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: Not the Right Answer
By Jill Bauman
Measure S on the March 7th ballot is alarming. While its backers have blanketed our city with billboards promising to “Save Our Neighborhoods,” it would do nothing of the sort. It would stop construction of much needed low-income, permanent supportive and affordable housing so desperately needed. And it would have a terrible impact on our neighbors—especially our homeless neighbors and those at risk of becoming homeless. As a longtime Hancock Park resident, I appreciate the feeling that change is coming too fast and with too little direction to our city. The backers of Measure S have connected with Angelenos because they point to real problems—our city plans need updates and our planning process needs transparency. But what are the solutions they propose? “Shut it down!” During a housing crisis, this is not the answer. Our goal should be to update our plans in hopes of building a city that can include a wide range of neighborhoods—dense urban districts and single-family blocks alike—and where we can build the housing we need to bring the homeless off the street, and lower rents for all, including families struggling on the edge. Measure S would place a two-year moratorium on zoning changes and General Plan amendments. It would also place permanent restrictions on the use of General Plan amendments. These seem like obscure planning code details, but they are the exact tools we need to build the housing that we voted for with Prop HHH. They are also the tools we need to build enough housing so rents fall across the city. During the push to pass Prop HHH last year, many asked the city where the new housing for the homeless would be built. The city found 12 properties it owned and put them up for development. Of those 12 sites, 11 require General Plan amendments. That means Measure S would ban constructing affordable—or any—housing on them, for both the two years of the moratorium and for however many years it took after the moratorium to update the community plan. Through my work with Imagine LA, I have seen more than a hundred families emerge from homelessness and begin to thrive. Our Family Empowerment & Mentorship model is lifechanging but the change can’t happen unless the family gets housing first. In today’s Los Angeles, that’s no easy feat. Vacancy rates are at all-time lows, meaning landlords can choose the tenants they want from hundreds of applications. Why take a chance on a family that has been on the streets? Only by building more affordable housing and expanding our supply can we open the pipeline of housing to get more families off the street. With 28,000 homeless Angelenos on any given night, this is critical. Into this crisis, Measure S throws a stop development bomb. On top of this, Measure S would cut thousands of construction jobs. This would harm our local economy. It would also steal some of the best opportunities for a career path from the families I work with—no doubt making homelessness worse just as we are trying to make it better. In November, Los Angelenos made it clear through the unparalleled 76% vote for Prop HHH that ending homelessness is our top priority. Measure S, would create a significant and unnecessary barrier to achieving this goal. Let’s continue to join together to get all of our neighbors safe, housed and thriving.
Jill Bauman is the president and CEO of Imagine LA, a non profit that works to end homelessness and poverty, and is a resident of Hancock Park.