Members of the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) gathered downtown March 8 to discuss the potential negative impacts of two proposed ballot initiatives.
James Auld, a partner at the architecture firm Altoon Partners—the evening’s host—opened the meeting and thanked more than 30 architects, city planners and neighborhood activists for coming out to discuss such an “important issue for the city.”
Guest speaker Edward Casey, a land use attorney with Alston & Bird LLP, said he hoped the evening would help provide information on not just what both initiatives say, but where they stand.
Two proposed measures
For months, labor unions and business groups were unified in their opposition to the proposed anti-development ballot measure that its proponents named the “Neighborhood Integrity Initiative” that was first announced in November 2015.
Critics say the measure, which is spearheaded by a group called the Coalition to Preserve L.A. and is sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, will cost thousands of jobs, worsen the housing crisis and cripple the local economy. You can read more about it here.
But in February, union leaders announced—to the surprise of many—a second, competing measure for the Nov. 8 ballot. This initiative is focused on placing new labor rules and affordable housing requirements on real estate projects. Known as “Build Better L.A.,” the measure in short says that developers who build affordable housing will move faster through the planning process, as long as they hire local people.
Both petitions must first obtain more than 61,000 valid signatures from registered voters by April 27.
In his presentation, Casey explained that the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative in particular creates significant legal questions as written, and if passed would inspire a barrage of legal challenges citywide.
“As you probably know, the building moratorium initiative supposedly started out with a fight over the (Hollywood) Palladium project [which includes building two towers up to 30 stories tall], and is supported by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and its president Michael Weinstein.”
Casey said he would decline to speculate what Weinstein’s intentions are in pushing the measure, but he did outline several legal issues with the proposed measure.
For starters, explained Casey, the initiative as described in Section 2 of a 24-page document only amends the municipal code, not the General Plan.
Casey explained that the General Plan is at the top of the city’s planning hierarchy, and everything must be consistent with this plan.
“Any amendments here, by way of this initiative, that would make the municipal code inconsistent with the General Plan, are null and void,” he said.
But for Casey, this isn’t the worst of it: Section 5 contains a lot of legal ambiguity and requires the director of planning to divide the city into 11 geographic areas, which will contains 37 individual community plan areas, with no guidance as to how they should be divided.
For decades the city has been divided into 35 community plan areas. For instance, the Wilshire Community Plan, originally adopted in 1976 and most recently revised in 2001, contains the area bordered by Melrose Ave. and Rosewood Ave. to the north; 18th St., Venice Blvd. and Pico Blvd. to the south; Hoover St. to the east; and the cities of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills to the west.
Once each community plan is updated according to the proposed initiative, there are seven principles that must be followed, which Casey labels as mostly anti-growth.
The worst of these principles is what Casey calls the “adjacency problem.”
“An example is how we all agree we want more density at transit stops,” explained Casey.
“But the measure actually says that the density in one neighborhood must match the density of the adjacent property. Does that mean you can’t touch this area because of its neighboring density, or vice-versa? It gives no guidance. And that’s the problem with a number of different provisions.”
AIA opposes NII
The director of government and public affairs for AIA in Los Angeles, Will Wright, told attendees that earlier that day the AIA/LA released an official letter of opposition to the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.
Read the full letter here.
One week following the AIA meeting and in a move that took many by surprise, backers of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative announced on March 15 that they have dropped plans to place the anti-development measure on the November ballot.
“Our initiative is too important to be buried at the tail-end of this November’s ballot,” Coalition to Preserve L.A. campaign director Jill Stewart explained at a press conference.
Supporters of the measure say that the March 2017 election, with several contested City Council seats as well as the Mayoral election, will allow the no-growth issue to take center stage at candidate debates, boosting citizen interest.
Critics suggest that the Coalition to Preserve L.A. is trying to disenfranchise voters by moving the measure to a non-presidential, municipal election year.
“They are trying to limit the number of Angelenos who can weigh in on their extreme plans, because voters understand this initiative goes too far and will drive up rents, cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and make it impossible to address L.A.’s exploding homeless problem,” said Mike Shimpock, spokesman for the Coalition to Protect L.A. Neighborhoods and Jobs.
According to Stewart, a new ballot date is not the only change. The initiative’s language will also be refined and be reduced in length from 24 to eight pages.
The revised version must be resubmitted to the City Clerk for approval for circulation. Once approved, supporters must gather more than 61,000 signatures by the end of August to qualify for the March 2017 ballot.
After the revised version is approved by the City Clerk, it will be posted on the Larchmont Chronicle website to replace the original, here.
By Billy Taylor