Tuesday, 01 February 2011 14:14

Universal Evolution Plan: Keep the Valley the Valley!

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As a long time resident of North Hollywood , I have been dying to learn more about Universal Evolution since the beginning.  I received the colorful brochures in the mail. I even sent in the attached pre-paid postcard even though I suspected it might be used for nefarious marketing purposes. The project seemed hip and energetic, and--- heck yeah, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that!
Then there were the hearings. Some support, a lot of outrage. It got me thinking that this project will have a real impact on real people. I’m a real estate agent, and I happened to show a couple properties off of De Witt in Hollywood Manor last week. There were these big yellow notices hanging on the fences reminding us that this neighborhood abutted the proposed development. “Oh, no way-- years of construction noise,” said my client, getting back in the car. The project was already having an effect.
So that got me thinking… Economic development is always great, but will it affect us for the better or the worse?
What is it?
The Universal Evolution Plan is a massive development of the land Universal owns between Lankershim and Barham Boulevards. I don’t know the exact proportion, but a large amount of it remains undeveloped, primarily at the Barham side.
When the property was bought in 1915, the San Fernando Valley was not the bustling concrete jungle it is today. It was bunch o’ land north of Los Angeles, and it was cheap. As time went by, the city grew in around it, and Universal found itself surrounded by some of the Valley’s greatest neighborhoods—Burbank, Toluca Lake, Studio City, Hollywood. Now, that cheap land’s “highest and best use” (real estate speak for “most bang for the buck”) has evolved from “miscellaneous storage area” to some of the most well-located real estate in the county.
Universal wants to do a few things to their land-- upgrade their current production facilities, expand the theme park, and develop a mixed-use retail and residential neighborhood with 2900 additional housing units, including park areas and a new road stretching from Forest Lawn to the 101. It is an ambitious plan, and could be very lucrative.
Jobs vs. Traffic
Let’s face it—the debate over Universal can boiled down to this: Jobs vs. Traffic.
Everyone that’s for the plan sees the economic opportunity, both short and long term, for this project. From construction workers to burger flippers, there’s no question that jobs will be created by this project. Jobs are good for the local economy and good for the tax coffers, as well.
 Everyone that’s against the plan is worried about the impact of road closures, construction and, of course, the thousands of additional residents (read: cars) that will now circulate in one of the most congested interchanges in Los Angeles. 
We are all for jobs—but we want to be able to drive to them in less than an hour!
Universal has made extensive plans to ease the traffic pain, but mostly after the work is done. They are going to fund a local shuttle system at the cost of a million a year for the general public. Other traffic measures include building a pedestrian bridge over Lankershim Blvd where lemming-like hoards of individuals now trek from the Metro station to the free tram to Universal Studios. Lifting them up and over should help a little.
As for during construction… they say that the majority of construction, including the building of the new road from Forest Lawn to the 101, will be on Universal property. According to their interactive map, they are right, but I can’t help but raise an eyebrow at that. One stalled cement truck on Barham and it will be mass chaos and rioting! OK, maybe that’s taking it too far… but some people will have to double up on the blood pressure meds, I’m sure of it.
My Opinion
I recently made a decision to move from my real estate office in Los Feliz to Studio City (I live in the NoHo Arts District.) There are a number of reasons why I did that, but one of the main ones is—I love the Valley! Why? Because you can get around in the Valley. I can drive half a mile without stopping, and if I need to pick up a loaf of bread—I pull into the parking lot, where I can find a spot, and I don’t have to pay for it! (Unless it’s any Trader Joe’s, in which case you might have to circle a bit first.)
I think the addition of 2900 housing units = 5800 more cars = the Valley being more like LA. And not being in LA is the goal of many of the people who now live here. It certainly is mine. So while I support upgrading the stages and facilities, I disagree with the urban myth of people loving higher density living. The American dream is a house with a picket fence, a yard, and a driveway. Not one shared wall, a bike locker, and tandem parking. 
What do you think? We have until February 4th to send in our opinion. Here’s a link to the form letter: http://universaldevelopmentneighbors.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Public-Comment-Form1.pdf.

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