The Race is On: A Critical Vote on ‘Development’ In LA Nears Finish Line

DEEGAN ON LA-Which hangover are you trying to shake: the overindulgence of New Year’s Eve or the game changer National Election in November? Want a triple-header head-splitter? In just three weeks you can start voting by mail for or against the momentous issue of “uncontrolled” development, whether or not you like the Mayor, and the chance to sweep some political newcomers into City Council offices. Unfortunately, turnout cannot be expected to be as high as the stakes. Voter fatigue has lots to do with that. 

The centerpiece of the balloting will be Measure S, aka the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, that would enact a moratorium on “spot zoning” variances as one of its main provisions, if enough voters say “yes.” 

Voter turnout is one of the two pressures that will be driving the outcome of the election. The other is the opportunity to Vote by Mail that starts on February 6. Up to one-third of the city’s voters take advantage of early voting, so it’s urgent that candidates get their message out hard and fast, now, to win over the minds of these leading edge voters. These days, voters make up their minds and cast their ballots up to thirty days ahead of the actual election. How candidates and supporters react to both of influential factors could provide them with an advantage. 

Primary elections historically attract a very low turnout. On the heels of our intense recent election, who really has the interest or stamina for this primary? This is a situation that will benefit aggressive campaigners for the odd-numbered council district seats that are up for grabs. The number of “yes” votes needed to elect someone, or to pass or defeat Measure S, may be exceptionally low, thanks to the shrunken base of who actually votes compared to the number of all registered voters. 

The winning ground game could be twofold: 

  • Knowing how voters feel about Measure S, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, and aligning campaign pledges and promises to meet those pro or con expectations. There are massive campaigns running both for and against the measure. Development is the hottest issue on the March ballot. 
  • Capitalizing on early Vote-By-Mail (VBM) that starts on February 6. The traditional get out the vote (GOTV) models cannot be counted on in our new post-truth world, where emotion overrules fact and news can be fake; mailboxes stuffed with flyers can no longer be certain to work. Development partisans are so passionate and emotional on both sides of the issue that getting them to vote early by mail could jump start a campaign. 

Some say that there are a lot of good things about Measure S, like the expedited timelines for upgrading community and general plans, and the requirement that the city, not the developers, be the client for EIR’s. In addition, the measure calls for the elimination of spot zoning and a “moratorium” for up to two years on construction that increases development density and it prohibits project-specific amendments to the city's General Plan, thereby restricting the size and number of development projects. 

Opponents of Measure S, led by the voice of labor leader Rusty Hicks, say, In November, an overwhelming majority of Angeleno voters passed Prop. JJJ to create affordable housing and good jobs for LA's middle class. Just four months later, LA's working families are facing an unprecedented rollback on progress. Trump and his supporters are trying to dismantle the progress we’ve made, from healthcare to the EPA. Trump’s vision of America doesn’t stand a chance in LA. Don’t let them roll back our progress. Measure S, which will be on the March ballot, is the height of selfishness. A cynical ploy to stop virtually all housing construction in LA, including housing for the homeless.” Hicks adds that the measure is a “pile of S.” 

The LA City Council races (for odd-numbered districts) have some young political newcomers with decades of potential public service ahead of them. They’re worth listening to by anyone who cares how the next generation will grapple with the legacy their predecessors leave behind. Right now, it’s not an enviable dowry, with budget and pension problems, rampant development, and increasing allegations of corruption and back-room dealing at City Hall. A credible showing at the polls by any of them will help put politicos on notice that times are changing. 

But first, everyone must vote, and that’s the bigger challenge right now -- activating voters. The clock is ticking: vote by mail starts February 6, and could be the wild card. About one-quarter to one-third of voters now vote early, so making the sale immediately has more importance than ever.


(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.