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L.A. Weekly managing editor tapped to head campaign against real estate 'mega projects'

A Hollywood-based nonprofit group seeking a crackdown on real estate "mega projects" announced Wednesday that a Los Angeles newspaper editor has been tapped to head up its campaign.

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said L.A. Weekly managing editor Jill Stewart was leaving her post to become campaign director for the Coalition to Preserve L.A. That group, which includes the foundation, has drafted a ballot measure to limit the city's ability to change planning and zoning rules for major real estate projects.

The coalition must gather 61,486 signatures to qualify its measure for the ballot. Weinstein, who wants the measure to reach voters in the Nov. 8 election, said he was "delighted" to have Stewart running the coalition.

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“Stewart brings tremendous expertise and institutional knowledge as well as keen political acumen to the table," said Weinstein, who is also a leader of the coalition.

The Los Angeles city clerk's office informed a lawyer for the foundation on Monday that it may begin circulating petitions. Foundation spokesman Ged Kenslea said the AIDS nonprofit will provide the primary funding for the coalition's campaign committee, which will in turn pay Stewart.

A former Los Angeles Times reporter, Stewart has worked at L.A. Weekly since 2006, serving first as news editor and later as managing editor. She was a political columnist before that, writing for New Times, Buzz magazine and other publications.

In a statement, Stewart said she decided to leave L.A. Weekly after thinking for a long time about "the nature of a meaningful life."

"I am incredibly proud to be joining a group that is fighting for community and a sense of place, without which this vast and wonderful city would be unlivable," she said.

The foundation's announcement comes as business, labor and affordable housing groups have been meeting to discuss ways of countering the ballot proposal.

Some contend that the measure, if passed, would make it more difficult for L.A. to provide homes for the needy. Robin Hughes, president of the nonprofit Abode Communities, said her organization regularly asks for zoning changes or amendments to the city’s general plan, a document that guides development, when it builds housing for low-income families and formerly homeless people.

“We have projects in our pipeline that, under these proposed changes, we would not be able to build,” she said. “So this would affect the city’s ability to address the overall housing affordability crisis.”

Stewart, who starts her new job next month, argued that zoning changes and other special approvals are fueling land speculation that, in turn, drives up rents. She said the upcoming campaign would communicate that message across the city.

“The idea is to get as many people aware of what the initiative says, especially people who have already been in battles against City Hall and understand what they’re up against,” she said.

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Mayor Eric Garcetti said earlier this week that he was looking to meet with the foundation leaders to discuss a compromise that would avert a ballot fight. Meanwhile, Weinstein said the AIDS nonprofit was preparing to put up five billboards criticizing development in Hollywood later this month.

Those billboards will show an image of a skyscraper-filled skyline and the message "Stop Manhattanwood.com."

"This is not part of the official campaign" to promote the ballot measure, he said in an email. "This relates specifically to [the foundation's] objections to Hollywood mega developments."

Stewart is not the first L.A. Weekly staffer to work closely with the foundation. The nonprofit has also hired former Weekly staff writer Patrick Range McDonald on a consulting basis to write a book about the foundation, Kenslea said.

Follow @DavidZahniser for what's happening at Los Angeles City Hall.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

1:11 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from Jill Stewart and additional details.

12:50 p.m.: This article was updated with comment from a group that is critical of the proposed ballot measure.

This article was first posted at 12:15 p.m.

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