Increasing Los Angeles County Bioscience Investment Through Bioscience Overlay Zones

In a concerted effort to increase bioscience development and local jobs generated by the bioscience industry in Los Angeles County, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion to develop a Bioscience Overlay Zone plan that would streamline the entitlement process for bioscience companies looking to locate within the County.

The motion, authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, called for the Director of Regional Planning to draft an ordinance that would lead to the establishment of a Bioscience Overlay Zone in various communities throughout the County by the end of this year. Additionally, the Director must report back in 60 days, in consultation with the external stakeholders, including labor and community based organizations, on recommendations for the appropriate areas to apply the Overlay Zone within unincorporated areas of the County, and policies to avoid displacement of residents or business and ways to ensure communities benefit.

“When many bioscience business leaders are asked about ongoing concerns, land use restrictions and the entitlement process are identified as important issues to overcome,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Our intent with the Bioscience Overlay Zone is to make the entitlement process faster and simpler to navigate. It means time saved and more resources otherwise spent for investments and local job creation.”

“The bioscience industry, which provides higher paying jobs throughout the economic ladder, will offer opportunities for young and semi-skilled persons, as well as scientists and entrepreneurs,” said Supervisor Solis. “LA County is committed to an economic development approach that is responsible and in tune with what local residents want so that nearby communities can reap the benefits of development. This is why it’s of critical importance that we target industries like bioscience that are not susceptible to economic downturns, but do create a myriad of avenues for whole communities to prosper and thrive.”

The Board in an August 2018 motion requested a report back on the feasibility of developing land use or permitting tools that would streamline the entitlement process for companies looking to establish bioscience-related uses in unincorporated areas of the County. Six options were presented for the Board’s consideration, but ultimately “Bioscience Overlay Zones” proved to be the most appropriate tool given the County’s land use framework.

“These overlays are smart policy because they help create well-paying jobs that will lift communities by addressing the dire shortage of specialty spaces that bioscience businesses need. We also believe there will be job creation in the nearby businesses,” stated Carolyn Hull, vice president of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.

Those in the bioscience industry have been very supportive of the measure. Melanie Cohn, Director of Regional Policy and Government Affairs for Biocom, California’s largest bio and life science advocacy group said, “Our members are excited to build in LA County, but the variability of land use rules can sometimes be a hindrance in the development process. We have seen the success of tools like these in other jurisdictions, and we are hopeful this will serve as a model to stimulate economic and job growth activity throughout the region.”

“One major challenge in the Los Angeles area is the lack of availability of high-quality lab space. Having tools that can streamline the entitlement and permitting process for bioscience development will address this issue and allow Los Angeles bioscience to thrive. For The Lundquist Institute in particular, such tools will allow us to create a truly full-service bioscience campus that will help retain growing firms and attract new ones. And these businesses will be a significant economic driver for the Los Angeles region,” said Keith Hoffman, vice president of the Lundquist Institute.

The Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, which recently opened in Torrance, will include a bioscience incubator to help bioscience startups. All photos by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors