Measure S: Pro and Con
Yes: Save our Neighborhoods
By Jill Stewart
Measure S has a simple message: City Hall must work for the public interest, not the special interests. Measure S holds our city officials accountable to do their jobs and follow the rules. It ends growing corruption downtown by stopping pay-to-play backroom deals with developers, while encouraging smart planning, done legally. Measure S says no to rule-breaking developers who have created gridlock, skyrocketing rents and human displacement using “spot zoning”—a trick in which City Hall grants an exemption from zoning to developers who often give our councilmembers campaign donations. That’s a troubling truth reported repeatedly in the Los Angeles Times in recent months. When the city itself breaks the land-use rules, developers gain—with profits often in the tens of millions of dollars—by building far bigger or taller than local zoning allows. Measure S requires City Hall to update the city’s 20-year-old General Plan and various community plans—crucial blueprints that spell out our need for roads, parks, housing, safety services and infrastructure. Measure S requires key planning hearings to be held in the communities, at night and on weekends only, not at City Hall during the workday when nobody but developers and their lobbyists can attend. Crucially, Measure S bans developers from writing their own environmental impact reports about the pollution, traffic, tree destruction and devastation they cause. This is a glaring conflict of interest, banned in other cities. Yes on Measure S assures that independent city planners choose the experts who write these reports. And developers must still pay the costs. Measure S recognizes that 95% of developers honor our zoning laws. So, Measure S narrowly targets the 5% who seek to ignore the land-use rules by creating a two-year timeout, or moratorium, only on projects sought by these rule-breakers. During this brief timeout, Measure S makes the City Council pivot back to its job—planning ahead for L.A. residents, not operating a Wild West system in which developers and city leaders have created a luxury housing glut with a huge 12% to 20% vacancy rate. That growing glut, which the L.A. Housing Dept. has warned about officially, is simply not right in a city where even middle-class people can’t find a place to rent. Since 2000, City Hall has allowed the loss of 22,000 irreplaceable rent-stabilized units. We all pay the price. Traffic has doubled in our neighborhoods in a few years, yet L.A.’s population is growing at just 1.3%. Homelessness is skyrocketing and rents are jumping monthly, as spot zoning and ill thought-out gentrification push low-income people to the streets. Developers rarely even build the parks they are required to provide. L.A. is the most park-poor of the nation’s 65 largest cities and developers are bulldozing thousands of mature trees each year that take 20 years to regrow. Yet even now, the City Council has decided that developers who build big housing projects can put their required parks 10 miles away. Ten miles? That works out to putting a park in Marina del Rey or North Hollywood if a developer is allowed to jam yet another luxury tower into gridlocked Koreatown or in overcrowded MacArthur Park. Measure S encourages affordable housing during the short timeout on spot zoning, by exempting most 100% affordable housing from the moratorium. This reform works hand-in hand with Measure HHH, which funds homeless housing, but again, City Hall has no plan for where, how or when. As the L.A. Times reports, City Hall’s HHH strategy will actually take years “before the first units of housing are ready for occupancy.” Years for City Hall to complete this housing, amidst a severe emergency. Measure S encourages HHH funding be used quickly and legally. No elected leader, no matter how well meaning, can fix this unfortunately rigged and self-defeating system. This broken system is bigger than any individual inside City Hall. In fact, our elected leaders have circled the wagons to fight the overdue changes contained in Measure S, drawing in dozens of companies, individuals, groups and associations who rely on City Hall for funding, contracts, endorsements or other favors to fight this citizen reform. We the voters are the only ones who can bring back sensible governing, humane and smart planning. Save our neighborhoods and please vote Yes on Measure S on March 7th.
Jill Stewart is the campaign director for the Coalition to Preserve L.A., which is behind the Measure S ballot measure. She formerly was the managing editor for the L.A. Weekly.
No: Bad for Our Neighborhood
By Luke H. Klipp
While only a few people will vote this March, Measure S will impact every one of us. Billed as a way to slow or even stop development, it will cost Angelenos thousands of jobs and shut down construction projects that would have added thousands of new homes in our city—at the very time we have some of the fastest rising home prices and among the lowest rental vacancy rates of any city in the nation. And that’s not even why I oppose this measure. The supporters of Measure S claim that even if their measure is approved in March, “we can build a million more homes under the current planning code.” This is at least a tacit acknowledgment of our continued failure to create enough housing to meet our city’s ongoing population growth. What they don’t say, however, is that those million more homes would come at a very steep price: the demolition of hundreds of thousands of existing homes, perhaps even mine or yours. With its two-year moratorium and its permanent restrictions afterwards, Measure S locks us into our existing planning code. What’s so bad about that? It would mean that until 35 community plans are updated (in many cases a 10 year process), we could only build housing on land already zoned for housing. You tell me where we have land that is zoned for housing that we haven’t already built it. I live in Los Feliz, in a century-old, single-family bungalow. But my property is zoned to allow two homes. Around the corner from me, the zoning allows three houses to go up, and pockets throughout my neighborhood can accommodate even more. This is why we can “build a million more homes under existing zoning”—by demolishing hundreds of thousands of our oldest and most special homes and buildings to accommodate new housing—in the case of the home that my husband and I own—by demolishing one of our neighborhood’s oldest houses to double an investor’s return. Measure S would force us to preserve parking lots and warehouses for years, while any new housing would come with a steep price of demolishing many of the homes that define our neighborhoods. And then there’s what this measure would mean for the city at large. This past November, Angelenos overwhelmingly approved a bond measure to fund construction of thousands of supportive homes for our city’s homeless. Much of that housing would be built on what are now little-used city-owned surface parking lots. But guess what? Should Measure S pass, those properties would remain asphalt, while thousands of homeless individuals remain on our streets. Measure S would undermine plans to add hundreds of new homes atop the California Flower Market. It would force the Puente Learning Center in Boyle Heights to stay crowded. It would stop the construction of new supportive housing and shelter for LGBT seniors and youth in Hollywood and prevent affordable housing developers from remediating a brownfield that splits a South Los Angeles community in two. And it would halt construction of homeless veterans’ housing in Skid Row. These are just a handful of examples among many more projects that would be stopped in their tracks because of Measure S. There is much that we can do to improve our current planning process. Measure S, however, is absolutely the wrong approach at the wrong time. Between our efforts to renew the river, revitalize downtown and reinvigorate our diverse neighborhoods, Los Angeles is poised to be a global leader in creative, adaptive and sustainable approaches. Measure S would undermine our city’s ability to meet the challenges ahead, and it would do so in a way that undermines the very things that make our neighborhoods so special. That is why I encourage you to vote NO on Measure S.
Luke Klipp is a resident of Los Feliz and the president of the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council (LFNC). His opinions are his own and do not represent any formal position of the LFNC.