Top 16 Answers to Your FAQs
L.A. City Hall politicians and some of the world’s richest developers are in a meltdown over the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, the first plan in decades for residents to wrest back community power over what Los Angeles should become.
This is about money and power, not livability. We can clearly see that massive new local traffic backups and monster projects built to the sidewalk are not about “creating a sustainable community.”
Next March, we’re taking on this broken system that threatens to ruin Los Angeles.
1 What’s the most important part of this measure?
Ninety days after voter approval, the City Council must pivot back to its core job, setting up a public schedule for creating a “General Plan” that shows where bigger buildings can — and can’t — go, and weaving into the General Plan, for the first time decades, crucial but long-ignored “Elements” that explain whether and how L.A.’s roads, sewers, water and safety systems can handle proposed growth.
2 But why do we need a law before L.A. does smart planning?
Writing a General Plan is a normal duty in cities where the system isn’t broken. But in 2005, in a switcheroo that went unnoticed, the City Council quietly passed a law relieving itself of ever again having to create a new “General Plan.”
3 Because if the City Council has no Plan … ?
Without a modern Plan, the City Council members openly and continually justify their need to call the shots, lot by lot, in backroom deals made with developers, as to what gets built — and how big. Having no Plan renders our zoning meaningless. By quietly voting in 2005 to never update the General Plan, each Council Member got self-enriching, fiefdom-like powers over what our communities become.
4 Do developers really meet Council Members in back rooms, to get private pre-approvals for developments that are banned by height or size rules that protect our neighborhoods?
Yes. According to the city’s own data, lobbyists were paid an incredible $14 million in the most recent quarter, to influence our elected officials largely behind the scenes. Read the Sea Breeze scandal unearthed by the Los Angeles Times to understand this system of money-greased backroom deals.
5 How much money has flowed from developers to the mayor and City Council?
They have taken $6 million in campaign funds from the real estate industry since 2000, and have accepted triple — or quadruple — that amount in wining and dining and gifts made by developers to their pet projects.
6 Which projects will the initiative’s narrow, targeted two-year moratorium affect?
Any “spot zoning,” meaning a zone change, height district change or General Plan Amendment that requires a vote of the full City Council. For two years, this narrow timeout will delay, reduce the size of, or halt about 5% of projects in L.A., the 5% “spot zoning” projects that wreak a dramatically outsized impact on our traffic, infrastructure and neighborhoods because they ignore our zoning. Meanwhile, 95% of development will CONTINUE UNAFFECTED during the narrow moratorium — because 95% of developers don’t need to “spot zone” — and they don’t give money to the City Council to get these exemption favors.
7 Do the City Council and mayor admit that “spot zoned” luxury housing in L.A. sits empty, and is largely an investment tool for financiers who reap profits despite the vacant units?
The dirty secret is: City Housing officials in a November 2015 report warned Mayor Eric Garcetti that the vast majority of housing built in the past 10 years is for households earning $105,000 and, quite predictably, has a huge vacancy rate of at least 12 percent. LA is building 150% of the demand for luxury buildings. (Our own figures show a 15% to 20% vacancy glut.) Amidst this glut, regular people can’t find an apartment. No, luxury development is NOT “trickling down.” And no, our elected leaders won’t admit it.
8 What’s the worst new abuse by developers, that the measure would curtail?
“Small Lot Subdivision” developers, realizing in 2016 that zoning is now meaningless in L.A., are seeking spot zoning changes in backroom meetings to build these extremely expensive, profitable, towering, narrow, and often treeless townhouses in wildly inappropriate single-family R-1 zoned areas, and industrial land where jobs must go. Without the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, the City Council will find a way to please this growing wave of rule-breaking Small Lot Subdivision developers.
9 Do you allow spot zoning to resume after the moratorium ends?
Zone changes and height district changes can resume. But the more radical General Plan Amendments (GPAs) are permanently restricted by an anti-corruption law in the existing City Charter that allows the granting of GPAs only for “significant” areas, not for individual developers. The LA City Council openly violates this anti-corruption law in the Charter, granting GPAs to individual developers who have given the City Council money. In March, voters must force the Council to obey the law, defining a “significant” area as being at least 15 acres not owned by one developer, or encompassing an entire Community Plan, Specific Plan, or Neighborhood Council area.
10 Does the two-year moratorium stall a project that just needs a height variance of a few feet or a variance to allow a fence or more space for an entryway?
Absolutely not. Thousands of variances are needed in L.A. to allow normal development. This fabrication about “variances’ is being spread by Council Members, City Planners, groups receiving money from City Hall, and the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, to scare people. Our measure leaves L.A. variances utterly untouched.
11 But what if the City Council finally decides to give us our long-promised parks, will the moratorium allow that? Or if somebody wants to build affordable housing?
Almost all 100% affordable housing projects can move forward during the 2-year time-out, and virtually all other affordable housing — planners call it “density bonus” — will move forward. Almost all zone changes to create our long-promised, but undelivered, parks can go forward as well.
12 It seems like you are trying to alter the backroom behavior of our politicians. Are you?
Yes. This measure cuts developer addiction to seeking backroom spot zoning deals from City Council members. This broken, money-greased system fuels mass overbuilding in trendy areas — the hot spots — while the City Council lets developers ignore long-redlined areas like South L.A.
13 What’s the most popular part of this measure, out in the communities?
Besides the limited moratorium on just 5% of development, it bans City Hall from letting the developers choose the people who write the “Environmental Impact” reports for their own projects, a glaring conflict of interest. The greatest lies told in Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) vastly underreport the traffic caused by new development. Yet these often utterly false EIRs are routinely approved by the L.A. City Council.
14 How else does the measure empower communities?
It forces the City Council to update L.A.’s 35 Community Plans, the Airport District Plan and Harbor District Plan. These Plans comprise the detailed dreams of what communities envision on their streets. But recently, the Community Plans were gamed by developer’s lobbyists in meetings held when residents could not attend. Now, every Planning Commission hearing must be held in the community, only at night and on weekends, creating full access and a new lever of power for communities.
15 Does the measure stop City Hall from encouraging of the annual demolition of 1,500 to 2,000 affordable apartment units to make way for luxury housing and other developments?
Some disasters are too big to stop entirely. But because our initiative bans “spot zoning,” forcing the City Council to pivot back to their jobs — writing a General Plan and Community Plans in consultation with the communities — they’ll have to address the mass demolitions of rent-stabilized apartments that the Council’s own policies and failures are piling up. These 22,000 demolitions and condo conversions are a key cause of L.A.’s new homeless spike, yet the City Council blames everything but itself.
16 How does the initiative address the big financial breaks that City Hall grants to developers by letting them ignore parking-space requirements?
People are walking five blocks at night to get home as developers get exemptions from providing the required parking spaces. Parking-space reductions — meant to encourage bus or transit use by making it hard for office workers and commuters to park — instead send drivers seeking parking spilling into overwhelmed neighborhoods. Developers are making a killing. It’s reasonable to cap these huge exemptions at no more than 1/3 of the spaces required by city rules.
In the current rigged City Hall system, developer money pours into politicians’ campaign pockets and pet projects, then hundreds of millions of dollars in favors are handed back. You? You get choking gridlock, destruction of neighborhood character, mass demolitions of affordable housing, rent-gouging — and tragic displacement and homelessness.
L.A. City Council members and their friends warble that the March 7, 2017, ballot measure “stops most development.” L.A. Chamber of Commerce president Gary Toebben spouts off that the measure “ends rent control.”
Apparently, getting stripped of their undemocratic superpowers causes politicians and their cronies to utter fantastic fabrications.