Commentary: Many say the start of Measure S, known as the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, began in the Hollywood Hills where it was birthed as a political idea amongst the most privileged and wealthiest. This is notable given that the initiative seeks to put a moratorium on all General Plan amendments and zoning code variances, effectively shutting down development throughout the city. After all, it is most beneficial to the wealthy who already have a guaranteed spot to live and work in the city, including Michael Weinstein, abusing his post heading the world’s largest AIDS nonprofit to further agendas that maintain his car-centric, big-driveway LA lifestyle, and ultimately protect his skyline view of the Hollywood sign.
But contrary to its conception, the most important measure facing Los Angeles voters on March 7 found its success not through the preacher’s pulpit atop the ivory tower, but in areas far more vulnerable and far less privileged. Measure S which puts not just a moratorium on development, but a hold on lives, jobs, affordable housing, small business, and the entire economy of the city, garnered true traction when, first and foremost, it started to feel like a good idea amongst those who will be most affected by its consequences. Measure S became powerful when people began to accept its cynical take on a very legitimate frustration—development can lead to gentrification, rent hikes, and displacement—and dismissed that it was created not ethically but for enormously selfish reasons.
Measure S explained in less than 2 minutes
The wealthy behind Measure S’s campaign largely tout about how new development increases rents and displaces poor folks through “mass evictions and landlord trickery,” according to Jill Stewart, a former LA Weekly editor and one of the leaders behind the campaign.
Stewart even points to the endorsement of Measure S by the LA Tenants Union, with one of its 29-year-old members, Uver Santa Cruz, saying his neighborhood is “being overtaken by development that is extreme, and nobody is as involved in challenging this as [Measure S] is. We’ve been overrun—and nobody has had the strength or the ability to get political control over this bad land-use and extreme overdevelopment.”
That concern is legitimate. The fears over Los Angeles becoming too tall, too dense, the number of rent controlled units dwindling, and the erasure of some of its most diverse neighborhoods are feelings that no one can dismiss, particularly given the fact that low-income communities, especially those of color, have seen a disproportionate exclusion from entire planning processes—including affordable housing developments. Given this historical exclusion and emotional investment, many might feel good about voting for the measure, to preserve their neighborhood and culture.
The dark irony is that the marginalized will be the first to lose their neighborhood should the measure go through because the most important aspect of Measure S is its 2-year moratorium mentioned above and its permanent ban on General Plan amendments for developments less than 15 acres in size—meaning the majority of developments in the city since the vast majority fall under that size.
This opens all projects to lawsuits, given Section 7(B)2 of Measure S reads:
Before issuing a permit of any of kind, the City official responsible for its issuance must find that the proposed permit is consistent with the General Plan Land Use Designation, all applicable zoning code provisions, all project conditions, and determine that no significant changes have been made to the project as originally approved that would require any new discretionary review by a City decision maker.
Currently, by-right projects are permitted under their current zoning and do not require any legislative action to move forward, leaving project opponents with no easy way to sue—unless Measure S is passed. Essentially, projects that never had to face litigation before, specifically by-right projects, are now open for attack.
“Suing on-building permits has been something of a holy grail for petitioner’s attorneys for many years,” said Mott Smith, principal at Civic Enterprise Associates and professor at USC. “Measure S finally gives them this: a way to sue in order to stop any project at all. Because building permits now require findings, and the standard is that the building permit be consistent will all application code provisions, it will allow opponents to challenge absolutely anything in court, using delay tactics to bankrupt even true by-right projects.”
Los Angeles County would have had to build 1,055,310 housing units over the past thirty years in order to keep pace with housing costs nationwide.
Even more, the “development boom” that Measure S supporters say has reached critical mass actually hasn’t happened. According to Abundant Housing LA, 87% of all housing in Los Angeles was built before 1990 and our current decade will mark the smallest number of housing units built in our recorded history.
Additionally, per the California LAO, Los Angeles County would have had to build 1,055,310 housing units over the past thirty years in order to keep pace with housing costs nationwide—nearly triple the amount that San Francisco would have had to build. Being that LA is the largest city in the entire state and that we are behind on building homes, the need is dire. When you have an essential commodity like housing become rare, only those on the higher end of the economic spectrum will be able to have it. This is precisely why rents are skyrocketing: without new homes for the wealthier and middle-class to live, previous Class B and Class C apartments are being freed up for those who need more affordable units. Thus, real estate becomes luxurious even in previously affordable neighborhoods.
The current lack of housing is also connected to our lack of affordable housing: cuts in annual federal and state funding, including the elimination of redevelopment agencies, have reduced our county’s investment in affordable housing production and preservation by more than $440M annually since 2008, a 62% reduction.
Measure S would kill plans for over 19,000 new housing units amidst the largest housing shortage, of which 1,300 are affordable units in DTLA. This should not go unnoticed given 270,000 homes in Los Angeles are severely rent burdened, meaning at least half of their income goes toward rent
“Measure S would kill about 7,000 construction jobs a year, with at least 2,000 of those being apprentice-level positions,” said Anne-Marie Otley of the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building & Construction Trades Council. “Our apprenticeships are open to all who are willing and interested but more importantly, we have goals for hiring from certain groups… Measure S is especially harmful because it targets only projects within the city of Los Angeles—and it’s precisely those projects which are getting a lot of local people hired on the job. So if those projects can’t be built, a resident of LA is doubly penalized. They lose the job that has been targeted for them.”
The “certain groups” Otley’s organization serves? We’re talking veterans, residents from underserved areas with higher-than-average unemployment, the long-term unemployed, single parents, formerly incarcerated folks, and youth recently emancipated from foster care who have no family connections to land a job.
Otley’s assertions about job loss are backed: an economic analysis of Measure S’s impact by Beacon Economics notes that the construction industry in LA acts a “double bulwark against recession,” by providing entry-level jobs to those who need them most while creating housing in the city that is in desperate need—and over the course of a decade, would result in $6.4 billion in lost wages on construction jobs alone.
“Our apprenticeships last from three to five years,” Otley said. “Once accepted, the apprentice spends time in the classroom each week, at the training center of his/her trade. Unlike unpaid internships, our on-the-job training is paid. On every job site, you will find one to two apprentices for every three to five full ‘journeyman’ members. That way, we assure that apprentices really are learning and they’re paid wages and provided benefits. By the time they’re done with apprenticeship, [wages heighten], they graduate, and become journeymen.”
For the Trades Council, the projects that Measure S would annihilate are essential to building an inclusive workforce and giving those jobs to those who need it most.
Above housing being thwarted, above our most marginalized denizens being even more marginalized, above the loss of jobs, money, and opportunity, sits something much more sinister: a nihilistic view of LA’s future. What Measure S really says is that LA isn’t beautiful and worthy, that our efforts at expanding public transit are futile, that our efforts at creating more roofs that need them most is faulty, that our belief in progressing is one that shouldn’t be celebrated.
This law, if enacted, turns the belief that our city’s best years are behind us into something tangible—and there is nothing more nefarious than the belief that we can’t be a better city, a better neighbor, and better humans.
*Banner Image of Construction Workers in Los Angeles. || Photo: David McNew / Getty Images
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