The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, backed by the Coalition to Preserve LA and a burgeoning coalition out to reform L.A.’s broken and rigged planning and land-use system, hit a key milestone late Friday — the City Clerk deemed its nearly 104,000 signatures as more than enough to qualify the initiative for the March 7, 2017 ballot. Now the fight is on between the citizen-driven movement and a group of global development billionaires bankrolling the campaign effort to stop it.
Next step for the Coalition to Preserve LA: the measure now proceeds through City Hall’s approval process. The L.A. City Council has 20 calendar days to either approve the entire wording of the measure and adopt it as-is, without placing it on the ballot, or the Council must vote to place it on the March ballot for voters to decide.
“We would welcome the City Council’s adoption within 20 days of all of our extensive reforms — which are directly aimed at the City Council itself,” said Coalition Campaign Director Jill Stewart. “That would be a truly historic and amazing act, for a political body in Los Angeles to reform itself. If not, our citywide movement of tens of thousands of supporters will make history of their own next March.”
The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative requires the Los Angeles City Council to do it’s job and stop bending and breaking the zoning and planning rules. City Council practices have left Los Angeles communities suffering from severe local gridlock, destruction of neighborhood character, ill-conceived gentrification projects that force out the working class, and wildly inappropriate mega-developments that march through L.A.’s rigged and broken development-approval system.
Former Mayor Richard Riordan, a key funder of the initiative, said, “Los Angeles has the second-worst roads in the U.S., is one of the nation’s most park-poor cities due to continued bungling by the City Council, and is displacing tens of thousands of renters as the City Council and planners hand out absurd approvals for endless $3,000 luxury housing rental units few can afford.”
Grace Yoo, Koreatown attorney and co-founder of the Environmental Justice Collaborative, a major supporter of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, said, “We now have a great opportunity to put this before the citizens of L.A., so they can vote for something that makes sense. It’s a great opportunity for voters in L.A. to speak out by voting.”
Damien Goodmon, executive director of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, who has joined the effort to approve the March measure, said, “After decades of a broken building approval process, the people are uniting to demand change – to demand their rightful voice in the future of our city. I expect this to be an epic fight, where the big moneyed forces of the corrupt status quo unite to fight the people. On March 7, we get a chance to tell City Hall that we the people, not the fat-cat mega-developers, should determine the future of our city.”
Xochitl Gonzalez, a board member of the West L.A.-Sawtelle Neighborhood Council who is fighting the illegal Martin Cadillac monolithic development at gridlocked Bundy and Olympic, said, “The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative gives people more of a fighting chance to ensure that development is appropriate for their neighborhood. Right now, the City Hall development process is overwhelming skewed in favor of developers.”
Key among the measure’s reforms is its requirement that the City Council pivot back to its long-abandoned core job: write a General Plan that spells out how the unmet need for parks, infrastructure, street improvements, open space, housing, and other key elements will be addressed to benefit existing residents over the next five years.
Yet in 2005, the City Council quietly voted to not have to do the hard work of writing a General Plan.
Their unnoticed vote left Los Angeles as a rare major U.S. city in which planning and zoning follow a backwards, Wild West approach. The City Council clings to a 20-year-old plan whose infrastructure element dates to the 1960s, and council members continually allow developers to call the shots.
Their approach has created a mess, both human and physical. Last year, the city’s Housing Department warned Mayor Eric Garcetti that the city had approved 150% of the demand for luxury rental housing, and had, for the previous ten years, approved housing aimed at an average household income of $105,000 a year. But the mythical rich households have failed to materialized, leaving Los Angeles with a glut of empty one-bedroom apartments in huge complexes that nobody can afford.
Since that report, homelessness has spiked and rents have skyrocketed, yet City Hall has doubled down on its approvals of luxury rents that Angelenos cannot afford, driving out families and creating a growing luxury rental glut. Zillow has warned that L.A. is creating a mismatch between the people who actually live here and the ghost units priced far above local incomes.
“Los Angeles City Council members agree in backroom meetings to let globally active developers break the zoning rules to build these looming luxury giants,” said Stewart. “Residents pay dearly, in the form of massive surface street traffic, destruction of neighborhoods, loss of open space and trees, displacement of working people, and hideous glass boxes that are often built right to the sidewalk.”
Stewart added that “Los Angeles has descended to one of the nation’s worst-planned cities, with a tiny Planning Department and a pay-to-play system in which developers get special favors to get very rich, during backroom deals made with individual council members.”
The initiative also places about 5% of development on hold for two years. This provision is aimed at “spot zoning,” a practice that has jammed streets and destroyed neighborhoods as land speculators buy lots wholly unsuitable for huge developments — then sneak around L.A. zoning rules during ex parte meetings with City Council members.
In addition, the measure bans developers from hiring the consultants who write the environmental reports for their projects, an obvious conflict of interest that has resulted in grossly falsified traffic studies. Traffic estimates in Environmental Impact Reports in Los Angeles routinely and significantly underestimate how much traffic big developments will create in neighborhoods.
Stewart added, “We understand that one reform within our measure that’s hated by City Hall is that city officials must now hold ‘Community Plan’ update hearings in the communities themselves, at night and on weekends only, handing a new lever of power to neighborhoods. Right now, if you walk into a Community Plan hearing downtown at 10 a.m., its dominated by ‘suits’ — the high-paid lobbyists for the developers. They are really the ones running City Hall.”
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