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Infrastructure in LA: Why is the Solution so Difficult?

As Meyers Nave Of Counsel Shiraz Tangri explained to GlobeSt.com, infrastructure development in Los Angeles is undergoing a surge in investment due to the perfect storm of regional economic growth, downtown LA’s renaissance, Olympics 2028, Measure M’s $120 billion funding for transit projects, and urgencies created by decades-long deferred maintenance and end-of-life of existing infrastructure. However, with the renewed hope for long-awaited infrastructure improvement, many projects are being stalled by an increase in litigation from local community and environmental groups and vital involvement by the private sector is being deterred by greater risk and expense.  For more information and insights about the outlook for LA infrastructure, please read both of Shiraz’s interviews below with GlobeSt.com — “Litigation Increases Amid Rise in L.A. City Projects” and “L.A. Ramps Up Infrastructure Upgrades.”
“Litigation Increases Amid Rise in L.A. City Projects,” GlobeSt.com, 8/21/2019
Litigation is on the rise as the City of Los Angeles ramps up its infrastructure projects. In response to increased travel, events—including the upcoming Olympics—and economic growth, Los Angeles has been investing in infrastructure improvement projects, but with those projects has come an increase in litigation and from local community and environmental groups.

“There is a distinct growth trend of litigation challenges by environmental and community groups against infrastructure projects, often driven by concerns over construction and traffic impacts, as well as an increase in so-called environmental justice claims alleging disproportionate negative impact or at least inadequate positive impact on socioeconomically disadvantaged communities,” Shiraz Tangri of counsel at Meyers Nave, tells GlobeSt.com. “Ironically, we are also seeing project opponents address growth-inducing impacts.”

Projects in more affluent areas of Los Angeles are seeing the most community opposition to these new projects. “As we start to see new transit and other infrastructure projects moving into more affluent areas, these projects are facing greater levels of community opposition and skepticism about the value they bring,” says Tangri. “Key examples include the lawsuits filed against the Regional Connector subway in Downtown L.A.; against the Expo Line light rail project in West L.A., and the subway-to-the-sea line travelling through Beverly Hills.”

As a result, infrastructure improvement projects have been stalled, and Tangri says that these challenges are slowing down important improvement efforts. “These legal challenges can slow down and greatly increase the cost of important infrastructure projects, and sandbag their implementation for many years,” he says. “The region already suffers from a long history of deferred investment in transit, recreation and other infrastructure needs. Legal challenges make new projects more expensive and more risky, and also deter the involvement of private sector partners who have been critical to launching public infrastructure projects in other parts of the U.S. and the world.”

The community opposition to infrastructure improvement could ultimately impact economic growth. “The worst-case scenario would be that the state of L.A.’s infrastructure reaches a breaking point where it can no longer attract or support economic expansion, which fortunately has not yet happened,” says Tangri. “At this point, new businesses and new residents are tolerating L.A.’s infrastructure, but public and private entities need to continue working together to improve the infrastructure for the future.”

“L.A. Ramps Up Infrastructure Upgrades,” GlobeSt.com, 8/19/2019
Los Angeles is ramping up its infrastructure investment, thanks to a perfect storm of upcoming events, including the 2028 Olympics and local population and economic growth. These projects range from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, environmental updates at the Port of Long Beach and the Los Angeles International Airport and metro line extensions throughout the region.
“Infrastructure projects in Los Angeles are being driven by a perfect storm of regional economic growth, economic globalization, and deferred maintenance and end-of-life of existing infrastructure,” Shiraz Tangri, of counsel at Meyers Nave in Los Angeles, tells GlobeSt.com. “Southern California has experienced sustained jobs and housing growth for a decade.  Mostly notably, urbanization and the renaissance of Downtown L.A. has added 35,040 new residential units since 1999, just over 5,500 are under construction and almost 33,200 are proposed, creating demands for not just more but also new and innovative types of transit, transportation, entertainment, and recreation infrastructure, as well as more, upgraded and cleaner energy and other utilities.”

While Los Angeles is on an upward climb, the upcoming Olympics have put pressure on the city to upgrade its infrastructure, and it pushed up the timeline on several planned projects. But, it is one of many events driving infrastructure investment. “The 2028 Olympics is also driving new transportation and infrastructure projects in L.A.,” adds Tangri. “And L.A’s global position as an international gateway for people and freight creates upgrade and expansion pressures at our airports and ports. In addition to these drivers for new infrastructure, we are seeing projects required to address existing infrastructure that is outdated or in poor condition.  One high-profile example is the 6th Street Bridge/Aqueduct project over the Los Angeles River.”
Meyers Nave is representing a slew of these projects, including those mentioned above. “We are working with developers and owners of high-profile projects in every sector of the infrastructure market in Los Angeles,” says Tangri. We are involved in all stages of these projects—planning, development, community relations, permitting, Environmental Impact Report preparation, and regulatory compliance and litigation, especially CEQA/NEPA challenges.”
This is only the beginning. The city will likely continue to improve and invest in new infrastructure projects over the next 10 years. “Given the wide variety of causes behind the new infrastructure projects, we expect to see that push continuing throughout the next decade, even if regional growth slows in the next few years,” says Tangri. “It is important to emphasize that L.A.’s infrastructure is in a prolonged catch up mode to address infrastructure conditions decades in the making.  It is even possible that a market retraction in the private development sector will boost infrastructure projects by reducing costs and competition for labor and materials.”