Tue, May

Misguided Overdevelopment Measure Tries to Fix Housing by Letting LA City Council Break the Rules


SAME LA, DIFFERENT VISION--Endorsers of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative warned Monday that a counter-plan financed by labor, Build Better LA (BBLA), will boost gridlock and hasten demolitions in rent-stabilized communities, all while accelerating LA's price-gouging luxury housing craze.  

 “This Build Better LA measure will fuel the city’s development frenzy,” said veteran Westwood community leader Sandy Brown, who is endorsing a reform-minded March ballot measure that aims to end the very backroom dealing by the City Council that Build Better is embracing.

 Brown backs the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which repairs L.A.'s broken system of development, currently driven by closed-door deals between developers and individual city council members who take money from those developers. The desires of communities and residents are pushed aside.

 “The situation is bad enough now,” Brown said. “But if this measure passes we’ll have a nightmare on our hands. No neighborhood will be safe” if BBLA is approved in November. Brown, a respected expert on city land use and development, says LA  needs the reforms contained in the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, heading for the March ballot.

 Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association president Richard Close said today that “Public concerns about overdevelopment and the widespread perception that the City Hall land-use approval system is rigged for developers are the big issues in Los Angeles. The Build Better LA initiative fails to address these issues.”

 Close, who endorses the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, is a respected voice for intelligent development in the Valley. He helped lead efforts to save Sherman Oaks from a massive “community redevelopment” plan and misguided developer-backed projects aimed at paving over one of LA's most livable neighborhoods.

 Close added that the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative heading for the March ballot is a carefully written citizen movement to reform City Hall while allowing healthy development and construction jobs to flower. “The LA labor movement also should not fear the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative,” Close advised. He noted that under the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative “Most building projects in Los Angeles can be built 'by right' and won't be affected by the initiative. Labor will do fine under our initiative.”

 Richard Riordan, who has endorsed the reform-aimed Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, says BBLA “Will never produce the kind of affordable housing its backers are promising. That plan will create overdevelopment all over Los Angeles, and a lot of apartments that rent for $3,000 a month. We're seeing people displaced and homeless pushed out, and this idea just makes things worse.”

Riordan noted that any plan that hands the City Council even more power to alter the zoning of a single piece of land for a developer friend is bad news for neighborhoods fighting congestion, displacement of residents  and destruction of neighborhood character.

A key endorser of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, former Los Angeles city  planner Dick Platkin, says the amount money changing hands at Los Angeles City Hall will explode if voters approve BBLA. “In effect, the exact pay-to-play practices that have prompted the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will continue through the Build Better LA Initiative,” says Platkin. “The power of the City Council to enact parcel-levels legislative ordinances will be increased, not reduced, through the BBLA loophole.”

Platkin points to BBLA's key loophole that lets the City Council decide if developers are getting a “reasonable return on investment.” If a majority thinks a developer isn't getting rich enough, BBLA lets the city council slash the promised affordable housing.

The City Council and mayor have accepted $6 million in campaign donations from the real estate industry since 2000, creating a clear conflict of interest.

Platkin warns of BBLA: “Thanks to the lack of any precise threshold of profitability, the non-existent standards of financial evidence, the missing formal review process, and the failure to hold public hearings and appeals on developers’ requests for the City Council to waive affordable housing requirements on a project-by-project level, this loophole well deserves the title, “The Backroom Bonanza Initiative.”

Endorsers of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative are attached to this press release.

Labor groups and others backing Build Better LA say they want to increase the city's affordable housing supply – by encouraging luxury developments that tower over neighborhoods zoned only for low-rise buildings.

But the BBLA measure is misguided, giving far too much new power to the city council to help developers get around zoning rules, destroy neighborhood character, and ignore the limits of local infrastructure — including roads, water mains and safety services that can't handle the proposed major new density.

BBLA is swimming against a popular tide. From the Los Angeles Times to veteran lawmaker Zev Yaroslavsky, who led a popular 1980s slow-growth initiative, the momentum to fix the broken City Hall planning system and give residents more say  is growing – and it is being led by the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.

Unlike the BBLA measure, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative ends the controversial LA City Council practice of granting exceptions, special favors and exemptions to let developers get around the rules.


(John Schwada is a former investigative reporter for Fox 11 in Los Angeles, the LA Times and the late Herald Examiner and is the Communications Director for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. He is a contributor to CityWatch. His consulting firm is MediaFix Associates.)


Get The News In Your Email Inbox Mondays & Thursdays