Build Better LA Initiative: Affordable Housing Made More Unaffordable

LA WATCHDOG--The Build Better LA Initiative is the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor’s attempt to increase affordable housing in the City of Los Angeles by requiring real estate developers who want a zoning change or General Plan amendment to include low income housing in their developments.  It also provides for increased density in Transit Oriented Communities in return for affordable units. 

But this November ballot initiative (officially the Affordable Housing and Labor Standards Related to City Planning Initiative Ordinance JJJ) is over 10,000 words and very difficult for planning gurus to understand to say nothing of us mere mortals.  But maybe this obfuscation is part of County Fed’s strategy.  

The proponents of the initiative are playing up the lack of affordable housing in the City.  But County Fed’s underlying goal is to establish the equivalent of “project labor agreements” on all developments of ten or more units that are granted General Plan amendments that allow for increased residential space, density, or height.  

Notably lacking is any discussion about the economics associated with this ballot measure.  But according to several sources, this initiative will increase construction costs by about 30% to 40%, in large part because of the onerous hiring requirements (see below) contained in the initiative. 

There has not been any discussion or analysis of the impact this initiative would have on our streets, especially in areas such as Hollywood and DTLA where congestion is already a major league problem. More than likely, these supersized skyscrapers will require many more luxury apartments to pay for the affordable units, resulting in massive increases in traffic as the upper income tenants will not rely on the bus or subway, but will tool to work in their gas guzzling BMWs. 

There are also no specific provisions that require the City to update its General Plan or its 37 Community Plans.  Rather, it appears that “up zoning” and “spot zoning” will continue to be business as usual, only this time on steroids, all to the detriment of our family oriented neighborhoods and streets.  

This initiative also gives extraordinary power to the City Council as it will have the ability to adjust the affordable housing requirements of a particular project “upon a showing of substantial evidence that such adjustments are necessary to maximize affordable housing while ensuring a reasonable return on investment for Developers.” 

Talk about an invitation for corruption! 

Union sponsored Initiative JJJ is not ready for prime time.  It adds significantly to the cost of construction.  There is no planning.  It is overdevelopment of steroids.  It does not respect our neighborhoods.  It grants the City Council too much power.  And it is an invitation for corruption. 

Vote NO on JJJ.  There are better ways to build LA.




Ballot Language 


Shall an ordinance: 1) requiring that certain residential development projects provide for affordable housing and comply with prevailing wage, local hiring and other labor standards; 2) requiring the City to assess the impacts of community plan changes on affordable housing and local jobs; 3) creating an affordable housing incentive program for developments near major transit stops; and 4) making other changes; be adopted? 

Hiring Requirements 

All building and construction work on the project will be performed at all tiers by contractors which

(a) are licensed by the State of California and the City of Los Angeles;

(b) shall make a good-faith effort to ensure that at least 30% of all their respective workforces’ construction workers’ hours of Project Work shall be performed by permanent residents of the City of Los Angeles of which at least 10% of all their respective workforces’ construction workers’ hours of Project Work shall be performed by Transitional Workers whose primary place of residence is within a 5-mile radius of the covered project;

(c) employ only construction workers which possess all licenses and certifications required by the State of California and the City of Los Angeles;

(d) pay their construction workers performing project work the wages prevailing in the project area determined pursuant to California Labor Code § 1770; and

(e) have at least 60% of their respective construction workforces on the project from: (1) workers who have graduated from a Joint Labor Management apprenticeship training program approved by the State of California, or have at least as many hours of on-the-job experience in the applicable craft which would be required to graduate from such a state-approved apprenticeship training program, and (2) registered apprentices in an apprenticeship training program approved by the State of California or an out-of-state, federally-approved apprenticeship program.



(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- He can be reached at: