Yesterday, the leadership of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative unveiled a fresh version of their ballot plan to reform the rigged and dysfunctional L.A. City Hall system for approving building projects. A wide range of neighborhood advocates, who are standing up to the multi-billion-dollar real estate industry, deep-pocketed developers and powerful politicians, support the initiative’s vision.
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.
The initiative’s supporters are now seeking to have their measure placed on the March 7, 2017 ballot. Also on that ballot will be races for the offices of mayor, city attorney, city controller and at least eight of the City Council’s 15 seats.
At a Coalition to Preserve L.A. press conference at City Hall yesterday, neighborhood “heroes” shared poignant stories about how the culture of virtually unbridled development, greased by developer donations to elected officials, is damaging Los Angeles’ communities.
Marisa Stewart, a Palms neighborhood leader and activist, said, “It really is sad that I lived in this area for years and now [because of favors granted to developers] … affordable housing is being completely wiped out.”
In Palms, an extremely dense and long-affordable neighborhood, Stewart witnessed how a four-unit affordable apartment building had been turned into a “small lot subdivision” of five box-like homes that tower over the land. Even in modest Palms, these homes sold for $1.2 million each. City Hall’s targeting of Palms for gentrification has displaced middle-class and working-class residents, creating unstable communities where there’s no sense of neighborhood or place.
“We should be safe in our homes,” Stewart said, “but when everyone has to move there’s no safety.”
Rev. Alice Callaghan, a highly regarded, longtime Skid Row advocate for the homeless and immigrant families, and founder of the school and family center, Las Familias del Pueblo, has seen similar problems in downtown L.A. and nearby neighborhoods. A few miles from Skid Row, where housing for the homeless is being decimated with the approval of City Hall, Callaghan has witnessed the senseless destruction of inexpensive rental neighborhoods.
“We have a handful of developers who are getting their way,” said Callaghan, noting that the City Council also allows these developers to push families out of the Latino immigrant “gateway” community of Pico-Union.
Callaghan has seen an “escalating gentrification” in downtown and Pico-Union as the City Council encourages developers to build expensive apartment buildings with no thought to human consequences.
“Sometimes there’s nowhere for people to live but on the city’s sidewalks,” said Callaghan. “Where’s the planning at City Hall for the poorest of the poor?”
Alexandra Kondracke, a young Los Feliz community activist, had to endlessly battle a deep-pocketed developer and City Hall to fight for what’s right.
“We had to go to ten City Hall hearings to stop a project that was illegal to begin with,” she explained.
Kondracke and her neighbors won their battle, but the experience was an eye-opener, showing her how developers often win these wars simply by attrition and grinding down local residents. Kondracke has had to contend with developers who misuse the state Ellis Act to evict tenants by falsely claiming they no longer intend to use the building for rental units.
“They may put in boutique hotels at first,” Kondracke said, “but then the building is sold to another owner who turns that hotel into luxury apartments.”
This blatant misuse of the Ellis Act, and Los Angeles City Hall’s habit of looking the other way, is a big scam, she said.
George Abrahams, a veteran Hollywood community activist, noted that L.A.’s land-use policy is being created by “campaign contribution planning.”
Abrahams knows his way around City Hall as well as anyone. He explained that the cost to the city Department of Planning to review proposed major projects is often reimbursed by the developers. The effect of this, Abrahams said, is that the city’s planners are often, in effect, the developers’ employees. With their paychecks virtually coming from the developers, Abrahams asked, is it any surprise that the developers get their way at City Hall?
Sasha Ali, a young activist fighting a developer’s project in Hollywood, talked about how the owner of a 50- unit apartment building in Hollywood filled with seniors, veterans and family tenants is now under attack by land investors.
When Ali and her fellow tenants fought to protect themselves and dared to ask the owner where they were supposed to live, his reaction was callous. “He told us we should go further down the Red Line [subway] to find a place to live,” said the neighborhood activist.
What he meant was that Ali and company should move into a lower-rent neighborhood. But gentrification, continually fed by City Hall as it bends the rules to push out existing residents citywide, has made that impossible.
“What he didn’t say was that the only apartments along the Red Line are luxury units,” Ali noted.
That’s a clueless developer for you.
Jack Humphreville, a veteran public policy blogger and Wilshire District activist, was thrilled that the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative would now appear on the March 7, 2017 city ballot. Why? Eleven city elected offices – including that of the mayor – will be up for grabs and politicians will be forced to say where they stand on developer-control of L.A. City Hall and overdevelopment.
“This is great,” Humphreville said. “Now we have six council members who’ll be running for reelection in March, who now oppose this sensible measure. It’ll be interesting to see if they change their opinions when voters start asking them where they stand on the initiative.”
The Wilshire District is ground zero in developers’ plans to upend neighborhoods that stand in the way of luxury density and gentrification.
These neighborhood heroes are staring down greedy, politically connected developers and their politician pals and taking a stand. Through the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, they want to start the process of fixing L.A.’s broken, unfair and rigged planning system. You can join them.