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Developers Don’t Want You to Fix L.A.’s Rigged and Broken Planning System

In Archive by Patrick Range McDonald

If you’ve noticed, many real estate developers and their cronies aren’t too thrilled about the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. We’re not surprised.

Deep-pocketed developers have been making untold millions by manipulating L.A.’s broken, rigged, unfair planning system, and now the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, sponsored by the Coalition to Preserve L.A., is saying no more. Developers cannot bend the rules to enrich themselves while causing all kinds of serious problems for everyone else.

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will impose a two-year moratorium on the biggest special interest-driven development projects that bust up neighborhoods and produce crushing traffic gridlock. It will also give the public a greater say in how their communities are shaped and create permanent fixes to purge the development approval process of special interest influences.

So here’s how developers manipulate L.A.’s broken and rigged system.

First, developers pump all kinds of cash into L.A. City Hall. The real estate industry, for example, has given a minimum of $6 million to L.A. politicians running for local office since 2000.

Developers also shell out hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, to City Hall lobbyists, who schmooze politicians and city bureaucrats. And, at times, developers write big checks for city slush funds such as a City Council member’s “community benefits trust fund” or some other “trust fund.”

Politicians use that money to fund their pet projects, curry political favor and pay for the salaries of their aides.

(Read more about City Council slush funds and other shenanigans in the award-winning L.A. Weekly story “Los Angeles on $300,000 A Year.”)

A Beverly Hills developer, for example, wanted to build a wildly inappropriate luxury skyscraper in the middle of a low-slung, working-class neighborhood in Koreatown. The developer got the green light only after he agreed to give $250,000 to City Council President Herb Wesson’s community benefits trust fund.

With the developers’ cash flowing into L.A. City Hall, their lobbyists and attorneys then guide mega-projects through every stage of the approval process, often meeting with politicians and city bureaucrats behind closed doors. It’s the kind of insider access citizens never get.

(Read more about how developers and City Council members influence building approvals in another L.A. Weekly story, “Doomscraper?”)

On top of that, developers write their own environmental impact reports — an EIR is a vitally important study that shows how a project will affect a community. It’s a clear conflict of interest that developers write such a report, and the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative proposes to end that practice.

Once L.A. politicians approve zoning changes for a luxury skyscraper in a low-slung, middle-class neighborhood that wasn’t zoned for such a gigantic project, the developers stand to make millions and millions in profits. Far more than any money they gave to the politicians.

So what’s caused by developer manipulation of L.A.’s unfair and broken system?

Among a long list of problems, Angelenos get stuck in more gridlocked traffic, neighborhood character is ruined and lower-income and middle-class residents — who include senior citizens on fixed budgets — are shoved out of their communities by luxury mega-projects that bring about gentrification.

(Read more about heavy gentrification in Hollywood under Eric Garcetti when he was a City Council member in the L.A. Weekly story “Hollywood’s Urban Cleansing.”)

Developers, though, want to maintain this broken system for their own financial gain — and many of their apologists and allies simply don’t care that everyday people get screwed over by such a rigged system.

The Coalition to Preserve L.A. finds that completely unacceptable, and that’s why we’re sponsoring the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. All Angelenos deserve a planning system that’s fair, just and doesn’t favor the privileged few.

Developers and their cronies will say and do anything to keep L.A.’s planning system broken and rigged. That’s why we need you to stand up, speak out and support the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.

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