Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Pro and Anti- Advocates Go Head-to-Head on Neighborhood Integrity Initiative

Pico Neighborhood Council Board Members listen to presentations on the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative at last night’s meeting

It’s starting to look like the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative – which proposes a 2-year moratorium on development projects that would require a zone change – will be a sure thing for the spring 2017 city election ballot. So we’re guessing that we’re going to be seeing an increasing number of local head-to-head forums in which the pro and con sides debate the measure and the issues it raises.

One of the first of these local forums took place last night at the monthly meeting of the Pico Neighborhood Council (representing neighborhoods just south and west of the usual Buzz territory, between Olympic and Venice Blvds., and Mansfield Ave. and La Cienega Blvd.).

Jill Stewart, head of the Coalition to Preserve L.A., which is the major group promoting the NII, and Mark Edwards, representing the Coalition to Protect L.A. Neighborhoods and Jobs, which opposes the measure, were each given about 10 minutes last night to present their major points for and against the NII.

Stewart, who spoke first, said the Initiative grew out of what she called the City Council’s “quiet” vote, in 2005, not to update the City’s General Plan as required by the City Charter.  Stewart said that vote was taken with little or no public notice or input, and constitutes a “dereliction of duty.” Without the required updates, she said, there can be no effective planning or “intelligent” development.  She also contended that, as a consequence of now-ineffective planning rules, developers often trade large contributions to city representatives’ pet projects for private meetings and good will for their own projects.

Stewart said the NII attempts to reduce developers’ influence on the City planning process by requiring the city, not developers (as it stands now), to select the consultants who write Environmental Impact Reports for proposed projects.  Also, it would force the city, during the proposed moratorium, to update its General Plan and Community Plans. And it would require an end to private meetings between city representatives and developers, in favor of meetings open to the community, and taking place on evenings and weekends, in the communities where the developments would be located.  This would make it easier for concerned residents to attend those meetings. (Currently, most city hearings on development applications take place at City Hall, during regular business hours, which can make it hard for people with other jobs to attend.)

Finally, Stewart contended that current planning practices have lead to a “glut” of luxury housing, with many buildings at least 30% vacant for several years, while the city loses about 1,000 rent stabilized units every year to new development.  She said that opponents’ contention that new luxury units will somehow cause a “trickle down” effect, making remaining older buildings more affordable as their residents move up the housing ladder to newer developments, is false.  “This is a terrible way to run a city,” she said.  And City officials just “want to have their dessert before their vegetables” by focusing on building new luxury units before more affordable options.

Edwards, who spoke after Stewart at last night’s meeting, began his remarks by saying “I’m not here to defend the city planning process,” and agreed with Stewart that it is indeed “broken.” That said, however, Edwards added that he and his group – which represents a long list of social service and homeless advocacy groups, as well as a number of people involved in Neighborhood Councils and other grass roots groups – oppose the proposed NII because it “goes too far.”

Edwards’ main argument was that a “one size fits all” approach to city planning – in a city with 96 different neighborhood councils, each representing unique communities and concerns – just won’t work.  He also argued that while the population is growing, and we definitely need more affordable and workforce housing, affordable housing creation is a “tricky commodity,” and generally doesn’t come from developers – it comes from federally funded programs, which have been scarce in recent years. Which means tighter rules for developers wouldn’t have an impact.  Edwards also noted that public funding for affordable housing may also be coming back soon, to help with that issue.

In addition, said Edwards, the creation of so many new luxury units in the last few years doesn’t result in a “trickle down” of affordability in older units; it’s more like the “secondary market” in car sales.  Many people, including himself, he said, don’t buy new cars because they’re very expensive.  But they have happily driven used cars for many years, or a lifetime, because those vehicles become more affordable as they age.  And that is what he says will happen with the city’s housing stock, as wealthier residents move out of older buildings into newer, more expensive ones — the older buildings will become more affordable as time goes on.

Edwards contended that the NII would not create more affordable housing, as Stewart implied, and would simply “stop housing from being built for a very long time”…at the very time we need to increase the overall number of available units, and especially density along new transit corridors.

Finally, Edwards said the NII was created mostly by people involved with development issues in Hollywood, and without wider input from the city’s other neighborhoods, which have different issues and concerns. So any proposed legislation, he said, should take those diverse needs into account, too.  “Let’s work together on alternatives,” he concluded.

As the March election draws closer (and probably after the distractions of the current fall election season), it’s likely we’ll see more and more  – and more and more passionate, on both sides – discussions of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative at our local Neighborhood Councils and elsewhere.  We’ll keep covering the issue as it develops.


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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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