GUEST COMMENTARY - If you live in a city that is falling apart, where crime is allowed to flourish and homeless encampments spring up like weeds you need to ask one simple question, who benefits from it? Deep down you know somebody does or it wouldn’t exist. There are multiple bad actors who can fill out that roster depending on where you get your news or where your interests lie, but we have been doing that for years and we are still in the same place. We are like sports fans whose emotional state rises and falls with each victory or loss. Our team is pure and good while the other team is evil. We know at some level that isn’t true, but we seem powerless to see beyond the men and women on the field. In truth they are just like us, workers. They fulfill a role as do the coaches, trainers etc. They are here today and gone tomorrow, but the real power stays. That power is the owner. They benefit. That is why the game is played.
So who controls Los Angeles? We know it’s not we the people, it’s certainly not this new ragtag group of Councilmembers or for that matter any of those we have elected to office. They probably don’t even live in Los Angeles or for that matter in California, but someone is pulling the strings. Who has the power to tell the City of LA that it needs to add half a million new housing units in the next 8 years even while we are losing population? They say it is for affordable housing, but developers do not spend money on affordable housing, they spend it on expensive market rate units. The city seems to be answering the call by upzoning most single-family lots and a whole bunch of small apartments lots. Most of LA appears to be heading for the auction block. So who has that kind of power?
I think it is probably many of the same backers of Senate Bill 827 including THE TECH 100 that began the assault on single family neighborhoods a few years ago. They sent a letter to the state legislature saying they needed more housing to expand their businesses and the race was on. At the same time Senate Bill 828, co-sponsored by the Bay Area Council and Silicon Valley Leadership Group and authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener in 2018 inadvertently doubled the “Regional Housing Needs Assessment” in California. This was the result of an incorrect vacancy rate and double counting which caused the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) to exaggerate by more than 900,000 the units needed in SoCal, the Bay Area, and the Sacramento area.
As a result the Los Angeles Department of Planning is preparing to upzone most of the city through a new Housing Element. They have produced a set of maps showing the communities to be upzoned while asking residents to submit their own maps. What the city is not doing is being transparent about how they intend to accomplish this feat. They state that they are creating a rezoning program which “will likely be accomplished through updates to the City’s Community Plans, an update to the City’s Density Bonus program, targeted zone changes and zoning ordinances, and updates to specific plans and overlays. The Rezoning Program will prioritize opportunities for rezoning or development incentives in areas that are located in a Transit Priority Area, near major job centers, and in higher resource areas.” There is a plan, of that I am pretty sure, but it is another game of 3-card monte, and we are required to wear a blindfold. We are in the process of watching California and probably the rest of the country turn into a land of renters. Over time through financial crisis and zoning changes only groups that control large sums of capital and the very elite will own property. Those with money but not enough will fight for the best rentals and the rest of the people will scramble as best they can to keep a roof over their heads. So to be perfectly clear we, homeowners, and renters, are in this together. We need to support each other and above all do what we can to preserve the affordable housing left in the city.
In the end we will identify those who benefit financially but I think for now we need to expose those who carry their water. That includes those we elect to office. We need to understand who follows the rules and the law, and who doesn’t. Who is willing to take a principled stand and who isn’t. Above all we need to know who supports we the people and who doesn’t. No more excuses, this is for all the marbles.
(James O’Sullivan is the retired ex-president (25 years) and current ex-officio of the Miracle Mile Residential Association. He is Vice President of Fix The City Inc., currently in court with the City over their adoption of the Hollywood Community Plan and we are pushing the City to be more transparent with RSO units.)