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City Hall ‘Reform’ Too Little Too Late, Says Coalition to Preserve LA

In Archive by Preserve LA

Tuesday’s hearing before the Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee is a first effort by city leaders to reform the broken and rigged process in which for-profit developers make the key decisions about L.A.’s future — at the cost of much worse traffic, destruction of affordable housing and neighborhood character, and L.A.’s unique livability.

The ideas proposed to PLUM on Tuesday fall far short of the reforms sought by the Coalition to Preserve LA in its citizen measure heading for the March 2017 ballot, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.

The City Hall proposals contain no evidence of serious research by the city, including no meaningful comparisons to well-run cities, and no data acknowledging City Hall’s disastrous track record, such as its approval of the demolition or conversion of more than 20,000 rent-stabilized units since 2001, and vast human displacement, to make way for “luxury” housing.

The $11 million proposed on Tuesday to begin rebuilding L.A.’s tiny Department of Planning so that it can undertake “six year” updates of the Community Plans is far too small. $11 million is a fraction of the value of a single City Council favor, granted to a single developer, to get around zoning rules so that the single developer can erect a much bigger, and far more lucrative, building than the zoning allows.

Such “spot zoning” exemptions, granted during backroom deals with City Council members, mean instant wealth for a developer, a greased system that serves a cadre of particularly greedy developers.

With City Council approval, these developers have filled L.A. with empty luxury rental housing units, a glut that has formed even as L.A.’s middle class can’t find a rental under $2,500 and homelessness is spiking. City officials concede the luxury rental glut vacancy rate is higher than 12%, and that the unwanted and unaffordable units have been approved and built at a frenzied 150% of demand.

As has shown, each City Council exemption is granted after these developers make a campaign donation to, or make a major gift to the pet projects of, key City Council members. One developer estimated the profit for him alone, thanks to a flick of the City Council pen to let him ignore the zoning rules, at $30 million.

The vast majority of developers honor L.A.’s zoning rules and manage to make profits without backroom City Council exemptions and abusive mega-developments.

On August 17, the Coalition to Preserve LA submitted a letter to Mayor Eric Garcetti detailing the minimum reforms that the Coalition would require, to not proceed with our March 7, 2017 reforms of this rigged system. The mayor, who pledged in April to reform the system, did not meet the Coalition’s August 24 deadline.

On August 24, the Coalition turned in 104,000 signatures, which will soon qualify for the March ballot. The minimum reforms sought in the letter to the mayor were:

  • Developers and their special interest lobbyists must no longer be permitted to choose the consultants who literally write Environmental Impact Reports for their own developments.
  • There must be a clear and transparent process, including fast-tracked deadlines, for crafting the new L.A. General Plan that empowers the people to chart the future of our own city, slashing the undue influence of developers and lobbyists.
  • Spot zoning exceptions to the General Plan, to allow wildly inappropriate mega-developments in cherished neighborhoods, must become the rare exception.
  • Ex parte communications between developers and city elected officials or members of the City Planning Commission — known as backroom meetings — must be eliminated.

According to Coalition to Preserve LA Campaign Director Jill Stewart, “Next week, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will become an official 2017 ballot measure. When we win in March, we look forward to working with the mayor and City Council to implement our long-overdue reforms.”

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