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Single-family homes cover almost half of Los Angeles (curbed.com)
157 points by prostoalex 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 177 comments

>As Morrow points out, Los Angeles was zoned to hold up to 10 million residents in 1960. By 1990, the city had capacity for just 3.9 million residents.

That single line sums up a huge source of problems in Los Angeles from high rents to homelessness to traffic to lack of public transit. People want to move to, live in, and work in the city, but its zoning laws have unnaturally restricted growth for decades.

It may be hard to fight exclusionary zoning state laws politically, there is a hack I thought of: abolish zoning on federal level, replace their functions with sanitary codes.

This way you get the a lot of benefit from market forces sinking their teeth into "land luddites." Land surely becomes more expensive where you can build a luxury highrise, and you know it IS better if a highrise developer will after all buy the bloody house from a "land luddite" for a gazillion than letting his house stand there for eternity, stalling any development.

Have you given much thought to how such an arrangement can be weaponized for malicious, or even just unintended, use? The problem with suggestions like "eliminate zoning" is that they assume a very sterile, idealized model of why zoning came about, what role it plays, and how that interacts with public policy.

I can immediately think of at least one way to use a lack of zoning to create large monopolies of land ownership by weaponizing non-optimal land use for a short to medium time period. Can you?

I’ve heard Texas has no zoning laws. Thomas Sowell always brings that up about Texas having no bust during the housing crisis because they had no boom. The lack of zoning laws allowed the market to respond to demand quite naturally. Do you spot anything wrong with that assessment?

As everyone else said Texas does have zoning, but it turns out that just having quite high property taxes (and no income tax) leads to a flatter income distribution and more affordable housing.

It’s also hot and not that pretty (I’m from Austin okay so don’t shoot the messenger!) and there’s a relative abundance of buildable land, all of those things make it a little easier to manage growth.

But Texas has sprawled like crazy and the central cities are still struggling with overheated housing (especially in austin) within the urban, semi-walkable areas, because they aren’t building any more of that stuff.

I stand corrected, I think I hastily generalized the Houston example I think the source actually used to all of Texas when in fact the zoning examples were defined with respect to Houston.

Texan cities have zoning laws. Texas just has a lot of flat, hot land that people really don't fight over so development happens quickly.

Houston was a famous example of a city that didn't have zoning laws (you just had to provide parking) and was praised for it, but then was discovered to allowed development in an area the US govt declared for flooding.

To be fair, Houston really didn't need zoning laws to prevent development in a designated flood area, but still someone would have mentioned it if I didn't.

"Houston has no zoning laws" is a very misleading meme. It doesn't define zones with strict segregation of residential and commercial use as is typical of most cities' zoning regulations, but it does have laws that impose most of the other restrictions that usually come along zoning and also gives an unusually high level of power to private land use covenants, so they do have de facto zoning if not de jure zoning[1].

[1] https://kinder.rice.edu/2015/09/08/forget-what-youve-heard-h...

Texas has zoning laws, especially north Texas. As a culture, Texans tend to want to distance themselves from each other as they age even at the cost of large commutes. Combine that with a willingness to rezone, large numbers of capitalistic home builders, and few natural barriers to prevent sprawl and that's why the bust/boom isn't as significant. It is a non-stop suburb-building expanse which does respond to demand quite naturally (i.e. a current, ongoing, immense population surge).

Of course, each metro handles details different. For example, in Houston you'll find more multifamily dwellings amongst single family ones than in the Metroplex as well as a larger mix of incomes in proximity to each other.

I'll come up with a term for building in an environment with lots of land: FISEBY - fine, in someone else's backyard.

How did you leap from the existence of Houston, which has little zoning regulation, to that being the cause of market stability? How did you rule out the immense economic effect of the shale oil boom (guess what Houston's known for), and the effect of very specific and strict Texas laws regulating home lending?

Answer: you can't. Houston is a rather unique environment, and discussing it would be an interesting afternoon's work. It's not simple, though. You might notice: it is rather spread out, for instance.

It's not just Houston. Austin, San Antonio and DFW are also affordable. Texas has grown remarkably economically and demographically over the past 20 years.

Have a look at the demographia report on housing affordability (p27):


Texas also has fairly high land taxes that help to reduce prices.

Less zoning really does work. Another possibility is setting up a body like the Reserve Bank for a state or city that releases more land for housing and increases height restrictions when housing affordability becomes an issue.

Anyone using Austin, San Antonio, and DFW as examples of "less zoning" is making a severe error in fact.

Oh thanks. How interesting. I thought they had freer zoning as well.

For anyone else, the height limits in Austin are tight.


I think you need to read his argument again.

He wants to replacing zoning with 'sanitary codes' which is an interesting argument to encourage high density development. I would also add noise pollution codes, sound dampening, and other things to make apartment living much better.

Any "sanitary code" presumably applies to things like sewers and water supply. If it can prevent the kinds of things I'm thinking of, it's just zoning in another set of clothes.

Sure. But I think he's describing a massive mindset change w.r.t. zoning.

Basically, something similar to the Japanese blacklisting approach (everything up to a certain use is allowed) vs. the incredibly specific North American whitelisting approach (this area can only have big box stores, vs. this one which can only have small storefronts). http://devonzuegel.com/post/north-american-vs-japanese-zonin...

What is it? Somebody building Chinese style budget highrises? Parking?

Anything where you can convert one property you purchase to a use which makes surrounding properties unattractive for their current use works, particularly if you are willing to overbid the market when they go up for sale and then convert them, rinse and repeat.

Ideally, you want something where the adverse impact on use value is transitory, so once you've monopolized the area, you can convert it back to a high-value use and either sell it all off or (if the market is skeptical because of the threat someone else pulls your trick), retain ownership, including of a buffer zone, and rent out units for the high-value use.

This must be coupled with a land VALUE tax, not as calculated by the value of the current content of the land but for it's speculated value relative to neighboring land.

Obviously the content on the land should also be taxed in some way as a different matter for other reasons.

This could help but also could make restrictions a lot worse with owners using zoning and historic classification to reduce their taxes.

I.e. it's not fair to tax above it's current use if that is the only allowed use, so some owners fight for restrictions on their own property that end up being permanent.

That one might be tough to defend as falling under the interstate commerce clause.

It's pretty straightforward - zoning interferes with labor mobility and thus interstate labor markets. If programmers outside of SF cannot afford to buy a house in SF, it affects their wages by suppressing their ability to move when they cannot get a high enough wage locally.

There's precedent in intrastate agriculture being subject to the interstate commerce clause for similar reasons (that is, affecting interstate prices)

Shut off federal funding to cities that don’t meet fed zoning guidelines; discount state funding from the fed for state’s that don’t enforce reasonable zoning.

Just use FHA mortgage lending rules the same way that they did when they caused zoning rules to be imposed in the first place. Cut off all federal backing of mortgages in cities that have zoning laws.

I heard this argument. I think, one need to prove that zoning is not a commerce regulation, but a sanitary one.

What do you mean abolish zoning on federal level? Zoning is controlled by municipalities, as a result of Euclid v. Ambler (turns out using police force to control where you can build things is not unconstitutional). Honestly, the issue isn’t zoning in general, it’s Euclidean zoning, up to and including municipal control of zoning ordinances. Urban planning is hard, and cities, especially small ones, don’t necessarily have the proper resources to do it well. Combined with plentiful NIMBYs, you get, well, the nonsense we have now. Maybe zoning at the state or federal level (like in Japan) would help, but that would also make it possible to enshrine BAD zoning into law for everyone. I mean, at least a municipality has a shot at doing some zoning reform since they are constitutionally allowed to (if the political will is there). One good baby step is to remove the distinction between single and multi-family home zones. This would result in duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and little apartment buildings interspersed in neighborhoods. It’s not perfect, but it slowly increases density. We don’t need to abolish zoning, we just need to zone intelligently and without the landed gentry using the legislative branch to keep their property values artificially high.

Surely part of the problem is that so many people love or want to live in a place that long-term, can’t get water, is subject to deveststing earthquakes, and is overpopulated in terms of what can be sustained in a sane manner over time? It seems like the last thing to do is fill the place up with more people. Even if you reject that premise, what you call “unnaturally restricted growth” is being applied to a truly massive city. What would unrestricted growth look like exactly? After all was said and done, would it still be such a desirable place to live?

I get the impression from CA property discussions (of SF especially) on this forum, that anything which drives up rents and makes it hard for the typical person on this forum to live there is de facto, wrong. It’s obvious and the received wisdom that the solution is to build build build. Are you so sure the solution for everyone who isn’t looking for a high-end techie salary (i.e. most people) isn’t for the industry to be less concentrated in one city?

Plus the whole water poured into a desert and earthquake things.

Now I realize this is all a massively unpopular viewpoint around these parts, but these parts are at their most “in a bubble” around this issue I think. It’s no shock that the people who stand to benefit most from their preferred solution are fanatically in favor of it, especially when the alternatives involve (in the short term) sacrifice, and ideologically undesired outcomes like continued regulation. The thing is, between people who spent a lifetime in a city not wanting it to turn into blocks of high-rises, and an influx chasing VC money, there really is more than the dichotomy of “the virtuous” and “the NIMBY.”

Everyone here would benefit from reading Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner.

Edit: I knew going in that this was going to be downvoted to death, but I hold out some hope that it can get some thoughtful rebuttals too. Preferably light on the glib “Natural disasters happen in many paces” canard.

I think there is a sort of millenial grudge that prevents otherwise intelligent people from realizing that unrestricted population growth in a desirable area can lead to bad outcomes.

I usually use an extreme example to make my point: if 100 million people want to live in Hawaii, should current Hawaiians be forced/guilted/compelled to accommodate them? Is there any point at which you say to people 'no, you have to live somewhere less desirable'?

I'm not saying LA is free of problems, but I'm pretty sure there aren't too many problems that can be solved by cramming more people into LA. I would like to see the density increase, sure, but then return areas to open space(as if that will ever happen, but a boy can dream).

This type of zoning restriction only protects current property owners. They don't protect all current residents. If 100 million people wanted to live in Hawaii, almost every renter would be forced off the island in favor of one of those 100 million who was willing and able to pay more. Many of the property owners would also end up leaving once it became clear how much their property had increased in value. The current Hawaiians wouldn't be "forced/guilted/compelled to accommodate" the new residents. They would instead by "forced/guilted/compelled to" move off the island completely.

Similarly the 4 million people who live in Los Angeles are not the same 4 million who lived in the city 20 years ago. The actual makeup of the city is constantly shuffled around as prices of rent change and different sets of people are willing and able to afford to live there. "Cramming more people into LA" would actually lead to more stability for current residents as it would stall the price increases of real estate by keeping the supply of housing more in sync with the rising demand for housing.

At this stage, LA would be better off by "cramming more people" in, largely as a way to reduce car dependence and fund transit initiatives. Namely, the city would benefit a ton if it rezoned land in downtown to allow for a similar night time population as it's current daytime population.

Increasing urbanization is a thing for a few centuries now, I don't see how this has anything to do with millenials?

Sure, at the extremes there are adverse effects. But Los Angeles has 1/6th the population density of Paris (a city with strict building height restrictions). It isn't crammed at all.

>Even if you reject that premise, what you call “unnaturally restricted growth” is being applied to a truly massive city. What would unrestricted growth look like exactly? After all was said and done, would it still be such a desirable place to live?

Unrestricted growth would look like... the present day. LA has grown unrestricted in many ways. New land is continually cleared for houses. New highways are routinely built. The only thing which is restricted is growth that puts people closer together. LA residents have no qualms with supporting economic policies that ultimately fund housing construction in the outskirts of Riverside and San Fernando. LA residents benefit materially from this growth, via increased property values and cheaper services as new residents lend slack to the labor market.

You want to protect the environment of southern California? Limit new employment. Enact urban growth boundaries. Stop subsidizing fire insurance. People will stop moving there -- I guarantee it. But LA residents don't want that. They want to continue to benefit from growth without having to meet any of the people whose high rents ultimately subsidize their utility bills.

>can’t get water, is subject to deveststing earthquakes,

Water is just a pricing issue. The price of water will never rise too high for residential use. Desalination might triple the cost -- which is still cheaper than a heating bill in Minnesota. Earthquakes are a non-issue. Humans have built cities in earthquake zones for millenia. That includes Rome, Toyko, Mexico City and Calcutta.

> long-term, can’t get water

The city is right next to the ocean. Desalination is expensive and not the most environmentally friendly thing, but it is an option if there is no other way to get enough water.

> is overpopulated in terms of what can be sustained in a sane manner over time

Citation needed. There are other cities that are larger and have higher population density.

> ideologically undesired outcomes like continued regulation

Aren't most people actually asking for less regulation, especially less strict zoning?

> Aren't most people actually asking for less regulation, especially less strict zoning?

No. People who want to do things that zoning doesn't permit are advocating certain things under the banner of "less regulation". It's not clear they actually have thought through the consequences of less regulation; it's just that they think it will get them the policy outcome they want.

Years of going from idealized to actual implementation experience tells us that the most likely thing to happen is .. something other than what proponents have in mind.

Most people who live in those homes don't want a major change that will destroy the values they find there. People advocating radical change for the most part explicitly plan to harm their interests and take pleasure in the prospect that they will be harmed.

Israel apparently does desalination quite cheaply.

well there's humane ways to limit growth, and then there's what CA does. If you want to limit growth, then you need to convince companies to move out, get the jobs out of there. once the jobs leave, the people leave. But continuing to have FB and google and various other companies lure more and more people from outside the state to CA and then not building enough housing for everyone, is just plain wrong. Sure, the people coming in can probably afford it, but it causes so many housing problems for everyone else.

>Sure, the people coming in can probably afford it, but it causes so many housing problems for everyone else.

This is the big issue here. Current residents are getting pushed out by the rising prices that these new people will have to accept for lack of other good options. It fucks over everyone other than real estate owners. This effect happens in all cities across the globe, it's just much much stronger in Cali.

Bingo. This was the root cause of the current problems. The area wanted the big lucrative jobs, but not the effect of the rich people it will create. There's not a whole lot of solutions to that.

> Surely part of the problem is that so many people love or want to live in a place that long-term, can’t get water, is subject to deveststing earthquakes, and is overpopulated in terms of what can be sustained in a sane manner over time?

If you replace "water" with "food and water" (which seems a reasonable thing to do as both are necessary for people to live), and allow substituting hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes, floods, etc., for earthquakes...then doesn't your statement apply to nearly all large cities?

They almost all have to import food, for example. How is that fundamentally different from importing water?

> What would unrestricted growth look like exactly? After all was said and done, would it still be such a desirable place to live?

The answer to the latter question seems to be contained within it.

> can’t get water

California has plenty of water, it's just allocated poorly. Agriculture uses most of it. And don't give that silly "but we need food!!!" response, nobody's gonna starve if water prices go up a bit.

> is subject to deveststing earthquakes

Doesn't seem to have impacted Tokyo too badly. Really, modern buildings don't have much of a problem here. If anything, the wildfires seem to cause more trouble than the earthquakes.

> is overpopulated in terms of what can be sustained in a sane manner over time

Nah, California really isn't that densely populated. Besides, denser-type development would be mean less resource usage, person for person.

> Even if you reject that premise, what you call “unnaturally restricted growth” is being applied to a truly massive city. What would unrestricted growth look like exactly? After all was said and done, would it still be such a desirable place to live?

Vienna is mostly 5 or 6 story buildings and scores extremely high on livability ratings, much higher than LA. I live in Munich right now which is similar and it's quite nice, so I'd say: yes.

> Are you so sure the solution for everyone who isn’t looking for a high-end techie salary (i.e. most people) isn’t for the industry to be less concentrated in one city?

Agglomeration of an industrial sector in a particular area is normal and fine. It happens, even though companies have to pay higher rents and higher salaries, because it's advantageous to productivity to concentrate a wide variety of specialists for a certain field in a particular area. If companies want to spread out more, of course that's fine, but forcing them to do so would almost certainly hurt their performance. If you want lots more high-paying jobs, maybe not the best idea.

> The thing is, between people who spent a lifetime in a city not wanting it to turn into blocks of high-rises

It's pretty amusing to see so many people who think a 5 story building qualifies as a "high rise". 5 stories is nowhere close to that, chief.

> there really is more than the dichotomy of “the virtuous” and “the NIMBY.”

Yeah, but California (and really the US as a whole) is chock full of NIMBYs whose policies definitely hurt others. Rent prices are a big problem right now, especially in any area that's booming, not just California, and the two big problems are incredibly restrictive zoning regulations, and no serious public housing efforts (and the latter is also impacted by the former anyway).

> I hold out some hope that it can get some thoughtful rebuttals too.

Perhaps you should first put forth some thoughtful arguments then? I don't see anything that can't be easily dismissed by anyone who's actually put forth a modicum of amateur research into this area.

I read most of Cadillac Desert back in high school for one of my classes, I don't recall anything that sounds like it'd be unsolvable now. If you remember anything that would actually be hard to deal with, by all means, bring it up. So far everything you've mentioned is fairly trivial.

> Nah, California really isn't that densely populated. Besides, denser-type development would be mean less resource usage, person for person.

He's talking about Los Angeles specifically, not California generally.

> Agglomeration of an industrial sector in a particular area is normal and fine. It happens, even though companies have to pay higher rents and higher salaries, because it's advantageous to productivity to concentrate a wide variety of specialists for a certain field in a particular area. If companies want to spread out more, of course that's fine, but forcing them to do so would almost certainly hurt their performance. If you want lots more high-paying jobs, maybe not the best idea.

The essence of his point is that there's a tradeoff between livability and productivity. As an LA resident (though not a homeowner, so I don't have NIMBY-skin in the game), traffic is horrendous, and substantially increasing the population would make it unbearable. Now, you can argue that we should build better mass transit infrastructure, and I think that's a good idea. But that needs to happen first, and the point I think is that there are really a complex set of tradeoffs here between the character of a place (along many axes) and its population density. I do think that the scales are often overly tilted towards NIMBYism and against dense housing, but I also think its important to acknowledge the reality of the tradeoffs.

> He's talking about Los Angeles specifically, not California generally.

And I meant not just California as a whole, but California's metro areas and cities too. Los Angeles isn't that dense.

> But that needs to happen first

This is wrong. Transportation and land use are complementary, and development in each should happen (and has to happen) in parallel. If anything, since LA has been building rail the last couple decades, it's really zoning that needs to catch up: more people would actually use transit if they lived within easy walking distance of it.

> I also think its important to acknowledge the reality of the tradeoffs.

LA tried building out of traffic by doubling down on freeways and sprawl enablement for decades, and it only succeeded in making the problem worse. The only logical response is to try something new, perhaps something that's already proven successful in many other cities around the globe.

Things might be different in LA’s situation, but if it is anything like the Bay Area, dense housing located where the jobs are won’t worsen traffic much. Better to have people living near work than commuting in from distant suburbs because they can’t find housing near their workplace.

The transit won't get built if it doesn't make economic sense to do so, and right now it doesn't make sense to do so because most communities aren't dense enough to support it. Fix the zoning first and allow dense construction, and then it will become economical to build out transit. No one's going to build subway out to single family home suburbs; it will simply never be economical. About the only thing that makes sense there is bus routes (which already exist). But building subway to a neighborhood that consists of 5 floor multi-family homes and mixed street level retail? Yeah, that works. That's what large swaths of NYC look like, and land value here is higher because of it (which should appeal to existing owners).

The transit already getting built in LA. It’s just slow (Purple Line won’t be finished till 2028). Measure R is effective over 30 years.

These things take time. It’s fine for a city to take a more measured approach to growth, and make sure that the infrastructure is capable of supporting it, before going full laissez-faire “build! build! build!”.

Ridiculous. How much do you want to bet I can walk a block or two from plenty of light rail/subway stations in LA and hit mandatory single-family homes?

What's the point of spending tens of millions on a new train station, and then intentionally making it hard for people to actually access? "Gee, nobody uses the transit that we made sure people can't live next to. I wonder why?"

Every train station should have at least mid-rise housing in a 4-block radius, and low-rise from 5 to 8 blocks out.


There are better ways of communicating disagreement with people. I think trying to be a bit kinder would go a long way here.

I don't think the amount of water in the state going to agriculture is relevant. I have read that the amount of water in the LA basin is enough for 100,000 people (don't know if that counts their lawns or not). Sure, there's water in California - hundreds of miles away up north. That doesn't help LA, though, without monster aqueducts.

it is relevant because people keep making an awful argument there's not enough water for people to live in cities (LA, SF) , when the taxpayers of the state are literally subsidizing half-dozen monster dams & aqueducts so a commercial enterprise can take vast majority of the available fresh water and use it to grow crops like rice or almonds in the California desert and sell them abroad.

also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles_Aqueduct

I find most of LA really hard to spend time in. The mangled road network (Grids? Nah bruh, lets have lots of dead ends!), constant drone of traffic everywhere, and few things being walkable makes it not the most enjoyable place to visit.

Seattle is up there on the traffic scale, but at least in the neighborhoods there aren't 6 lane monster roads criss crossing every which way, with few pedestrian crossings and no lanes for bikes or busses. Traffic calming has helped quite a bit too, though I imagine reducing a 4 lane road to a 2 lane road with parking, a center turn lane and bike lanes would get the average politician recalled down in LA.

Los Angeles is a great place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit.

That being said, the revitalized downtown, the slowly growing metro system, and uber/lyft to fill the gaps have made it better than it once was. It still is a massive monstrosity of a city, so it's never going to be as "walkable" as compact city like SF.

This is a perfect way to put it

"Los Angeles is a great place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit."

Once you understand how to travel the city, it's hard to live anywhere else because quality of life is so ridiculously high. It's why people tend not to leave if they make it past their two year mark.

Genuinely interested - what makes LA a great place to live?

As far as the larger LA area goes, it's a few hours from Vegas, next to the beach, Santa Barbara and San Diego next door. Access to various Mojave type deserts and national parks (Joshua Tree is amazing). Big Bear / mountains nearby. Various price points of housing, anything from affordable-ish family homes to expensive upscale condos (downtown) and ridiculous mansions (Hollywood hills, Malibu, Belair etc). Great for all stages of life, whether you're young and want to mingle, or have a family and want to live somewhere safe (Pasadena, OC). Access to decent UC schools. Absurd amount of entertainment all day every day for whatever taste you have. Food from every corner of the Earth. Ethnic diversity. Major airport next door. If you're into fashion, arts, cinema, music, tech, real estate, science, there's a place here for you with that interest. Tons of people from all walks of life. Oh yeah, shorts and t-shirt weather all year round.

Only big downsides are commuting and cost of living. Also homeless everywhere unless you're locked up in a suburb, but not as bad as SF since they stick to certain areas. Skid Row is both fascinating and terrifying to visit.

Please don't come here though, rent is going up as it is.

Was visiting LA a couple years ago, originally from Prague. Absolutely fantastic city to visit if you do your homework first and know where you wanna go. Wander about like in a European city - not going to work.

I was set on relocating there but real estate prices, taxes and distance from relatives forced me to backpedal. I think LA has a fantastic fuutre, especially once efficient public transit system will fully emerge. Recently I was shocked to learn that LA has better air quality than Prague. Can you believe that? Everybody drives fucking diesel on a stick here while you guys are migrating to hybrids. Go LA.

Excellent breakdown. People are quick to hate on LA. You cannot think of it as a traditional city. If you do your homework LA is an amazing place to visit with a ton to do and lots of friendly people to engage with under sunny skies most of the year.

> it's a few hours from Vegas

Many would consider proximity to Vegas as a downside

If you're the kind of person who considers proximity to Vegas a downside, in LA you're far enough away to ignore Vegas entirely. It's not like you're going to wind up there by accident...

Ha! Drive in for a show, a couple of rounds at the casinos, a nice stay at a hotel and a trip to the buffet, then drive back home. It's a great option to have in one's bourgeois boredom toolbox.

You forgot to mention how much of your life is spent in a car commuting.

Not if you work from home! It's a joy.

You can say most of those things about san diego as well...

>Please don't come here though, rent is going up as it is.

Why do you have a right to the city but others don't?

Please leave there, I'd like to come and want rent to go down. Thanks.

Eh everyone tells Californians to not move places. I thought it was funny. Maybe that wasn't the intention.

To be fair, I find that obnoxious too

It has every type of food known to man, and often truly authentic restauarants if not neighborhoods devoted to specific regions/groups. People are generally much nicer than the bay area, and the weather is great most of the time. Proximity to the Ocean, not too far from mountains, LAX goes everywhere basically. I agree that it is not a place to visit, but the 2 years I lived there were great.

Weather, accessibility of diverse food options (this exists in new york too, but you'd need to go to queens), housing that is cheaper on a price per square foot basis (units are still expensive, but they tend to be larger), larger geography (beaches, mountains, national parks). The list goes on.

There's always activity and something interesting and new everywhere, but you can still get privacy and quiet. Very open culture, easy to make friends (though can be hard to find good ones). Easy to find an enclave you like (if you can afford it).

You can grow pomegranates in your backyard and go on breathtaking group night bike rides: http://www.thepassageride.com/Photos

You can afford a place with a yard even if you don't work in tech, though it'll still take a few decades to save up.

I live in Seattle now and I dearly miss LA. I still love the Seattle area for the mountains, but as a city, LA is my favorite in the world (yes I've visited plenty of others and my sister lives in NYC).

There are 12000 foot mountains within 2 hours of LA and visible from most of its sprawl. California has plenty of mountains all over.

There's one 11,503' peak within 2 hours of LA. Don't get me wrong, the San Gabriels and the rest of the Transverse Ranges are great fun. But they're not the same as the glaciated stratovolcanoes in the Cascades.

Correction it has mountains close to 12000 feet near by and the Sierras about 3-4 hours north. Yes I know the Cascades are amazing Ive been, but I was simply pointing out that there are plenty of high elevation and forested mountains close to LA and California has the highest elevation mountains in the lower 48 if you include Sierras with much better weather to boot so they are more accessible.

You said you missed mountains around Seattle, so I had to point out that while not glaciated, the Gabriels and San Bernardino mountains are breathtaking in their own right. And the Sequoias by Yosemite just 4 hours north arent bad either where you have peaks over 14K feet. I live in the mountains, I moved to California for the mountains.

> "Once you understand how to travel the city, it's hard to live anywhere else because quality of life is so ridiculously high"

Agreed. The tech scene here has also been exploding (especially along Santa Monica, Venice etc) to the point where colleagues of mine from SV have been relocating here. As a former New Yorker I honestly feel lucky to be living here - LA is a remarkable city and is continuing to evolve rapidly.

Shhhh, stop telling everyone!

I enjoy the outdoors too much to enjoy LA. LA tries really hard to encourage you to retreat into an artificial bubble. Sure the culture is vibrant and the city is moving at all times of the day, but your life is sitting at home, getting into a car to your destination, spending your time in the destination, then driving home. Nothing really encourages to go outside, walk, or spontaneously go places. The summers are punishing, and the air is horrible. Most of the city is a concrete jungle unless you find a park or two to spend time in.

I want to have the outdoors everywhere I go, not specifically drive there.

Yeah but it's not a city either, it's just a loose collection of neighboring suburbs.

I'm finding San Diego to be a lot like L.A. but without as much population crush.

San Diego is as good or better in certain ways but its also a much smaller city.

San Diego has also struck me as a bit more of a monoculture than LA. (although this may be my ignorance) Different parts of LA feel very different.

LA gets vilified for being sprawling and car-centric, as if its love of cars is why it sprawls. This is not true. It sprawled from the beginning before cars were the norm. It is rooted in the high cost of building infrastructure in a desert and how that necessitates building large tracts in one fell swoop to make the financing make sense.

This is technically true, but kind of a stretch. The population of LA in 1900 was only ~100k people. By 1920, there were over 500k. And it continued to explode in growth through the '70s.

The "sprawl" was less sprawly than it was a collection of multiple cities that have been annexed over the decades. In the 1890's, LA was 28 square miles (and that 28 "original" LA is still very evident today). Today, it's 469 square miles. LA's current sprawl is absolutely because of the car. There's a very clear reason old east coast cities and european cities look so much different than newer cities like LA.

While certainly influence by the car. LA also just has a history of filling in old large scale industry with more people.

Orange groves, mountain ranges, oil fields, and huge movie studio back lots are all part of LA's history.

I have read a history of the origin of LA. It didn't agree with you.

LA sprawled from the start. This likely made it well suited to developing their cult of the car, not the other way around.

Not sure why this get downvotes. American cities were overbuilt from the start. In most american cities, from the late 1700s onward, wide roads on a grid were a desirable feature, a hundred years before cars were a thing.

These wide roads were originally a buffer space for all the smoke and filth of the industrial city. As a weird unintended consequence, the car could become commonplace so early because american cities already had the roads to accommodate them. And now with cars, these roads became dangerous and noisy as well. When industry left the city proper, early 20th century, the cars remained and continued to make the city an unpleasant place to live in.

No wonder people decided to move out, first using streetcars or trains, and then yes, with their cars, which paradoxically contributed to why the city was awful in the first place. LA, even though younger than most american cities, follows a similar template.

People get very emotional about this stuff.

Places emerge because of culture, economics and time. LA is LA because it entered a long boom that lined up with the explosion of automobiles. People wanted cars and people wanted to live in LA. They got what they wanted. Ironically, at the time many of the "immigrants" from LA are fleeing the crowded cities of the east and midwest.

Now, we're in a era of wage stagnation where land is expensive and industry is consolidating into a few places. So apartments that were crack dens in the 80s are hot properties today.

Which history? I'd love to know more.

I've got stories of relatives living anywhere from Hermosa Beach to Huntington Park pre-depression, so I'm inclined to believe LA certainly spread out early on, but I'd guess most of the density was along the coast and rail.

I don't recall. I believe it was part of a book with short excerpts from many famous urban planning books.

I was (or had been) bedridden. I had been to San Francisco for the first time and fallen madly in love with the city and I spent $300 at the bookstore on the way home on urban planning books and other books that I felt made sense for my mad, mad scheme to get well and someday be an urban planner. (And also to keep me occupied while I recuperated.)

I'm terrible with titles anyway and this was a particularly bad time in my life.


Looking at a map of the Pacific Electric suburban system (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Electric), I'd say that LA sprawled quite a bit by the 1920s. So it seems unreasonable to say that the car caused the sprawl.

Building vertically instead of horizontally would make the infrastucture even more cost-efficient.

True, but 100+ years ago, there were practical engineering limitations on building vertically.

I don't remember the details of the history I read. It was a long time ago. I just remember that it made the point that LA sprawled from the beginning and this had to do with what made financial sense at the time. What we can do today is different from what was feasible back then.

100 years ago, NYC already had 20-story buildings. Cities built longer ago tend to sprawl LESS because most people got around most of the time on foot.

Most of LA (by square mileage) was built up since the 1950s (later than the Empire State Building). There’s no reason except political will that it couldn’t have been built in clusters of 2-4 story multi-family units within walking distance of transit.

You say that like political will is merely a matter of wanting it bad enough. I don't think that's true.

As a college student, I wrote an alternate commuter rail plan for Solano County around 15 years ago. It was based on GIS and research and lacked the politicking that strongly influenced the existing rail plan.

I was told gas would need to be $4/gallon before the stations would be built. I was sick and going through a divorce and had been a homemaker for 2 decades. I have no political connections and no political know how.

Some months ago, I tried briefly to figure out how to promote that plan. It basically went nowhere.

The first rail station had its grand opening in April. I believe this increases the odds that Travis AFB will finally leave California like the federal government has threatened for years.

The worst of the three stations has yet to be built. I updated the website yesterday and stuck a link in my HN profile.

That's probably as far as it will go. I'm no longer in California. I'm still struggling to solve my own problems.

The rail plan research I did is dead in the water.

I wish I had the know how. I wish I had the right connections. I wish people took me more seriously than they do. I wish I had to be time and energy to pour into figuring this out.

I don't. I have to get on with my life and none of that fits into my schedule. I've tried. It went nowhere.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by entropy.

> 100 years ago, NYC already had 20-story buildings.

Well, it was also land-locked and not earthquake prone.

Should we be surprised that different incentives produce different outcomes?

Building vertically costs more than running utilities an additional 100ft.

Building vertically is even less attractive when you consider CA's geological situation.

You can absolutely make seismically safe tall buildings. Even so, building vertically doesn’t mean 50-story skyscrapers. It could be as modest as a three to six-story apartment building, which can nicely coexist in neighborhoods (like they do in Chicago). You could also get away with fourplexes. The point is that it doesn’t have to be JUST single-family homes. And don’t forget that the less densely you build, the less of a tax base you have. Suburbs are absolutely subsidized by cities because there aren’t nearly enough taxpayers to support all of the (aging) infrastructure required to support everyone and their grandma having their own mini estate.

How is building in a desert more difficult than building on a plain? Water is a municipal problem, not the builder's.

Much of the water for LA comes from the Colorado River. You have to build substantial infrastructure to pipe it in. Building a large swathe of stuff helps defray the cost of this essential infrastructure, without which you can't survive.

Once you put in the pipes to get it there, you better build out enough homes and businesses to at least break even on that part of it or you are doomed.

Sure, when you're building in 2018 with all the luxuries the modern world has to offer. Not so a hundred years ago.

I lived in LA for about 30 years, and while it isn’t that walkable, there aren’t that many dead ends, and where there are, it is due to geography (canyons, mountains). It is also in large part gridded out.

I think walkability also varies a lot within LA. At my previous apartment, I was about a 5 minute walk from 2 grocery stores, my dentist, my doctor, etc. Maybe a 15 minute walk to the beach.

> The mangled road network

Have you ever been in Pittsburgh? I cannot fathom many cities have a worse network between the myriad of bridges, triangle shaped downtown and geography.

I'll see your Pittsburgh and raise you a Boston.

Driving in Boston is a nightmare... but you don't have to do it! Even if you're out in the suburbs you can park your car and ride the train in. LA doesn't afford you that option, really.

In Pittsburgh, it's the topography that thwarts you. In Boston it's the other drivers.

I'll raise you Canton Avenue. All the way to the top!


The city whose road network was designed by a spider on LSD.

I'm originally from the Pittsburgh area and the Pittsburgh Left [0] throws me off guard every single time I visit.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pittsburgh_left

This is one of the unspoken rules of the road I learned on a trip to Puerto Rico, only it's not only at traffic signals -- any time a vehicle is signaling a left turn common practice is to slow/stop and allow it to make the turn.

No kidding! I recently visited Pittsburgh and remarked to my passenger that I'd have zero (expletive deleted) chance of getting anywhere on time without a nav. More than once, I missed turnoffs and entire roads when navigating the hills outside of downtown.

You really cannot think of LA as a traditional city. It is a collection of sprawling neighborhoods.

There are plenty of walkable neighborhoods in Los Angeles. This is a common misconception. More than in Seattle is my guess but Seattle is much smaller. Apples and Oranges.

Weather plays a big role of course as many find Seattle too depressing to live in for most of the year.

Oh they’ve done away with the 6-lane artery. ALL of those roads in Los Angeles now have a dedicated, hardly used Bike Lane in each direction. More Traffic. More Pollution due to more stop and go. And little benefit to the people. I’m all for Bike Lanes where enough people will actually use them to create a benefit that outweighs the impact of losing that lane, like DTLA. Or Manhattan. But across sprawling LA, where people take on an extra commute 1.5 hrs/day to get their kids to the “good” school, the shotgun approach to deleting traffic lanes is just stupid.

I found Los Angeles pretty unpleasant in that it combined all the least pleasant parts of suburban living with the least pleasant parts of urban living; I guess this is part of why.

I actually find it a benefit that you can have a house with a yard in the middle of LA.

Compare that to New York where people are stacked up on top of each other like ants.

For the cost of a studio apartment in Manhattan one could rent a free standing house in Los Angeles and with year round beautiful weather.

>For the cost of a studio apartment in Manhattan one could rent a free standing house in Los Angeles and with year round beautiful weather.

Shhh. This is why Silverlake is full of New Yorkers now. If anyone asks, its terrible here.

It blows my mind that Silverlake is attractive to former New Yorkers in the way that it is. It's far less walkable than the nearby neighborhoods that are just as trendy from Los Feliz to Highland Park.

But then you have no choice but to get everywhere by car. It's an awful life for some people.

You mean people without a car? Because the freedom of having a car and being able to go literally anywhere relatively quickly is pretty great. I've lived in both LA and NYC for a number of years. In both places you can easily live 10 minutes from where you work, or an hour away. Where you live/work is up to you.

LA has the worst traffic in the nation. They responded to traffic problems by just building more and harder, and it just made the problem worse. Which is why they're starting to turn around and embrace multi-modal development.

Cars are nice for some things, but they don't scale well. The bigger the city, the worse cars work.

Ive lived in NY and LA. I definitely had worse traffic problems in NYC than LA.

Ive never seen my GPS do the sort of gymnastics it did when driving to Long Island during rush hour.

The point is that in NYC you have other transit options. In LA you (realistically) dont.

Living carless in LA is getting better every year. Keep in mind the massive amounts of bike lanes being built, and perfect cycling weather year round. Along with the Metro and rideshare, it's pretty feasible to not have a car.

> Keep in mind the massive amounts of bike lanes being built

Weather I'll give you, how many miles of bike lanes are really being built though? What's the ratio between bike lane miles vs car lane miles in the city? What percentage of the bike lanes are protected vs unprotected? Are there any protected intersections?

I don't dispute that LA is taking biking more seriously, but it'll be a loooooong time before biking is even a second class citizen like walking in LA.

My next door neighbor commutes from South Orange County to DTLA and back every day via train. It's not fast, but he's been doing it 5 days a week for the last 3 years and doesn't ever complain about it when we're chatting.


Of course, NYC is #2, so not much better. But at least there you have a viable option besides driving.

relatively quickly

I don't know what Los Angeles you live in.

Every workplace in LA has housing within a 20 minute rush hour commute. If you don't want to live close by that's on you. When I do drive places other than work it's not during rush hour so the traffic isn't that bad.

NYC isn't any different and often even if you live close by the commute can still easily be 40 minutes between walking to stations, waiting for trains, and changing trains.

Personally I'd rather be stuck in my car than stuck in a train.

Personally I'd rather be stuck in my car than stuck in a train.

Agree to disagree.

He means with a car. I would be very averse to buying a house somewhere that required me to drive everywhere.

Not having a car is freedom. I’m 35 and have never driven and hopefully never will. Can’t imagine having another expense and hassle to deal with.

I have a nice bicycle, live near work, and can get to the beach or mountains fairly easily by either bike or mass transit.

I lived without a car for 4 years in Chicago and it was bliss. If I really needed one, I had a car rental place nearby. I took public transportation everywhere. I walked everywhere. I didn't have to worry about where I parked or getting towed or broken into.

I live in LA now and I miss that sense of freedom every day.

Pick any 2 points in LA and compare the time between driving and public transit.

Thinking of all the places I travel to around here like the desert, mountains, Vegas, beaches, etc.. I can't imagine not having a car.

Believe it or not there’s a world outside of LA.

Sitting in miles of traffic for hours a day then worrying about parking is just not a life I'd want to live.

I thought this, but it really only holds true if you work in a different neighborhood you live (likely tho it is)

I've spent some time in Marina del Ray and Long Beach, and they're walkable cities in their own right if you ignore the rest of LA (my preferred strategy)

And isolated away from the LA sprawl Long Beach and Marina/Venice/SM are sizable cities unto themselves. It's a common misconception. Yes LA is not walkable but many cities inside of it are and are some of the most walkable places I've visited in the US.

Marina Del Rey and Venice are actually just neighborhoods of the city of LA. Santa Monica and Long Beach are their own cities.

MDR isn't a neighborhood in LA either, it's technically an unincorporated part of LA county.

Not true. Many of these neighborhoods are extremely walkable. I used to live in one called West Hollywood

When I lived there I thought it was too damn hot at least half of the year, and I was in Santa Monica. It was a bloodbath for cyclists and pedestrians, too.

Yes but you were in Santa Monica one of the most touristed places in California. South bay sounds more your speed.

Hot by your standards maybe and also has been hotter in recent years but generally speaking most people find Southern California to have the best climate in the US and also in the world.

The nice thing about subjective things like "best climate in the world" is that you don't have to be wrong for me to disagree. But there are lots of people who don't like the socal climate - It's not like air conditioners are a rarity.

Also, remember that at least some of the people in socal are there because they wanted to socal climate, so there's some selection bias.

I lived in San Diego too, and thought it was too hot there, and also very hostile to cycling (a big deal to me). The climate mattered for that too since I was always sweaty when I got where I was going.

But I'm glad you like it!

I like the passion for your hometown, but saying "most people find Southern California to have the best climate in the US and also in the world" may be overstating the case a bit. I'm sure I'm not the only person who prefers living in a wetter, more temperate climate.

I have yet to meet someone who likes humidity, which is what really matters in my opinion. I would also assume most people like sunny weather, so anywhere with low humidity, sunshine, and mild invariable weather is probably high up on most people's list, that I've met at least.

West coast of the US in general feels nicer to most people I've met. What is more temperate than socal? Maybe Cape Town and Nairobi, but it would be tough for me to come up with many places.

I'm using "temperate climate" here to mean one with four distinct seasons, rather than one that is hot or cold all year. I also don't really like dry weather (thirsty and sore eyes all the time) and am not that big on sunshine (besides getting hot I get sunburn very easily). Basically my ideal day is New England autumn, maybe with a light drizzle. I guess I could see myself liking the PNW but Socal is not for me.

Yea maybe 6 years ago, but today this is no longer true. Speaking as someone who rents a free-standing house in LA, and has looked at what renting in New York would cost. LA is no longer cheaper, as a good portion of New Yorkers have migrated in pursuit of this exact ideal.

You certainly will get more space for the money in LA at least.

While LA rents have increased dramatically the last several years it does not rival cost of living in NYC from my experience.

LA is considered the least affordable city in the country (incomes are much lower than they are in NYC), but in nominal terms it's still true that you get more in LA than NYC.

I haven't looked recently, but at least a couple years ago salaries in LA were terrible compared to the COL.

Sure, I am a suburbanite and I understand the appeal of that. But I felt like it was a bad mix in that you still had city-like problems, but nevertheless had to drive everywhere in awful traffic. Maybe it'd be different if I were living there rather than visiting.

Depends on where you were living. Some neighborhoods are very walkable. LA like any major city has good and bad spots all over.

I would call a city walkable if you can get around the city or at least the "major" parts of it without driving, not if there are isolated pockets you can walk around in.

You can get around LA without driving. Public transportation exists here. The bus network is actually quite good (coverage-wise) if a bit slow due to traffic.

As for walking, you could walk from downtown to Hollywood, Pasadena, or Santa Monica if you're willing to walk that far (9, 10, and 14 miles, respectively).

Besides practicality I also felt like it wouldn't be a great idea to walk around downtown at night.

And I would as some neighborhoods in LA are the size of smaller and midsize cities elsewhere. I grew up in Boston which is extremely walkable, yet LA has several walkable cities close to the size of Boston within its city limits.

To you argument:

When choosing in between huge, unaffordable house, and a luxury apartment. Are really sure you will chose the former?

they said the price was the same

Yes, when that's the case, will you?

Of course I'd rather live in a house than an apartment if the price is the same.

Of course - the whole point of talking about zoning in LA is that many people believe you're getting an unfair advantage over people who have to rent because you have the money to afford a house. Most people do not.

> Compare that to New York where people are stacked up on top of each other like ants.

What a ridiculous thing to say.

I found Los Angeles pretty pleasant because the weather was nice and I could ride my bike to the beach. But different people value different things.

I've never lived in LA, but if I did it seems like the neighborhood you choose to live in would drastically impact your experience in a much more severe way than other cities because of how long it takes to get from point A to point B i.e. if you chose to live downtown then basically forget seeing friends or dating someone who lives in Venice. The only condition in which I could see myself living there is if my average commute was < 30 minutes, if I had a core group of friends that lived in the same neighborhood as me, and if I enjoyed the social aspects of the neighborhood I lived in.

Accurate form my time there in 2015; When our vcs asked if I would move there, it was a "I love it right now because I'm near the beach, but if I lived somewhere I could afford, I'd never be able to make it to the beach".

Actually, if you want to go from Venice to downtown, you can just ride your bike to the train station on 5th St. in Santa Monica and get downtown in about 30 minutes now. It just opened about a year and a half ago, so probably wasn't there when you lived there.

Venice to Downtown is 25 minutes if you make the drive after 8:30-9pm, where on the weekends it can be the same the entire day. It does suck when you have a concert you want to get to that starts at 8, but you do get used to it. Note that this distance is close to 15 miles anyways, where virtually no one in NYC is traveling that distance in less than an hour.

All of NYC except Far Rockaway and parts of Staten Island are within 15 miles of midtown, as well as the densest part of NJ including Newark, Jersey City, and Hoboken. And also the three large airports in the region (JFK, LGA, and EWR). I rarely travel more than a couple miles on a daily basis.

My point being, distance is relative to the density of the city. When the city is dense you don't need to travel long distances, so comparing travel time per distance straight across isn't a relevant comparison. But you're still off anyway; the average subway speed is 17 mph, and LIRR/MetroNorth are considerably faster since they make fewer stops.

It's important to not forget that half of the land in Los Angeles is the Santa Monica Mountains (hollywood hills, ect), and the San Fernando Valley.

Now, there are still neighborhoods in central areas that don't have much multifamily housing, but these are the areas that need to be targeted. Multifamily sprawl is just as bad if not worse than single family home sprawl, as it only feeds into traffic. The real problem in LA is a lack of proper transit oriented development, especially around employment.

I should also add that LA is the densest metro area in the US, largely because even though LA has so many single family homes, subdivisions are far smaller than you see in NYC suburbs.

> Multifamily sprawl is just as bad if not worse than single family home sprawl, as it only feeds into traffic.

I agree. Constantly intensifying car traffic is at the heart of LA's (and Southern California's) problems.

LA (and Southern California) will not improve its car traffic density problem for at least another generation (and probably multiple generations).

I was just flying over LA on sunday and had to take a picture of this "single house ocean":


Very unusual view.

Is there a reason you are flying in a HighVis vest?


It was cold! And it’s Gore jacket :)

This is what it's like in many cities across Australia - personally I don't find it particularly unusual.

To be fair you can subtract out "almost half of Los Angeles" and still be left over with an entire Chicago... with room to spare.

IMHO what happened is that several cities appeared 150 years ago, they grew and are still growing. Suburbs have grown but there are few cases of cities starting to emerge in the last 40 years and that is also a way to grow.

Still though, LA is the densest metropolitan area in the country. Also from curbed (source being the census): https://la.curbed.com/2012/3/26/10385086/los-angeles-is-the-...

If you've been to LA, you know that those single-family homes are nearly touching each other and that the cityscape is very built, with hardly any empty space.

Yes it's overall not transit friendly, but it's still a huge area that you can reasonably call urban.

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