Cheering for an end to overdevelopment and its drastic effects on traffic and displacing of the poor, activists from Venice to NoHo to the Wilshire District rallied in Frogtown on Wednesday to launch signature-gathering for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative aiming for the March 2017 ballot.
The diverse crowd shouted “No More!” just outside the planned Bimbo Bakery luxury condo and “small-lot subdivision” complex. The box-like three-story condos will tower over the L.A. River and the working-class Latino enclave of Elysian Valley, known to some as Frogtown.
The luxury units, likely to fetch $500,000 to $800,000, are the first in a quiet City Hall plan to devote some of L.A. River’s most verdant, tree-filled stretches to “waterfront” homes for those earning more than $100,000 a year.
Melissa Arechiga, whose parents were among the last families evicted during the destruction of Chavez Ravine to make room for Dodger Stadium in the 1950s, told reporters at the Bimbo Bakery site, “We want to make sure that what happened at Chavez Ravine doesn’t happen again.”
Arechiga and other critics believe the 117-unit project, just a short distance from Chavez Ravine, will destroy the proud working-class neighborhood, setting off a development frenzy and forcing out its longtime mostly Latino community.
Just upriver from Elysian Valley, Atwater Village residents in May stopped a nearly identical L.A. River “waterfront” luxury housing project. Atwater residents were lucky enough to learn that an old wallpaper factory on the land holds a unique if forgotten place in L.A.’s early history of employing and protecting gay artisans. City Hall officials were “embarrassed into deciding to protect the historic building,” according to one activist.
Residents of Elysian Valley, where many households earn well below $40,000, want true “revitalization” of the L.A. River. They spoke out, standing with residents who drove in from the Westside, Koreatown, Wilshire District, Hollywood and the Valley to support them and the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.
Robert Leyland, elected in May to the Elysian Valley Riverside Neighborhood Council, said the “out-of-scale” Bimbo Bakery project was a hot topic leading up to the recent ouster of several Neighborhood Council members who tried to work with the developers now eyeing the modest riverside community.
“The pro-development candidates lost, and the neighbors won” a majority on the council, Leyland explained, to the cheers of supporters from across L.A.
The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which needs more than 60,000 signatures to make the March 2017 city ballot, is strenuously opposed by developers and City Hall politicians. The mayor and City Council have accepted well over $6 million from developers since 2000. Only one council member refuses developer money.
The ballot measure fights overdevelopment and its dramatic negative effects on L.A.’s fast-worsening street gridlock, maxed-out water mains, strained police and fire services, and demolition of existing and badly needed low-rent housing.
The citizen initiative, sponsored by the Coalition to Preserve LA, gives Los Angeles residents more say in deciding the future of their communities and the city.
Jill Stewart, campaign director for the Coalition to Preserve LA, says, “It’s no wonder that developers and their allies are planning to outspend us by 10 or 20 to one to stop these reforms — they are reaping a fortune from the broken system that lets them pave over L.A. neighborhoods for profit.”
One particularly desperate falsehood publicly claimed by Los Angeles City Council members who take money from developers is that the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative somehow halts most development.
“When you hear a City Council member or developer or their allies falsely claim the measure stops most development,” said Stewart, “that’s a clear measure of how desperate they are to hang onto their gravy train of campaign donations and backroom development deals.”
The initiative dramatically restricts backroom mischief by the City Council, in which certain developers donate to council members — and are then allowed by those council members, during backroom deals, to ignore local zoning. Developers then build projects as big as they want, regardless of how much this harms a community or jams its roads.
Only about 5% of development gets to break the rules like that, but the resulting mega-projects have an outsized effect on roads, community character and demolition of badly needed older, inexpensive rental units. The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative bans only this broken practice. It allows development that plays by the rules — 95% of all projects — to continue.
One developer in the Cahuenga Pass recently revealed that his special exemption from the rules, agreed to by then-City Councilman Tom LaBonge, was worth $30 million in expected profit to him. With a nod from LaBonge, City Hall gave him an exemption from land-use rules, to allow a massive luxury project on rugged land zoned for a few homes in gridlocked Cahuenga Pass.
Criticism grew so intense that the City Council itself — in a true rarity — not long ago rescinded his exemptions from the zoning rules.
The crowd in Elsyian Heights also applauded the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative’s strong support for affordable housing — the measure exempts from its restrictions on the City Council those projects made up of 100 percent affordable housing.
The core of the citizen initiative places Los Angeles residents ahead of developers in deciding what their communities should become.
Few Angelenos would “revitalize” the L.A. River by encouraging luxury homes on its banks. Nor would they approve of high-density towers on the Westside’s worst “F-rated” intersections like Bundy and Olympic — or find it a good idea to stick a 27-story skyscraper on a narrow residential street in Koreatown.
Attorney Grace Yoo gave a dramatic example, at the signature-gathering kickoff, of the city’s twisted priorities in Koreatown: the proposed 27-story Catalina Avenue skyscraper. Woo’s social justice group and the Coalition to Preserve LA recently sued to halt the project, which is avidly backed by Mayor Garcetti. The tower is aimed at households earning more than $100,000, is expected to destroy affordability locally as nearby landlords rush to gentrify and the 300-foot-plus building will place its two-story neighborhood in permanent shadow.
“Enough is enough,” said Yoo. “The City Council needs to respect the community.”
Manny Flores, a young leader in the Pico-Union/Westlake area, told the gathering that the Neighborhood Integrity initiative will give greater control to an area that is fighting community-destroying development. Even with the LA Unified School District on its side, his area is losing its battles against hip restaurant-nightclubs — and their drinking drivers — being proposed very near to community schools.
“The city can’t be ‘planned’ by developers,” said Flores. “Our busy streets are already among the most unsafe for children to cross in Los Angeles.”
Echo Park artist Anne Hars was applauded Wednesday when she shared with the measure’s supporters a small poster she created that expresses her dim view of City Hall. The poster depicts a developer directing a bulldozer to knock down a house, as the parents and children flee. The poster reads: “Welcome to Garcettiville.”
Hars is known for her “Up” balloon movement, inspired by a woman in Seattle who held out against developers who merely built their entire project around her small house. Hars installs giant balloon bouquets atop threatened homes in Echo Park, Silver Lake and other areas.
Driving in from Venice, Katherine Conway, who is running for the Venice Neighborhood Council on June 5, said, “It’s great to see people from all over Los Angeles coming together to fight developers and have a say in L.A.’s future.”
Conway adapted Anne Hars’ balloon idea to her own battle against a massive glassed-in mansion rising just feet from her Venice cottage. This example of “mansionization” next to the Conway home looks like a Bank of America.
Questions and answers were also shared at the event in Elysian Valley. One question: Can a Neighborhood Integrity Initiative petition circulator gather signatures from folks who live outside their own neighborhoods? Answer: Absolutely. Just be sure they are registered voters and live in Los Angeles.
Join the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative movement by clicking to our Act page right now, and following and cheering our efforts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Together, we can create the change that L.A. needs!