The Green Party supports livable urban environments with affordable housing, mass transit, schools, jobs, health care, public spaces, bicycle and walking paths, community gardens, open spaces, parks, playgrounds, and urban growth boundaries. Too often this type of urban development has not occurred, for a variety of reasons, some recent, some that go back decades. The question is what to do about it today.
The Green Party of Los Angeles County (GPLAC) shares the frustrations that many people have about development in the City of Los Angeles, particularly regarding displacement of residents, spot zoning for developers, environmental impacts, gentrification and loss of neighborhood and community character.
However, the GPLAC opposes Measure S on the March 7, 2017 ballot – officially titled “Building Moratorium / Restriction on General Plan amendments / Required Review of General Plan. Initiative Ordinance” (and sometimes called the "Neighborhood Integrity Initiative") – because the GPLAC believes Measure S will exacerbate these problems, rather than solve them. The GPLAC also believes Measure S simultaneously fails to address the structural problems around per capita representation in Los Angeles City elections that might actually give residents more voice in local development questions.
The GPLAC recognizes that some Los Angeles residents support Measure S out of desperation to stop spiraling rents, evictions, development, and traffic. Some also hope that Measure S's two-year building moratorium may give them a chance to stay in their homes.
The GPLAC shares opposition to spot zoning generally, and specifically supports Measure S's mandate to update the General Plan and neighborhood plans.
However, there are several problems with Measure S, particularly around affordable housing and transit-oriented development, that make it fatally flawed:
1. Its moratorium doesn't necessarily prevent evictions and displacement, which affect our Green Party Key Values of social justice and respect for diversity (www.cagreens.org/ten-key-values ).
Evictions from rent-controlled units in California (other than those by cause) are primary governed by state law, through the 1985 passage of the Ellis Act, which allows property owners to permanently remove units from the rental market. The Green Party of California has long opposed the Ellis Act and calls for its overturning. (www.cagreens.org/platform/housing ).
However Measure S would have no direct impact on stopping evictions due to the Ellis Act. A property owner will continue to have the right to evict under Ellis. Measure S places a moratorium on development that requires a general plan change or variance. Most, not all, or these type of developments don’t take out rent controlled units. Prohibiting these big projects could provide developers greater incentive to target projects on land that they can develop by-right, which is likely to have more rent controlled units.
Additionally during the moratorium period, instead of selling an apartment building to a new developer, who arguably would tear down and rebuild on-site at a greater scale and density, an existing landlord could alternatively simply convert existing units to higher-end condominiums – which would still displace existing tenants, while converting comparatively affordable rental units into higher-end ownership units.
2. Its moratorium prevents new affordable housing unless an entire project is 100% affordable, which also affects our Green Party Key Values of social justice and respect for diversity (www.cagreens.org/ten-key-values ).
Owing to high and rising land prices combined with limited available public subsidies, 100% affordable projects are rare and difficult to finance – and may be even more so under the new presidential administration. The reality is that most new affordable housing units occur part of mixed-use and mixed-rate projects, through inclusionary housing policies and/or via development agreements. Measure S would prevent this.
At the same time, only allowing 100% affordable projects also increases income and class segregation.
The underlying housing problem that Los Angeles and many cities in California face, is that not enough affordable housing has been built for decades to keep pace with need and demand, that there are no requirements that developers provide displaced renters with equivalent housing at comparable rent at a nearby location, and that many jobs and housing are located far from each other (jobs/housing imbalance), forcing workers to commute long distances, increasing cost, traffic and air pollution.
The Green Party supports more in-fill housing that's affordable and close to employment and transit, by preventing urban sprawl and promoting more sustainable, ecologically-oriented in-fill development; and lamentably Measure S does more to prevent that than facilitate this – and by preventing more affordable housing from being built, this only increases the cost of housing and makes it more difficult for those of low and moderate income to live in the city.
Among affordable projects threatened by Measure S even include up to 11 out of 12 affordable housing projects for homeless persons planned in response to funding approved by county voters in Measure HHH this past November (which the GPLAC supported).
Measure S supporters could argue that while this may be true in the short term during the mandated moratorium, that better neighborhood plans and a better city-wide General Plan overall could carefully consider how to include such positive urban infill. The GPLAC shares this hope, but does not believe that Measure S is necessarily going to bring that about, because while Measure S would require that Los Angeles's 35 community plans (and the Port and Airport District Plans) be updated, there is no guarantee that the single community input meeting mandated by Measure S will lead to this.
Rather, the concerns in Measure S's preamble and findings about big money influencing Los Angeles elected officials remains untouched by Measure S. By contrast, the GPLAC believes that to reduce the costs of being elected to the Los Angeles City Council, to bring about better per-capita representation in city development policy and to increase the influence of Neighborhood Councils, that the size of the Los Angeles City Council should be substantially increased ( http://losangeles.cagreens.org/issues/los-angeles-city-council-size ) and that ranked-choice voting be used to elect the Councilmembers (http://losangeles.cagreens.org/issues/los-angeles-elections-ranked-choic... ).
The GPLAC believes that ballot measures advancing these structural changes to the Los Angeles' structural democratic deficit would go a longer-way towards having more community-responsive public policy than the approach contained in Measure S.
3. Measure S permanently limits the ability of the City Planning Commission to approve reduced on-site parking requirements in favor of remote off-site parking or transportation alternatives, which affects our Green Party Key values of social justice and future focus/sustainability (www.cagreens.org/ten-key-values ).
At a time when most urban planners, environmentalists and climate change activists agree that high parking requirements favor automobile-dependance over pedestrian, bicycle and and public-transit oriented development, Measure S would put limits on what should be a flexible planning tool – i.e. the ability to reduce off-street parking requirements – into the City Charter, potentially locking the City into out-dated and ill-fated ratios and concepts.
Higher parking requirements drive up the cost of all housing projects -- and particularly make financing of affordable projects even more difficult by adding unnecessary cost to provide parking, that could instead be used to subsidize affordability. Simultaneously these higher parking requirements raise rents and compel those who are either too poor to afford a car and/or who simply choose to live without one, to pay for parking they can not use.
All of this doesn't even address that the near-future advent of driverless cars, which may fundamentally change how we deal with automobiles and parking, making putting parking requirements into the City Charter patently absurd.
At the same time, the GPLAC agrees that in the best-case scenarios, reduced parking requirements should be part of the General Plan and Community Plans, that good planning would obviate the need for most exceptions to these requirements, and that exceptions to these requirements to require even less off-street be done on a careful site-by-site basis.
However Measure S contains language stating ”Under no circumstances may the required on-site parking be reduced by more than one-third (including by remote off- site parking) from the number of spaces otherwise required to be provided by any other applicable provisions of the Los Angeles Municipal Code.”
The GPLAC does not believe such language belongs in the City Charter as a permanent part of City Planning. Had such a limitation in flexibility been only for the duration of the moratorium, an argument could be made for it being acceptable until new Community Plans were enacted – although it may still have threatened affordable housing projects for the homeless and others in the short term. But to make such a limitation a permanent part of the City Charter goes beyond reason.
4. Measure S is also a one-size-fits all measure that fails to account for the size and diversity of the City of Los Angeles.
Much of Measure S's inspiration has come as way of opposing out-of-scale luxury developments that truly impune local quality of life and do little to address issues of affordability and livabilty. But while such concerns are present in some neighborhoods, in other neighborhoods the aforementioned affordability issues are what is prevalent.
In many cities there are already tools to oppose such individual out-of-scale projects – the referendum. However the use of referendum is difficult to use in the City of Los Angeles because it requires gathering a large number of signatures relative to the size of the city-wide vote for Mayor, necessitating signatures and interest from residents far outside of the given Council district. Given the size and population of Los Angeles, this would be equivalent to requiring a referendum in Beverly Hills, for example. to obtain signatures and interest from people as far away as Hermosa Beach and Glendale. (http://clerk.lacity.org/sites/g/files/wph606/f/lacityp_023253.pdf ).
The GPLAC believes that Charter Reform that would allow referenda by Council district (requiring fewer signatures and only in-district interest) would be far favorable to a city-wide moratorium that would lead to less affordable housing being built.
The GPLAC strongly agrees with the sponsors of Measure S that the failure of the City of Los Angeles to update its General and Community Plans on timely basis – and to replace that practice with spot-zoning that is often out of character with the surrounding community – is a deeply negative practice that must stop.
Instead of addressing the structural democratic deficit in the City of Los Angeles that leads to high-priced, mostly uncompetitive elections in City Council districts that are far too large and populous to be representative and democratic, and instead of addressing the viability of basic democracy checks-and-balance tools like the use of referendum (by lowering the signature-gathering requirements by making referenda a product of districts rather than city-wide), Measure S is a blunt instrument that would prevent desperately needed affordable housing from being built in the near term, while guaranteeing nothing about the future ecological orientation and affordability of new development.
Lamentably the energy behind Measure S could and should have been used to enact those structural changes to the lack of democracy in the City of Los Angeles. Instead it threatens to only make many existing problems in the City worse. For all of these reasons, the GPLAC opposes Measure S and urges a 'no' vote.