With another year gone by, we take a look back at the biggest stories in real estate development, architecture, and urban planning in the Los Angeles area.

Google takes over the Westside Pavilion

The year started off with a bang when Hudson Pacific Properties and Macerich announced that the former Westside Pavilion mall at Pico and Westwood Boulevard would be converted into a 584,000-square-foot office campus for Google, which has 14-year-lease for the property.  The converted shopping center, now called One Westside, is slated to debut in 2022.

Google and its subsidiary YouTube are now slated to occupy more than 1 million square feet of office space in the Los Angeles area - between both One Westside and the Spruce Goose campus in Playa Vista.

The Mountain View-based company's appetite for Los Angeles office space is surpassed only by Netflix, which is binged on a slew of large campus-style developments in Hollywood.

Santa Monica plans a big makeover of the Third Street Promenade

In November, the City of Santa Monica unveiled conceptual plans for a comprehensive remake of the Third Street Promenade.  The project team - led by Rios Clementi Hale Studios, Gehl, and KPFF - has proposed improvements an array of improvements, including the replacement of existing pavement and shade trees and the activation of alley ways as pedestrian spaces.

Work on the project, called Promenade 3.0, could begin as early as Winter 2023 and conclude by Fall 2024.  However, the City would need to determine a financing strategy for the improvements before the start of construction.

West Hollywood wants the Crenshaw Line extension, and it wants it now

After years of construction, the first phase of the Crenshaw/LAX Line is expected to finally begin operations in 2020.  But even with train testing still in progress on the initial segment between the Green and Expo Lines, the City of West Hollywood is pushing for a northern extension through its boundaries.

Under the Measure M expenditure plan, the Crenshaw Line's extension to Hollywood/Highland Station is currently scheduled for completion in 2047.  West Hollywood is considering a variety of strategies to accelerate that timeline, including a potential enhanced infrastructure financing district to provide to cover construction costs.

Metro is analyzing five potential alignments for the Crenshaw Line extension, including routes along La Brea Avenue, Fairfax Avenue, La Cienega Boulevard, and San Vicente Boulevard.  The alternatives range from 6.3 miles to 10 miles in length, with estimated costs varying between $3 billion and $5.5 billion.  That hefty price tag would likely translate into strong ridership numbers - Metro forecasts upwards of 90,000 daily passengers for the extension.

Tech takes over Culver City

Over the past two years, Amazon has announced plans to relocate its local operations to Culver City, where the Seattle-based company will occupy approximately 570,000 square feet of office space between the Hackman Capital Partners' Culver Studios and Culver Steps properties.

Amazon's announcement has been followed by a slew of other media and technology firms announcing new leases within Culver City.

Cupertino-based Apple has leased a 128,000-square-foot office building now being built by LPC West to serve as the new home of its content division.

Across the street at the under-construction Ivy station complex, WarnerMedia has leased approximately 240,000 square feet of office space to serve as the new West Coast headquarters of HBO.

South across Washington Boulevard, Runyon Group has signed mobile game maker Scopely to a 60,000-square-foot lease at its Synapse development, which is slated to become the start-up's new headquarters.

Metrolink wants to reach some of its untapped potential

In July, the Metro Board of Directors adopted a staff recommendation to pursue $175 million in upgrades to the rail corridor connecting Glendale, Burbank, and Downtown Los Angeles - including two infill stations and new segments of double track.  The proposed improvements would allow for Amtrak and Metrolink trains to run at minimum 30-minute headways, attracting approximately 22,000 daily passengers by 2028 and 40,000 by the year 2042.

Upgrades to the Burbank-Glendale-Los Angeles corridor go hand-in-hand with Metrolink's proposed SCORE program, which calls for Southern California to invest $10 billion investment in electrification, double-tracking, and grade separation across the 538-mile rail system.  Those improvements would allow for minimum 15-to-30-minute headways on all lines, and more frequent service in many instances.

LAX plans new passenger concourses, breaks ground on automated people mover

In March, Los Angeles World Airports broke ground on a 2.25-mile automated people mover system which will connect the LAX central terminal area with new external ground transportation facilities - including Metro's Green and Crenshaw/LAX Lines. 

Substantial completion is expected in 2022, with operations to begin in 2023.

One month later, LAX once again made headlines when it initiated an environmental impact report for a project which would add 23 new passenger gates to the airport - including an expansion of Terminal 1 and the construction of a new Terminal 9 and people mover station on the east side of Sepulveda Boulevard.

A construction timeline for the new passenger gates and people mover station have not been announced.

Metro plans for a Sepulveda Pass rail line

The long-sought rail alternative to the 405 Freeway inched closer to reality on 2019 - though a subway line connecting LAX and the San Fernando Valley is likely decades away from being realized.  

Metro is considering multiple alignments for the first phase of the project - including a heavy rail subway and one monorail alternative - each of which would run between the Van Nuys Metrolink Station in the north and the Expo Line in the south, with connections to both the Purple Line and the UCLA campus.  

A second phase of the project would span between the Expo Line and the project's eventual end destination at the planned transit hub at 96th Street Aviation Boulevard, which will offer connections to the LAX Automated People Mover and two other Metro Rail lines.

Cost estimates for the Sepulveda Pass Line run as high as $14 billion.  Metro anticipates that the completed corridor between the San Fernando Valley and LAX could attract well over 200,000 daily passengers.

Modular construction is suddenly all the rage

With the cost of labor and materials continuing to rise, many developers turned to prefabricated modular construction during 2019 in order to reduce costs and speed the build-out of projects.

This turn to modular units was most visible in the realm of affordable and permanent supportive housing, where the per-unit price tag of such projects has led to the City of Los Angeles falling well short of its goal of producing 10,000 apartments through the $1-billion Proposition HHH bond measure.  New projects from Clifford Beers Housing and Aedis Real Estate Group are both billed as "container"-based developments.

Modular units have also been employed by Universal Standard Housing at its 111-unit apartment complex now rising in Leimert Park, which was assembled in just four days.

Additionally, Dutch hotel chain citizenM is using prefabricated construction at its 11-story, 315-room development in Downtown's Historic Core.

Los Angeles moves away from VMT and parking minimums in Downtown


This year also saw the City of Los Angeles make a paradigm shift in how it evaluates development projects through the California Environmental Quality Act.  From our February coverage:

For decades, the transportation impacts of all projects subject to CEQA - including housing developments, sporting venues, and transportation infrastructure - have been evaluated by the metric "Level of Service," or LOS, a measure of automobile traffic congestion at signalized intersections surrounding a project site.  Any project determined to have a significant impact on LOS is required to provide mitigation measures, most frequently in the form or road widenings to increase vehicular throughput.

But by July 1, 2020, all California cities - including Los Angeles - are required to update their transportation impact analysis from LOS to Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT).  Rather than treating traffic congestion faced by drivers as an environmental impact, this new metric instead considers the act of driving itself as the environmental impact....

The arrival of VMT also portends important changes to how land use plans - including the 35 Community Plans of Los Angeles - are evaluated through CEQA.  A staff report to the City Planning Commission notes that in future land use plans, potential mitigation measures for VMT could include "reallocation of future land use development to increase density in transportation-efficient locations," such as those in close proximity to bus and rail lines, as well as to services and employment districts.

This move away from "Level of Service," dovetails with the pending updates to the Central City and Central City North Community Plans, both of which do away with mandatory parking minimums in new developments.  The new zoning will allow Downtown to accommodate up to 125,000 new residents and 55,000 new jobs through the year 2040.

New towers remake the skyline

The past decade has brought dozens of new high-rise buildings to several Los Angeles neighborhoods, including Downtown, Koreatown, and Hollywood.  Though dozens of cranes no longer dot the skyline (as was the case in 2015), the year 2019 still saw several notable groundbreakings, including the long-awaited Frank Gehry high-rise complex across the street from Walt Disney Concert Hall and Brookfield's new residential development adjacent to the Figa7th shopping mall.

Other towers rising across Los Angeles County include the 30-story Cumulus development, the $300-million 2900 Wilshire complex, the Eric Owen Moss-designed Wrapper building, and Shoreline Gateway - the future tallest building in Long Beach.