Wed, May

New Kind of Grassroots Activism Hits LA: Lawsuits and Ballot Measures


THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Whether we’re LA natives or adopted this city as our own, most of us love Los Angeles, from the majestic canyons winding to the sparkling Pacific, a hike through Runyon or Nichols Canyon just minutes from the energy of Hollywood, even a summer evening drive along Mulholland with the city and valley lights below. 

But if you gather even the most fervent of Angelenos, you’ll hear a range of complaints from skyrocketing rents to Sig Alerts that last far beyond rush hour and what activists refer to as the Manhattanization of Hollywood. 

Problematic quality of life issues have given rise to a trend of grassroots activism, lawsuits, and ballot initiatives throughout the city. Just last week, the nonprofit advocacy group Fix the City filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and the City Council over the Catalina Tower project, a 27-floor mixed use apartment tower approved for a residential street in Koreatown, despite the lack of a full environmental impact review and analysis of subsequent traffic impact. 

The nexus of post-recession development and the housing crisis has brought on more than a few campaigns to halt what is seen by some as a Wild West growth with sloppy spot zoning and variances on one side, countered by arguments that the city’s general plan from twenty years ago doesn’t address the need for density in housing to reflect the current housing shortage. 

At the center of it all is the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s (AHF) campaign to stop mega-developments and a lawsuit against the city over its approval of the Palladium Residences, two residential towers that would be built next door to AHF’s Sunset Boulevard headquarters near a Metro Red Line stop. The lawsuit argues that the project violates the city charter, California Environmental Quality Act, and other laws. The developer is also named in the suit, which opposes the height and density of the project. 

Investors of the $324-million project counter that the Palladium Towers would provide needed housing and that the towers are similar in scale to other Hollywood buildings along major corridors. 

The nonprofit and the Coalition to Preserve LA have been collecting signatures for a March 2017 ballot measure that would place a two-year moratorium on many developments that don’t follow existing planning and zoning rules. AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein defends the AHF position as a gentrification/social justice issue. AHF and supporters of the measure say mega-developments replace existing rent-controlled units and force out tenants, many whom are senior citizens or on fixed incomes. 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, as the ballot measure is known, would halt spot zoning and create a plan to update the city’s Community Plans. The initiative would also put an end to developers handling the preparation of Environmental Impact Reports and would restrict a developer’s ability to reduce parking requirements for residential units and off-site parking for commercial establishments. 

The NII isn’t the only nonprofit group working on ballot initiatives. The Build Better LA Coalition is working to get a housing affordability and high-quality job ballot measure. The initiative, which launched in February, would provide incentives to developers to create affordable housing near public transit and tie discretionary zone changes or General Plan amendments to setting aside a percentage of rental and for-sale projects for low-income residents. The initiative also includes a local hire provision. The Build Better LA Coalition has wide support and endorsements by dozens of community organizations advocating for immigrant rights, environmental sustainability, low-wage labor rights, and educational justice. 

To deal with the explosion of short term rentals (STR) and the impact on local residents, a group of homeowners, tenants, and business owners have formed Community Above Profit (CAP.)  The group’s mission includes protecting Angelenos from the STR boom through organization and resources; educating the public on their rights and what can be done to prevent neighborhoods from being overwhelmed by STRs; and informing city leaders of problems STRs are causing in communities. Toward the third goal, the group has drafted an ordinance to provide solutions. 

No matter which side of the issue Angelenos support, the growth of grassroots activism brings the discussion to the table, providing increased transparency in development and other issues facing the city. We can work together to impact change, balancing neighborhood issues with the challenge of affordable housing, transportation, and environmental concerns.


(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Photo credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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