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Thu, Jun

Secret Meeting Alert … Is LA’s City Council Trying to End-Run Thousands of Neighborhood Integrity Initiative Petition Signers?

LOS ANGELES

VOICE OF THE PEOPLE-Friday, September 30, the LA City Council will convene to either place the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 7, 2017 ballot — or immediately adopt this citizen initiative word-for word, as required by law. 

Since the measure is an historic and fundamental reform of a City Council that has grown transfixed by cutting multimillion-dollar backroom real estate deals, we'll be at City Hall with a careful eye to possible political mischief aimed at keeping it off the ballot. 

“We” is the Coalition to Preserve LA, which has had a good month despite a bizarre opposition campaign, funded by three global billionaires, one from Australia and one from Miami, who had hoped to convince voters that we somehow plan to end rent control and “halt all development,” and other absurd conspiracy theories.

(Note: On Friday the Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to place the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 7, 2017 ballot. Read that update here.)  

Ironic, then, to see the City Council schedule yet another backroom meeting for Friday, an “executive session,” to discuss possibly suing our movement. Such a bone-headed action would serve to further anger residents sick of surface street gridlock, destruction of neighborhood character, displacement of the working class and poor, and Wild West gentrification fueled by land speculators and skyscraper flippers. 

More likely, the City Council is not going to make such a mistake, and is merely holding yet another illegal backroom meeting, an “executive session” where no litigation is seriously discussed (the City Council is allowed to meet as a full body in private only to discuss lawsuits, nothing else). 

It's far more likely that any “executive session” held Friday will simply be another Brown Act violation, an illegal meeting at which much hand-wringing unfolds among City Council members concerning “what to do about” the tens of thousands of LA residents who say their communities are being paved over to provide skyrocketing profits to developers. 

The Coalition to Preserve LA will be just outside their door, to watchdog things — people like Jay Beeber, the folk hero who got rid of LA's hated red-light cameras. This San Fernando Valley resident proved that City Hall was lying when it said that the universally hated $465 red light camera tickets were reducing accidents. That was a lie. Beeber proved it — not one of the city's 50,000 municipal employees — by delving into the accident data itself. 

Also present on Friday will be attorney Grace Yoo, who has stared down well-connected political forces in Koreatown, where the pressure is on from City Hall to wipe out affordable neighborhoods because luxury skyscrapers are “inevitable.” The developer of one proposed 27-story edifice has already destroyed several affordable rentals and will wipe out even more if the City Council votes to approve his utterly illegal plan. 

This lack of planning — top city officials openly admit that their “customer” is developers, not city residents — has brought us predictable results: a steep vacancy rate of about 15% in all luxury housing built in the past 10 years, and skyrocketing homelessness fed by the loss of 22,000 affordable rent-stabilized rental units since 2000, now demolished or converted to condos. 

And endless gridlock on streets that cannot absorb the giant glass boxes marching across Los Angeles. 

It's no wonder that volunteers who support the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative hail from the Westside, Eastside, South LA, Wilshire District, Hollywood, West Adams, East and West Valley, San Pedro, Westchester, Northeast LA and scores of other communities. 

Naturally, I will be there on Friday, having been accused by our three billionaire opponents of personally promoting a “housing ban” — yet another conspiracy theory by the anti-campaign, which cannot beat us on the merits next March, and so has resorted to ridiculousness. 

Earlier this week, in an exchange on the NextDoor social media messaging system, I explained to West Valley residents that the busy U.S. Post Office in Woodland Hills is set for destruction. But even worse, after months of backdoor meetings with key City Council members, the developers had announced plans to build a massive 335-unit luxury housing project just a stone's throw from the 101 Freeway. In the works for a long time, this distinctly awful development was finally being sprung on the unpleasantly surprised neighborhood.

What makes freeway-adjacent housing bad development? We call them “Black Lung Lofts” at the Coalition, based on an LA Weekly cover story several years ago that delved into USC's landmark Children's Health Study into thousands of children who lived within two blocks of a freeway, or about 500 to 550 feet. USC researchers definitively showed that children's still-developing lungs (they develop until age 18) suffered high levels of permanent lung damage. 

The suffering and millions of dollars in medical care due to Black Lung Lofts will be vast, but at least we know about the threat to children now, and we can stop jamming children into housing within two blocks of freeways. 

But the City Council won't stop. Children suffering from millions of dollars in health damages must be weighed against their desires to run for higher office, after all. 

In Los Angeles, by the time a bad development like the Post Office luxury rental blob is unveiled to the neighbors, the deal has been cut in City Hall backroom meetings, the political palms greased. By the time such a project is publicly announced, the developer is all but assured a huge profit by being allowed to ignore the zoning to build as big as he wants. 

Our measure puts an end to these backroom deals, in which City Council members get rolled by developers, time and again — and LA residents suffer for it. 

But far more important than the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative's timeout on City Council backroom deals is the work we force them to proactively undertake. Our citizen intiative forces the City Council to, in essence, eat its vegetables rather than grab for the dessert: Come up with an actual General Plan — an integrated and interwoven plan for LA's parks, streets, sewers, housing, open space, safety services. 

That is actually the City Council's core job, to write one every five years. Yet it is a job they have refused to do since 2005, when they very quietly voted never to have to write another General Plan for Los Angeles.

True story: Members of our Coalition found the one-page document in which the City Council — the nation's highest-paid City Council with salaries of $189,041 a year — relieved itself of its fundamental duty of writing a General Plan. One City Hall elected official insisted to me recently that, “We had to do suspend writing a General Plan because it was during the Recession, and we had to put planning aside” to cope with other troubles. 

Interesting, how lying works — or doesn't work quite as well, lately — at City Hall. After all, the Recession was not yet upon us in 2005. In fact. 2005 saw a booming economy and an LA development frenzy similar to the one unfolding today. 

But City Hall elected leaders love their dessert — high-end wining and dining by the developers and their lobbyists — and hate eating their vegetables. Nobody is going to hand $100,000 to an LA politician's favorite charity or pet project because that Council member finally decided to lead an update of LA's cracking ancient water mains, or an effort to identify the water source that's going to feed City Hall's thirsty skyscrapers. 

So we'll be there on Friday, as the Los Angeles City Council undertakes a required, and some say historic, vote. To put a citizen initiative on the ballot measure that lets LA residents fix a broken system at City Hall.

(Jill Stewart, a former journalist,  is campaign director for the Coalition to Preserve LA, sponsor of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.)

-cw

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