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Cleantech Panel Recommends Focus on Startups, Not Manufacturing

By Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, May 24, 2010, at 02:16PM
Arts District Eric Richardson [Flickr]

This neighborhood of converted factories and low-slung warehouses in the southern Arts District is part of the "Cleantech Corridor," which runs along the LA River from south of Downtown to Chinatown.

"Cleantech" and green technology can play a major role in driving job growth on the eastern edge of Downtown, but the companies involved will be smaller, research-based firms and not large manufacturers.

A panel of national experts assembled by the Urban Land Institute presented its preliminary recommendations for the proposed "Cleantech Corridor" on Friday, offering advice that both validated and countered policies the city has pushed to make the effort happen.

The corridor, which is envisioned to stretch from Washington Blvd. to Chinatown along the L.A. River, has been a key talking point for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. In his 2009 State of the City address, Villaraigosa called for a day when "clean technology is as synonymous with Los Angeles as motion pictures."

While the panel praised that goal, it recommended that the city's efforts be focused on creating a mixed use neighborhood built to attract small firms that are innovators and creators, as well as companies that do small-scale, custom fabrication.

While the city two years ago stopped all new residential development south of the Arts District, the panel said that the addition of new transit service would allow the area to support thousands of new residential units even while creating these new jobs.

For that to happen, though, zoning priorities in the corridor must be reversed. The panel recommended that 80% of land be zoned for the smaller companies that it said were in the "sweet spot" of targeted uses, while only 20% be reserved for manufacturing and warehousing. It said that current zoning is exactly the opposite, with 80% of land reserved for the two large-scale uses.

Even as it praised the city's efforts on the project, the panel urged that processes be set up to allow approvals to move faster. "Some of us come from places where what takes you six months takes us two to three weeks," noted panel chair John Walsh, President of TIG Real Estate Services, Inc. in Carrollton, Texas. "You saw the word streamline more than once. That was by intention."

Other recommendations put forward by the panel:

  • The Red Line should be extended past its current rail yard, with stops being added at 4th, 7th and Olympic.

  • Rail lines should be consolidated and trenched along the L.A. River, with freight on the east side of the water and Amtrak and High Speed Rail on the west.

  • Along with small green spaces in former rail spurs, a 300-acre park could be created in the space bounded by 4th, Santa Fe, 6th and Mission. The park would provide connection between the two sides of the river, integrate with one of the transit stops and provide the sort of amenity new businesses are looking for.

  • The "Cleantech Corridor" name might not be working. Panelist Jim Held, founder of UrbanGreen, LLC in San Francisco, noted that the group "observed a critical amount of confusion around the terms."

  • A name change that reflects new uses might be in order for the Arts District. The group suggested the "Industrial Arts District" to reflect the "melding of industrial and artistic."

  • Streets in the neighborhood need to be repaved immediately to correct a "historic disinvestment in the streets and infrastructure."

The panel's full findings will be published in a report due in six to eight weeks.


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