding that Americans spend more on collective transportation (total and % of total) per household than European countries where gas is 2 to 3x more expensive. Why is that? Is it because we drive longer, further, and more often where the spouse and kids need a car if they want to leave the house?

Gas isn't going to get cheaper. $1.50 a gallon is a thing of the past. Let's think ahead (and in the present) and give people pedestrian-centric living options that public policy all too often prohibits or discourages.






It is time to unscramble the egg of over-regulated and over-subsidized land use in L.A. The idea that planners or activists know in advance what structure of development would maximize the value of the land (which is the best simple metric for overall economic and lifestyle benefit) is bunk.

Even if it were not bunk, the use of tax subsidies and eminent domain to create the targeted structure would violate fundamental liberty rights of the people of the city. It is time to force developers to risk their own investors' capital and flourish or fail based on their success in creating superior value.

Neutral "performance zoning" rules that presumptively allow any conforming development, without kibitzing or second-guessing by NIMBYs and aesthetic bigots, combined with a ban on public development subsidies, would allow for trial-an-error discovery of superior development patterns. No one should need to lobby or politick to get a project approved.

All arguments about the traffic impact of projects should be disallowed--instead, every car should be assessed a "traffic impact" fee at registration, with that fee possibly depending on the address of its owner but NOT depending on when that owner moved to the neighborhood. This step alone would greatly reduce the cost of development and return the process to entrepreneurs rather than crony capitalists and politicized rent-seeking "activists."

A side benefit of a more neutral and less political development process would the be natural adjustment of jobs and housing. Wealthy bosses who can afford the NIMBied Westside have moved a lot of jobs to that area. But most of those who work there can't afford to live there and so create massive excess traffic coming into and out of the neighborhoods. Such a situation would not persist under a more market-oriented, decentralized development process.
New York is not just "vertical." It has low-rise, distinctive neighborhoods that give the city much of its flavor. Why isn't revitalizing Hollywood in that direction an option? When I think of those bungalows and garden apartments, I think of Washington Square's brownstones or the Painted Ladies on San Francisco's Alamo Square and what iconic images of their respective cities they are. LA could use a few such iconic images. LA could use a little charm.

If LA stays on its current trajectory, whatever growth it experiences will most likely come from south of the border. Will the proposed housing accommodate that kind of growth? Or are they looking for a "different" type of new resident, one better heeled for instance? And what exactly is the plan for attracting new businesses and residents to LA, or even California, because as it is, the flow is in the other direction.

As we long-time residents know, California pols live in an alternate universe.
A few bloggers here seem to say to hell with Hollywood as a neighborhood -- just let the free market rule. What free market? The one where all the local officials chase ratables, in search of more ways to spend public money, and earn kudos from the gullible electorate? And what would they spend this money on? Expensive sewage district projects where half the bond money is spent on something else? Mega warehouses to pay for school districts that end up as gargantuan projects, despite the desire of locals to limit new residences? More backdoor waivers of building codes to please a handful of developers? And a brand new castle called City Hall to top it all, with some hazily defined "community center" and new police precinct that nobody needs?

This is what the free market in real estate has wrought, my friends, I have personally seen it all. Politicization of a less than grand vision to screw the taxpayers. And in truth, there is no scarcity of land in this country. There has never been such moral decay in Hollywood that a mild turnover of residents could not cure, or a few rental increases, property flips, and locally decided property tax hikes could not cure. This would have made life there expensive, but there would have remained a sense that residents were getting something for their money. Maybe tourism too! -- there was little need for Hollywood to demolish its heritage from the 20's to the 60's. This is still the place for actors to be, despite the demolition of MGM Studios, the LA trolley system and such.

And that is where the real supply-demand pricing lies. There is still and there should still be a place for scrappy talent to make its name. And if the times and their tastes change, that doesn't suggest that mega skyscrapers and so-called urban renewal are in order.
Let me point that half the population growth in
California since the early 70s is due to immigration. That's why Governor Brown and Sierra Club types used to talk about limits to growth in the 70s and then stopped. As a sanctuary city LA has declared itself in favor of abolishing what limits there have been. Angelenos who want to enable half of Mexico to move there should just stop whining about the necessary construction in their backyards to support it.
wagnert in atlanta July 30, 2012 at 5:16 PM
The city planner's mantra: First you build it. Then you make them come.
Shouldn't the free market be able to decide what goes where?

The removal of barriers to high density construction is not the same as active government subsidization of high density construction.

This article is a sham, and reads like something that belongs in Mother Jones. If no one wants to live in high density areas, then we should be able to find out pretty quickly that this is the case, and no amount of protest groups will be required, because the developer's multi-million dollar loss will stand as a grave warning to future attempts.
The State has already mandated that one additional rental unit MUST be allowed on a single family zoned lot in all of California. Nothing Los Angeles has or will do can change that.
They call themselves "Progressives". Bah!
What a terrible, one-sided article with obviously little research done. As a Hollywood resident that supports the plan (and has actually read it), I can say this article presents only one side of a minority view of the neighborhood (If the plan went to vote I am confident it would pass). Many of the rote statistics presented in this article are of Los Angeles as a whole and have little meaning when evaluating the extremely dense, already transit-oriented district of Hollywood.

I live in a 100 unit apartment that was built in the 1920s, and it is surrounded by very similar buildings from throughout the 1900s. Hollywood currently has a density of 22k people per square mile, making it one of the densest neighborhoods in the United States. There are a few swaths of single family homes here and there in Hollywood - Guess what? They are protected under the Community Plan. A simple read-through of the plan itself would make this plainly obvious.

The claims of high-rises lining Hollywood Blvd are untrue - once again, a simple read-through of the plan itself would show that. Not to mention NO project is going to be "by-right", meaning that the public will still have ample time to stop any of these highrises from being built via the current environmental processes (a simple reading of Curbed LA will show they take FULL advantage of E[Gower Tower, Old Spaghetti Factory mixed-use, Emerson campus]).

I think it is telling that the group opposed to the Plan is using the towers at the Capitol Records building as proof the Plan must go. Turns out those towers are ALREADY allowed under the current plan. When a group leads with a BS argument and makes it the centerpiece of their protest, I tend to think their entire argument is BS.

It is pretty obvious the author used hearsay from the group he met with to write the entire article. The author clearly has little knowledge of LA and Hollywood, which is pretty embarrassing considering his position and location in Orange County.

Because of this article I will probably never take this blog very seriously. It says a lot about a publication that allows such a poorly researched article about a topic in which the author clearly has little understanding to be published.
But densification will lead the path to increased use of mas transit, including justifying the expense of light rail. Sorry, but when the central-planning we-know-better-than-you government of L.A. runs into the NIMBY liberals who would otherwise have no problem with the federal government dictating from on high I am left with one word ... schadenfreude.
The quality of life in Los Angeles already approaches that portrayed in "Blade Runner", I guess they want it to look the part too.
Somehow "Letting L.A. be L.A." means mandating what form the city is allowed to have. Funny, if it were pro-urbanists doing the same, the self-appointed defenders of "liberty", "freedom", and local government would be up in arms at this perceived injustice.

This is just another "mad libs" type article from Mr. Suburban Sprawl himself. Blah blah blah cars good. Blah blah blah transit bad. Blah blah blah urban bad. Blah blah blah low-density good. Blah blah blah freedom and apple pie.

Kotkin and his comrades-in-arms Wendell Cox and Randal O'Toole are cutting edge thinkers—for 1948. The era of cheap oil is over and low-density burbs are not the wave of the future or some kind of purely free-market outgrowth. Their blindness to the cul-de-sac that is auto-centered development is laughable.
My only comment on this article is: WHERE ARE YOU SOUTHERN CALIFORNIANS GOING TO GET THE WATER TO SUPPORT AN INCREASE IN POPULATION THAT THESE PROJECTS ARE GOING TO GENERATE?

In my opinion, housing increases should ONLY be allowed if the planners can secure the necessary water allotments and transit amenities to support an increase in population that development would incur.

In the last great drought, we Northern Californians went through the nightmare of water rationing. You Southern Californians didn't have to ration.

With the "new" peripheral canal being planned, it's time to but the brakes on any further development in Southern California. Southern California should only be allowed to build more housing IF they can secure the necessary water rights without continually plundering Northern California's water resources.

Southern California has a history of draining their water resources dry (remember Owens Valley?) then asking for ever more quantities of Northern California water.

I know what the guy means by "taking away the sun."

A speculator bought the 850 sq ft house west of me and replaced it with a 6,000 sq ft house that's 30 feet tall and extends the full length of the lot, minus the setbacks.

He literally stole my view, my sea breezes, my privacy and my sunlight. My backyard is in shadow by 3:30 and my neighbors peer down on me from their 30-foot high deck that tops this monstrosity.

I just have to laugh at Kotkin's piece. Its a pained laugh, though, since he is one of the shrewdest observers of California, and LA.

You can guess where Hollywood is going from what these City "Leaders" have done in the past. They cannot leave well enough alone.

Decades ago the City fathers decided that LA "needed" to grow up and have a downtown. Contractors were all for it, since it meant profits and jobs, just like the Bullet Train they are now panting to build.

LA already had several mini-downtowns, where people worked, shopped and lived locally. A perfect alignment of people and the topography.

But People that will defend the delta smelt's right to be left alone, condemned miles of homes owned by peacefully living people in what is now "downtown." They used city and county bonds, but the beneficiaries were private developers.

The overbuilding and resulting cheap rent came at the expense of people that had lived there for decades. The cheap rents of course, were a lure to large law and accounting firms. Courtesy of the displaced people, they moved downtown which is now populated by lawyers, accountants, politically placed office buildings for the courts.

LA's "Downtown" is filled during the day with people who don't live there, and have no desire to live there. Its one hell of a carbon footprint too, when they all drive in and out each day. Too bad for the people that had lived there once.

Now the City is a big obstacle to the entire area. Newer buildings are shielded from public sidewalks, and the perennial homeless. Whole areas have become private satrapies for people who only drive to work there. The US District and State court of appeal are monstrous buildings that break up the area around them.

The City then sought to bully people into ride share buses and carpooling, but people living on opposite sides of town, and leaving at different hours can't do that.

Nor does anyone want to live downtown, despite subsidized lofts. Anyone with any money lives in Pasadena or the Westside, where the air is clean, trees actually still exist, city unions do not dominate, the streets are not in constant turmoil, your neighbors are not the denizens of the court system, and and the homeless are controllable.

In downtown, the mayor allowed the silly "occupy" people to ruin city land, and block traffic. In case you wondered how people friendly the mayor is.

Most west siders that have a choice locate in Century City, Santa Monica, or out in Warner Center.

Decades of signs near downtown freeways insist "If you lived here you'd be home by now" but have only convinced people to rent further away.

So LA Downtown was simply a gift of cheap rent to big firms at everyone else's expense.

Having made the monstrosity that is "downtown," in an area that attracts no one, our near bankrupt City has designs on Hollywood.

The gays re-made Hollywood, and turned it into a liveable city. The proposed massive condo buildings will ruin its nature, drive out the home owners and the city will probably pack low income housing there that will deter families and anyone who can move. The streets will be ruined with constant piping work. Surrounding areas will deteriorate in the face of congestion and noise. Another area ruined. More waste of tax dollars. More rich developers. More people's lives turned upside down.

Another city is having problems with city hall.
There's no graft for the democrats and big labor in letting LA remain livable. It's just not in their interest. You proles must all be equally put in your miserable place so the leftist elites can bask in their well deserved luxury.
We should let freedom prevail and allow people to build as densely as they want. The marketplace, not the whims of some politically active people, should determine LA's character.
How about we get the Govt out of the way and let the OWNER develop his own property the way he see's fit. Instead we are given the choice to either submit completely or submit halfway. Eithe5r way YOU will submit to the Govt...
Ha Ha your goose is cooked. You let the government run rabid for years and now you are trying to put the cat back in the bag. Good luck.
"if you build it, they will come" only works in movies.
JOE VERY GOOD ARTICLE, WE CAN TALK BLUE SKY

AND WHY LEAVE YOUR CONDO, THE SUN HAS ALREADY

BEEN TAKING AWAY ULTIMATLEY, FOR PEOPLE ARE

SO TRANSCENDENTAL, LOOK AT THE END OF THE

ROAD AND THE END OF THE SUNSHINE TO THE END

OF TANSCENDENTAL, THE END OF THE WORD IS

DENTAL WORK IS THE BEST CONSTRUCTION ON PEOPLE

SRUPEE SLUSHING NOT INVESTIGATED, IT'S ABOUT

THAT THE ZONING COMMISION CLAIM THE 4 CORNER'S

OF THE REAL PROBLEM THAT THE SUN REALLY ISN'T

SHINING ANYMORE, REALLY PEOPLE THINK IT'S

SHINING, THEY ARE STILL IN DENIAL, IT'S SO

BAD THAT NO MATTER WHERE YOU GO YOU SEE

THE TRANSIT SEARCH OF PEOPLE JUST ROAMING AROUND

THE OUTSIDE OF EVERY CLASSY ZONING ESTABLISHMENT

OH, BUT WAIT, YOU WILL NOT SEE ONE, NO NOT

ONE WHEN YOU GO TO THE CALIFORNIA WATER PLAZA

WHY? YOU GOT SECURITY GUARDS SURROUNDING ALL

CORNERS OF THE PLACE, WHAT WE LACK IS THAT

AND THEY ALL HAVE GOOD DENTAL WORK I MIGHT

ADD.

WHEN I'M AT THIS PLACE THE SUN REALLY SHINES

AND IT IS THE NAME OF CLASS AND ZONING AND

THE COMMISSION OF REALLY WHAT OUR MISSION IS

REALLY ABOUT SURPEE SLUSHING PEOPLE ROAMING

AROUND AIMLESSLY. IT'S WRONG AND IT HAS ALWAYS

BEEN WRONG AND THIS STATE HAS NOT CORRECTED

OR SHOULD I SAY GOTTEN AWAY WITH IT SINCE

IT CAME UP FROM THE OCEAN AND THE SUN STARTED

TO SHINE ON IT. THAT'S A LONG DAMN TIME AND

PEOPLE STILL DON'T GET IT YET. MOVE OUT OF

YOUR CONDO? SOMETIMES I SAY TO MYSELF I HOPE

I NEVER SEE CALIFORNIA AGAIN AS FAR AS I'M

CONCERNED!

OH SUCH A LOVE AND HATE, IS NOT HEALTHY INDEED!

THAT IS ADNORMIAL.

THANK YOU FOR LISTENING!

NANCY LEE KELLY/SAG/AFTRA

http://www.ourstage.com/epk/nancyleekellyfreddean

So sad. We left Los Angeles in 2003 after the San Fernando Valley succession drive failed. Saw the writing on the wall then and it has gotten much worse since.

We loved LA but it isn't the city we loved anymore.
I'm with commentator David below - if there is a market for this type of development why not go with it?

I'm almost paranoid enough to wonder whether this is part of Democrats phony "back to the cities" plan, under which Democrats depopulate traditionally Republican strongholds under the phony guise of protecting the environment (as in New Jersey with the Highlands Act).
Surprised to see City Journal supporting central planning in the context of zoning regs. The proposed changes wouldn't mandate density, they would merely stop disallowing it, letting market forces work their magic. Isn't this what CJ supports in nearly all other issue areas?
You pays your money, and you gets your choice. You vote greedy developers on to your council, and you gets greedy development.
I agree with David Nicholas -- the exodus of people from California is just beginning. And there's every reason to believe that this exodus will continue as Baby Boomers retire and take their retirement assets to lower-tax states. Better to fix that problem than waste time figuring out how many stories there should be on an apartment building in Hollywood. Unfortunately, there are way too many naiive-but-well-intentioned people living here in CA...
Dear Editor:

A couple corrections for the record:

-I am not running for mayor, but for city controller.

-I do not believe I said this, because it is inconsistent with what I think: “Everything we are doing, like the mass build-out of transit and density, provides an excuse for creating things people don’t want.”

-To the extent the city plans to accommodate new residents and businesses, growth generally should be facilitated around transit, in economically depressed areas where the economic development is highly desired, and around amenities such as parks – all to the extent public infrastructure and city services can support it. That’s what planned growth is, versus dysfunctional, unplanned, unmanaged growth.

-I am a strong advocate for continued investment in regional transit infrastructure, including the Westside subway and service connecting the Valley to the beach, airport and South Bay.

Cary Brazeman
July 29, 2012
David W. Nicholas July 30, 2012 at 1:09 AM
This is one of those silly debates that just annoys the hell out of me. The absurd part is that if this does come to pass, the city will be spending billions of Dollars it doesn't have building apartment houses it doesn't need. Why the hell would anyone do that? The city isn't growing at any appreciable rate any more, what with high taxes, a horrible business climate, and state and local government cutting back drastically in view of their budget shortfalls. No one can find a job here, those who have them lose them when their employer leaves the state (which happens all too often), and the only people with any money are government retirees and Hollywood types, along with a few politicians and the odd tech geek. Just frustrating.
Good Grief: Obviously- they produced the schlock that is all around us. What's your point?
Ne Cede Malis, Have you heard of zoning laws?
These "densification" plans are just another way to pick the pockets of taxpayers. People are fleeing California in general, and as the article points out, Hollywood in particular is down almost 25,000 residents since the 1990's.

These giant buildings will be a blight on the landscape and sit mostly empty for the next 20 years. But the well-connected will have made millions playing this con game.
If you don't want to live in an apartment house, that's fine, but don't prevent property owners from building them on their land.
it would behoove the activists to check the status of L.A. with 'Sustainable California'- an arm of UN Agenda 21. Stack and Pack is a major part of their agenda for transforming our country. Although I am not a Democrat, they may want to Google "Democrats against Agenda 21:.
50 stories, if I had to guess, is a starting-off negotiation point. The world is not a fair, rational place. If the proposal was for 40 or 30 stories, the neighborhood would still, most likely, fight it, denounce densification, and bring it to court since it is not a conforming height.
Ventura Capitalist July 29, 2012 at 10:54 PM
If we can bring back Jimmy Carter for a second term, why not bring back housing projects?
Uh, why don't we let the market decide what L.A. is, and should be, rather than freeze and constrain it the way Kotkin would?

This (like most of Kotkin's other pieces) stands out like a sore thumb among City Journal's usual pro-urban, pro-market and pro-growth articles.
If I had penny for every time a NIMBY said "we don't want NYC." I love City Journal, but I strongly disagree with the position the author takes. Densification in the city core by the best public transit and urban amenities is a natural stage in a city's growth and evolution. Yeah, yeah, it will only capture a fraction of Southern California's growing population blah blah blah, but densification still cuts down on car trips, reduces pollution, and is the most efficient use of land and a City's infrastructure and resources. Um, that's a good thing, even if you disdain the people who are telling you it's a good thing. Subsidizing sprawl and pushing grids and roads further and further outward so people drive further and further is still going to happen, but to embrace it as "LA's unique ambience" is what people in LA call "jumping the shark".
jessefan in Chapel Hill July 29, 2012 at 10:21 PM
Interesting that Hizzoner da mayor of LA wants to build 50 story+ highrises and turn his city into oh.....................Bucharest or Sibiu Romania or Sofia, Bulgaria.

All hail the "People's Apartments"