Last month, the Larchmont Chronicle covered the meeting organized by construction moratorium proponents at Third St. School in Hancock Park. Responding to that article is the following guest column by Fred Mariscal, local resident and former member of the board of directors of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.
I was originally interested to learn about Measure S, formerly known as the “Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.” There are many reasons to criticize planning and development in Los Angeles. I believe we can do a better job of creating a city where homeowners and renters, working and middle class people can live side by side (and can get around). Where people who grow up here can afford to stay here, and a growing economy is welcoming to immigrants.
But after reviewing the Larchmont Chronicle’s report on the arguments made in support of the initiative at a community forum at Third St. School, it becomes clear that the initiative would have many terrible effects on Los Angeles. Far from helping us achieve a welcoming city, it would have the opposite effect: make our city more expensive and more crowded. It’s worse than cutting off your nose to spite your face. It’s more like cutting off your leg to fix your stomach ache.
As a Hancock Park resident who ran for city council in 2015, I understand some of the frustration. Our community plans are out of date, making development appear haphazard. Los Angeles has the potential to grow in a way that protects our traditional neighborhoods by placing urban amenities near transit, but we need stronger leadership to get there.
But, as was clear from the account published in December’s Chronicle, the backers of Measure S are all frustration and no leadership, their vision purely negative, eager to criticize everything and to build nothing. They imagine that we can turn back the clock, but their plans would hurt renters, first-time homebuyers, and anyone who hasn’t put down solid roots. In today’s Los Angeles, where vacancy rates hover around 3 percent, their proposed building moratorium is a recipe to raise rents. It would hurt families and push many into homelessness.
Measure S problems
That’s not to say that we should do nothing. Here are three of the main problems that Measure S proposes to fix — and the reasons why the problems would be left worse under the initiative:
1. Campaign finance. Measure S’s backers criticize developer contributions to political campaigns, but their measure is silent about who may donate. We should have an honest conversation about how to get money out of politics.
2. Housing affordability. More than 270,000 Los Angeles households are “severely rent-burdened,” meaning they pay more than 50 percent of their income in rent. Measure S’s backers criticize luxury housing, but there is not one word in the initiative that regulates housing prices, nor does it leverage funds to build affordable housing. Further, the best tools to build the housing we need to make Los Angeles affordable would be lost in a building moratorium.
3. Out-of-date plans. Measure S’s backers say that the desire for new development would “force” the city to update its plans. How? Plan updates typically take up to 10 years in Los Angeles, and the measure provides no new money to update them. Fortunately, there is movement in City Hall to fix this, including new money in the Mayor’s budget to hire planners to expedite the process.
We know Measure S won’t do what its backers promise. So what will it do?
It will prevent us from housing the homeless. Measure S says it has an exemption for “100% affordable housing,” but that exemption does not extend to projects that require General Plan Amendments. The city of Los Angeles published a list of sites that could be used to develop affordable housing, like the housing we all just voted for with Prop HHH. Of ten proposed sites, Measure S bans building on nine of them.
It will shut down needed development. Even if we could build 100% affordable housing, why should that be our only option? This rules out needed housing developments that include affordable units next to market-rate apartments. It’s easier to protect neighborhoods like Hancock Park if you can build denser, more urban buildings in other parts of the city — and by current estimates, Los Angeles needs to add 500,000 new units of housing to make our city affordable for working people.
It will hurt our economic recovery. Beacon Economics calculated that two years of Measure S would suck $3.8 billion out of our local economy, destroying not only thousands of construction jobs but also all the employment they support. It will lower our city tax base by over $70 million each year — enough to hire 1,000 police officers or firefighters.
It could last for 10 years. They say it’s a two-year moratorium — but it will prevent development for as long as it takes to update our community plans; it offers no new funding to do that; and it offers many opportunities to file lawsuits to slow down the process. In ten years, job losses could top 120,000.
It will protect no one and preserve nothing. The best way to protect our single-family home neighborhoods is to build new housing next to transit. We can have a city that welcomes newcomers and makes room for the young without “turning into Manhattan.” We shouldn’t pretend to be Manhattan, but we shouldn’t pretend to be Kansas City or Fresno either.
At the end of the day, Measure S lacks vision, is motivated by anger and frustration at the present and an aesthetic preference for the suburbs. Most Angelenos want a city that will grow in a way that is humane and welcoming. We should reject this measure, continue to make our voices heard, and look towards the future if we want to create a true 21st-century Los Angeles.