Anyone that tries to walk the streets of Warner Center in the San Fernando Valley area would instantly know that the streets are made with cars in mind. Large blocks fronted by massive buildings and sprawling parking lots easily deter pedestrians. "Warner Center was really developed as an auto-oriented suburban center," says Ken Bernstein, Principal City Planner at the Department of City Planning.
A new specific plan for Warner Center is looking to change that. Unanimously approved by City Council last month and now subject to the mayor's approval, the Warner Center 2035 Plan is looking to make the Woodland Hills area more walkable and pedestrian friendly. "The new 2035 plan would create a true downtown for San Fernando Valley," says Bernstein.
Warner Center is currently bounded by Vanowen Street to the north, the Ventura Freeway to the south, De Soto Avenue to the east, and Topanga Canyon Boulevard to the west. As part of proposed plan, Warner Center has expanded its boundaries north up to the south side of the Los Angeles River.
The 2035 vision aims to take advantage of the growing popularity of the Orange Line by adding an "urban circulator" within Warner Center that would transport residents in and around major venues within the neighborhood. "The plan is to have offices and commercial spaces be better connected to transit stations and pedestrians," says Bernstein. It would allow an addition of 19,000 housing units around the Warner Center transit stops, which would act as buffer for the lower density residential areas surrounding it.
The plan divides Warner Center into eight districts, each with its own development guidelines: College, Commerce, Downtown, North, Village, Park, River, Topanga, and Uptown. The College district, served by the De Soto and a new Oxnard Street Orange Line stop, will focus on live-work projects and small developments. The Commerce District, served by the Oxnard Street station, will become a secondary job center to the Downtown District. The North Village District, served by the Canoga and De Soto stations, will combine residential with transit-oriented development. The Park District, which includes the Warner Center Park, will allow townhomes and flats. The Topanga District would now only allow non-residential uses, while the Uptown District would allow mixed-use developments. A new River District will consist of properties along the river and add new pedestrian and bicycle paths.
"Warner Center has entertainment and retail right now," says Tom Glick, the city planner in charge of the specific plan, "what's missing is publicly open space and a connection to river." To facilitate that, the specific plan would break up the large blocks into smaller, more pedestrian-friendly streets by adding crosswalks and paseos. Each development in the area would be required to maintain 15 percent of its site for public use at street level. Put together, it would build a network of green space in the area. It also encourages development of a "Great Park" that could host a sports field, farmer's market, skate parks and natural trails.
In the River District, the plan encourages development facing the river and a landscape buffer between any development and the river. "It seeks to create a sense of place by landscaping using native plants, which is encouraged by the L.A. River masterplan," said Glick. No building height restrictions were put on the River District. It would also allow developers to build up to 4.5 times the area of their lot, a generous amount. Developers however would need to provide a 50-foot buffer of landscaping along the river. The move was designed to appeal to developers, who would also concede green space along the river to the community.
Though initially worrisome, Bernstein points to other cities with large riverfront developments as a reassurance. "If you look at other cities that have activated their river, like San Antonio or Chicago, many of them do have higher density developments along their waterfronts," said Bernstein, "So long as the river has a sense of place, distinct landscape, and a strong pedestrian connection, it can be welcoming waterfront."
The 2035 Plan has been in development for about seven years, says Glick and Bernstein. During which time City Planning has worked in concert with the community; as evidence of the department's success, the community has supported the plan. "It was a very community-driven process. There was an active citizens advisory committee that really drove this process and embraced the plan as their own," said Bernstein. "There's strong consensus around the plan."
The proposal was approved by City Council late October. It then needs to be signed by the mayor. The new plan would take effect one and a half years after approval.
Images: Courtesy of Department of City Planning