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Los Angeles – No to Measure S

Dear Friends in the City of Los Angeles,

For those of you who are residents and are able to vote, there is a ballot measure to take an important stand against in next week’s local elections: Measure S. L.A. Times, Governor Brown, Mayor Garcetti, and many others have came out against this measure, (here, herehere, here, here, herehere, and here) which will basically prohibit development in the City for the next two years and make it extremely difficult in the years after (to be explained below).

For those of you that don’t know, the City of Los Angeles like the rest of California, is in the midst of a housing crisis. With a vacancy rate hovering around 2%, the supply of housing is extremely tight and housing costs are skyrocketing. What most people don’t realize is that at around $56,000, the median wage in Los Angeles is actually not that high, yet average home sale prices have now soared above half a million. That is lunacy. Renters are also suffering, with many paying more than 30% of their paycheck on rent – this is unsustainable for many and detrimental to long-term wealth outcomes of households. Just as policies are starting to come online to provide more housing for the City, Measure S is proposing to shut it down.

I am sure MANY of you feel that housing crunch.

Though numbers do vary, around 54% of the City is zoned residential, of which 40% of the City is zoned single-family residential and another 10 to 15% low-density. Measure S is aiming to protect this majority of sprawl-like, low-density neighborhoods.

In the City of Los Angeles, some of the biggest reasons for that are myriad zoning regulations, inadequate land use zoning (the dominance of single-family and low density zoning), outdated Community Plans, and anti-development movements. Most of our Community Plans are more than 10 years old, hence two of the ways to deal with outdated land use is general plan amendments and zone changes. Measure S will eliminate these tools permanently, essentially killing all development in the City, as a majority of the development will require some kind of zoning relief.

Despite what the absurd amount of mailers supporters of the measure have sent out, most of them are blatant lies. I have seen one that says Measure S will provide housing for homeless veterans. Let me ask you this, how are you going to house the homeless when you stop development?

Friends, I urge you to do the right thing. For you and the future, vote NO against Measure S.

Lastly, in today’s political climate, it is more important than ever to be active political participants. Next week’s election will allow you to choose the next Mayor and Council members. This is your CIVIC DUTY! This is a chance to keep Los Angeles an attractive city and make it more affordable for not just us, who live here now, but future immigrants.

A city is only great because of its diversity and diversity comes from affordability and immigration.

(Image via L.A. Times)


Reimagined 3016

The world was wicked. They burned the ground and slowly chocked everyone and cooked everything with pillars of invisible smoke. One day, a tribe decided they must call the rain to wash the air and wash the land, so the rain came and never stopped. The water rose and rose, slowly and steadily ate the earth. At first the water was so foul, everything that touched it died. People tried to run and tried to hide but there was nowhere to go. Water became everything, drowning everywhere. Even the tribe that called the rain vanished under the water. It was many suns before the water went away.

There was a woman. When the rain first came, she took her son to a mighty mountain that was the only place that was to be spared from the water. It was in the East. When they started climbing the mountain, a landslide blocked everyone behind from following them. The woman and her young son found a hidden valley, full of animals who escaped and full of trees, flowers, and plants. Shielded by the mountain, it was untouched by all the smoke and fire and all the rain and water.

The queen of the animals was an old elephant matriarch of great wisdom. She had gathered all the animals she could find and led them to this valley before the rain. The wise elephant welcomed the woman and her son, however, the queen warned them not to climb the walls of the valley lest their human touch break the rocks and flood the valley. The woman was surprised that she could talk to the elephant. With the elephant’s help, the animals soon taught the woman and her son the ways of nature and how to speak all the animal languages so that they can survive in the valley.

Years passed and the son grew into a fine young man. He took the name Nyanm after the language of the elephants. The queen was especially fond of Nyanm. He was stronger than all the animals except bears, smarter than all except elephants, and faster than all except cheetahs. One day, while in a tree hunting for mangoes, he spotted a crack in the side of the valley. He was too young to remember the queen’s warning and being curious, he moved towards the crack. Fascinated and having never seen a cracked rock before, he reached out and traced the crack with his finger.

Suddenly a loud rumble shook the valley and threw Nyanm through the growing crack. The queen immediately knew what happened, and with tears in her eyes, she carried the woman to the cracked rock. A huge hole opened up, showing lightning and rain outside of the valley, while Nyanm laid outside in shock. Before the elephant threw the woman out to her son, she told the woman to take her son North. There they will find land to live on. Then, the walls of the valley come crumbling down, forever closing the valley.

Nyanm and his mother slowly traveled North, suffering the cold and the wet rain for many days until one day, they saw in the distance a land with blue skies and the sun. When they arrived, there was green grass all around them and a clear, blue lake with floating ice like crystal. A small hut stood by the lake. There lived a young woman named Shiwo, the sound of water. She brought them inside, fed them, and gave them clean clothes. Nyanm quickly fell in love with the young woman and they eventually became husband and wife.

Shiwo had magic and she taught Nyanm. She created animals and people, unlike any seen before, out of the lake water and mud. As soon as they come alive, they wander off in all directions, never to been seen again. Shiwo explained that the animals and the people are looking for other lands to settle as the great flood had slowly retreated. Nyanm with his knowledge of animals learned in the valley eventually helped Shiwo to make some animals that stayed. This is how Shiwo and Nyanm became the life-givers. They gave birth to the people and animals that now live here and everywhere, and so the world came to be.

– William Hsu
November 2, 2016

As inspired by the book, African Myths of Origin by Penguin Classics.

Analyzing Density Bonus Developments in the City of Los Angeles

On February 22, 2016, I started the GIS Specialization Course with UC Davis through Coursera. For those of you who have paid attention, I have started the final course of the specialization: Geospatial Analysis Project. As with other Coursera specializations, this is a Capstone project that is the culmination of the previous courses.

For this project, I have to propose, design, analyze, and present a geospatial analysis project from start to finish. This week requires the creation of my project proposal, which is as follows (if any of you have suggestions on data sources and/or analysis, please feel free to comment):

What is Density Bonus?
Density Bonus is a program through which a developer can apply for a project with a unit density greater than that allowed by the current land use zoning, as calculated from unit floor area and floor area ratio (FAR). In exchange for the higher density, the developer must set aside a certain number of units to be affordable: this is by restricting the rent levels or sale prices to targeted income levels based on the Area Median Income (AMI). To facilitate and to lower the costs of these projects, the developer is granted between one to three development reliefs, based on the percentage of affordable set-aside, such as parking requirement reduction and increase in building height.

Background Information
In January 2005, SB 1818 which amended the State of California’s Density Bonus program became effective. This change in policy mandated that local jurisdictions must bring their ordinances into conformance with the State requirements. Until local jurisdictions are able to update their laws, the State policy applies. The City of Los Angeles enacted its version of the Density Bonus program in February, 2008. In other words, from 2005 onwards, Density Bonus has been in effect in Los Angeles. Around 620 projects (based on data up till mid-September) has been recorded and entitled by the Department of City Planning. Furthermore, year-to-year there has been a steady rise in the number of applications which illustrates the growing popularity of this program.

As the U.S. economy continues to recover from the 2008 recession, Los Angeles has been facing a growing housing crisis and greater development pressure. Density Bonus has become a way to fast-track housing development in a city where the zoning is often very restrictive. With the City’s own Density Bonus program nearing a decade of existence, it becomes imperative to understand if these new projects are built where needed and if these projects are in fact contributing to greater housing equality.

This project proposes to 1) locate where Density Bonus projects are being entitled and 2) analyze the demographic and physical conditions behind those applications.

Research Question/Hypothesis and Expected Results
For this project the research question is where are density bonus projects being proposed and what are the underlying demographic and physical conditions of their locations?

Despite the affordability requirements, the expected result is that density bonus projects will likely be located in higher than average income areas with better public amenities, such as transit and parks, as they provide for greater return on investments.

Potential Data Sources
For this project, publicly available data from the City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning (LADCP), the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), the LA County GIS Data Portal, and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Entitlement data is typically made available through public requests to the Department of City Planning, while GIS data on city boundaries, transit stops, and parks are freely available through the GIS portals of the LADCP, Metro, and LA County.

Demographic data, available at census tracts and census blocks geography, is freely available through the U.S. Census Bureau.

Overview of Data and Sources:

Entitlements – LADCP
Transit – Metro
Parks – LA County
Demographics – U.S. Census Bureau

The planned method of analysis will require several steps:

  • Intersect demographics data at census block or census tract level to Los Angeles city boundaries. This will result in only those census blocks or tracts that fall within the City.
  • Create buffers around transit stops and parks based on pedestrian sheds, defined as a five-minute walking distance or a quarter-mile.
  • Use overlay analysis with buffers and entitlement locations to evaluate proximity of projects to amenities.
  • Spatial join the entitlements (points) with the demographic data (polygons) to evaluate income levels.

With years available for the entitlement data, this analysis can be performed for every year, starting from 2005, to evaluate changes in development project trends. One of the challenges of this project will be joining the points data and the polygons data to create products with meaningful indicators. In many ways, this project is the reverse of a site suitability study: this is an attempt to deduce the considerations behind density bonus projects.

The Bus (in America)

It’s always darker in here.
There are days without light.
Even those loud colors
are subdued on the upholstery.

Then there are the bangs,
shocks and impacts,
direct hits of the road
rattling up backs and spines.

Rain dampens the floor
with sun baked crumbs,
gums and who knows what
left behind, left forgotten.

The morning swell through the doors
of untold routines and responsibilities.
These weary eyes and ears
time for signs to disembark.

Yes, all is trapped,
on routes dictated by stops.
Outside the window,
single passengers throttle by.

It struggles to navigate
the sea of more nimble cars.
It struggles to maintain
a timely pace.

Waiting could mean five minutes
or twenty, with a near miss.
Sometimes, a short sprint is required.
It doesn’t wait.

A suit and tie is rare
among sweaters and hoodies,
just as an unwashed shirt
always lingers in the corners.

It’s a decisive non-decision,
collectively by those whose
only way to get somewhere,
is trapped together with some bodies.

– Fu Lien Hsu
Oct 27, 2016


Goes by hand
Hand that used to be sand.

It goes to a dozen numbers

Watching it

Turning away

It brings everything.

The one thing
that matters.

To be suddenly caught

Like the wind it knocks

Or, pull the metaphorical rug

A Short About Policy Making

Have you ever wondered about the city you live in: its history, its planning, its development?

The Guardian has an incredible 50-part series on the history of urbanization from around the world. The more you read about cities, the more they become a metaphor for life – patience, plans, foundations, and changes. Any sort of urban development can takes years and decades. The saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Furthermore, even the best laid plans can be easily swept aside by unforeseen circumstances or self-created consequences. Yet, without plans and goals, a city will cease to exist.

Therein lies the paradox of urban planning (and of life) – each action results in an infinite possibility of reactions. You want to capture the current circumstances and anticipate future change, but it is always an impossibility. You create that which you hope to contain, and yet what you hope to contain is based on projections, assumptions, and visions that can easily fall apart in an instant…

The building of cities always serves as an expression of the political will of those who rule or of the collective actions of the locals. As such, planning as a field is highly political and rife with social visions. Each decision that is made typically serves a purpose, whether it is symbolic, idealistic, or practical. Often, the decisions made are not for the benefit of the public or the future.

One poignantly felt example is the land use designations and zoning here in Los Angeles. Anti-development forces are strong here; the land use and zoning is comparatively one of the most restrictive in the nation. This is the result of forces that limit policy changes to create more housing and to make housing more affordable – the paradox of a liberal conservative population. As one of the bastions of liberal, progressive thought in the Western United States, it is surprising how people support policies until it affects development in their backyard. Furthermore, it is amazing how people disregard data and trends, how people disregard affordability. The impact of neighborhood councils is huge in limiting policy.

An analogy a colleague of mine used was that of the relationship between a doctor and a patient. The locals are the patient and planners are the doctor. We inquire about the issues and problems while trying to come up with solutions. Yet, in a normal patient-doctor relationship, the patient only has limited input in the doctor’s prescription. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the local community has over-weighed power in decision-making, sometimes overruling the expert advise of planners. This results in policies that are toothless, aimless, and limited. Furthermore, politicians wishing to stay within their elected positions must cater to their constituents, despite regular outcry that they bend to the wills of developers.

In a true democracy, public forum and knowledge is essential. Relating to my last post, the problem persists where we do not live in a true democracy. Most people do not have the education, critical thinking skills, or the time to properly make decisions. This results in inefficiencies in policy making and ineffectiveness in policies.

Perhaps this is an unsolvable problem, though I have other thoughts on this subject…for now let’s conclude with a question:

How can we move closer to a true democracy with a properly educated and critical thinking public?

To Remember To Forget

A face without name
As I walk on a path in the hills
Counting the rocks
Under the beating sun

I cannot remember
I remember only to forget
That face
What’s the name?

There are memories
Faint visions but the face
The face is always sharp
In focus

Each step I take
I chew on words
Ruminate on these images

A figure waves
In the distance
As I look up from the rocks
And stop counting my steps

I was so close
But I already forget
What was it that I tried
So hard to remember?

We walk towards the sunset
Down the hill
Into the forest
And wait for the stars.

– Fu Lien Hsu
June 28, 2016

Half-Year Review – All that Work 就說到做到

About four months ago, I wrote about goals to achieve by the time my birthday rolled around. Well, my birthday came and went on the 8th of June and here I am today, looking back and looking forward. Before we start, big shout out to my friends with their surprise cakes.

2016-06-19 21.50.11.jpg

First, let’s review my goals and how much I completed:

  1. Learn Spanish – I am at 50% fluency on Duolingo!
  2. Learn to write Chinese – I am halfway there. Still in progress
  3. Complete Data Science Specialization with Coursera – Completed!
  4. Complete Half of the GIS Specialization – Yup, got them certificates!
  5. Complete a site suitability study – Done, I actually completed two but only one is public on LoopNet! Check under attachments.
  6. Write and submit poetry to Poetry Foundation – Done, but haven’t heard back yet.
  7. Work-out regularly – Almost everyday and I run on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Also started bouldering and biking from Venice Beach to Santa Monica.
  8. Practice violin everyday – Doing that as well, though been on a break the last couple weeks.
  9. Start volunteering – I have been volunteering at the Wildlife Waystation. Back to them biology roots! I am also involved with Union Station Homeless Services’s Young Leaders Society!
  10. Talk to family more – Working on it, but definitely talking to them more. Even my baby sister. Look at what my baby sister said:

    2016-06-14 19.53.45

    My mom said, “She was very sad the other day, and suddenly asked me: I miss brother, when can I see him?” Then my mom said “So you are very important to her!”

    I must be doing something right.

  11. Play more chess – This is hard because it requires another person…I did play for a while with a couple buddies on FB but that got stale after a while.
  12. Find a new job – Yup! Started a new job on May 31st.

10/12. Not bad at all. Not bad at all. One goal for every month. I’m definitely at October, hahaha.

To be honest, I was very happy to finally speak more with my little sister. I missed out on so much of her growing up. We had a really good, hour-long chat on the phone the other day and she updated me on a lot and her own personal thought. She is growing up so fast. The best part was, she melted my heart by not hesitating to say “I miss you” before she hung up. This coming from a teenager. Imagine that…

Starting a new job was definitely the highlight of the past half year. My new job has been fulfilling and exciting so far. I am learning a whole lot and I am doing what I went to school for – urban planning. Cities are what I love and I am so glad to be able to work on my passion. My hope is that this is the first step towards a long career in the field of urban development.

There are several things on that list I am looking to continue for the rest of the year: working out, playing the violin, volunteering, talking to family, and learning Spanish and Chinese writing.

I have yet to come up with goals for the rest of the year, but I have two very exciting projects currently in the works. Please look forward to them. They are personal passion projects that I hope will bring joy and happiness to my family and friends.

Lastly, again and again I am reminded that it is important to treat people with kindness and be genuine. I need to try harder to put myself in the other person’s shoes, be kinder, and more patient.

Love, peace, Will out.

2016-06-08 19.29.35-1

Headwinds of Life

They come, resistance.
Pressure shifts, moving from high to low.

Sometimes, a breeze. Other times, a tempest.
How did the pressure build?

Have you experienced the winds in a storm?
It blows you back.

If you try to fly a kite, the string may snap.
Even trees bow or crack.

So do you hide?

You can turn around and make them tailwinds.
If you are ok with moving in a different direction? For now.

Or just wait. For how long?

Either way, you will arrive.
They say, “All roads lead to Rome.”

Words about Life

Are you nervous?

Are you scared?

So why?
I don’t know. Why what?

Why do you keep going?
There is hope. There is change.

Do things really change?
Always. In this second, you already are not who you were.

So that’s hope?
No. Hope is believing in and building for that change.

If you believe, then why are you nervous and scared?
There is the unknown. We all fear the unknown.

What is unknown?
You never know what the future holds.

Then what do you do?
You hope.