With election day one week away, voters in Los Angeles are being bombarded with mailers, calls and social media messages about Measure S, a slow-growth, anti-development ballot measure. Political campaigns are often an exercise in exaggeration, but the Yes on S side has crossed the line from run-of-the-mill overstatement to out-and-out falsehood.
Here are some doozies.
One deceptive mailer says Yes on S will "house our vets." But Measure S does nothing to help homeless veterans. In fact, "S" would make it harder to build housing for homeless vets because it would impose a two-year moratorium on real estate projects that require a zone change, a height increase or an amendment of the city's General Plan — all fairly common requests in a city with terribly outdated planning rules. For instance, Measure S would block a proposed development in Little Tokyo that includes apartments for homeless veterans and low-income families because the project requires a zone change. That's why virtually every nonprofit group that works on homelessness and affordable housing opposes Measure S.
Another mailer claims Measure S "will protect existing rent-controlled housing from developers who want to tear down perfectly good affordable units to make room for their luxury housing projects." Wrong again. An analysis by the Los Angeles Times found that the vast majority — more than 90% — of rent-controlled apartments removed from the market in the last four years did not require zone changes, height increases or General Plan amendments. Therefore they would not have been stopped by Measure S.
Actually, Measure S is likely to increase evictions and the loss of rent-controlled housing. Why? Because the measure would bar the land-use changes needed to convert a parking lot, a defunct public building or a strip mall into housing — all projects that would add housing units without requiring the loss of existing units. If Measure S passes, real estate investors probably would target residential properties that do not need such exemptions, meaning more demolitions of small, often rent-stabilized apartments, more evictions and more displacement. Exactly the opposite of what Measure S proponents promise.
And then there's the preposterous "eviction notice" that the pro-S campaign sent out last week. The mailer is crafted to look like an eviction notice, with the heading "County of Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Court Services Division" and the words "THIS COULD BE YOU OR A LOVED ONE." On the back, the mailer calls on voters to back Measure S. On Friday county attorneys sent a cease and desist letter, warning the campaign that it was using the Sheriff's Department name "for your own personal purposes in a manner that is misleading to the public."
Again, Measure S does not address evictions. The word "evictions" does not appear in the initiative. Nor does the initiative mention the Ellis Act, the state law that allows evictions when a property owner is going out of the rental business.
There are other examples of the "Yes" campaign taking quotes out of context to imply support when none is there. The campaign, for instance, sent a mailer with Mayor Eric Garcetti's face plastered on it and the words "I agree" in quotes. True, Garcetti has agreed with the need to reform the city's land-use system, but he is a vocal opponent of Measure S.
The campaign has also sent out numerous mailers that snip lines from Los Angeles Times editorials criticizing the city's broken land-use process. But the mailers are misleading because they leave out the fact that The Times has consistently criticized the initiative ever since it was proposed in November 2015. Why has The Times opposed it? Because a moratorium on construction could cause serious harm in a city that has an affordable housing crisis and isn't building enough units to meet the needs of current and future residents.
We're not naive about the nature of political campaigns. They can be ugly. The No on Measure S campaign recently sent out a mailer attacking the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is bankrolling Measure S, for abusing taxpayer money with few facts to back the allegation. But the Yes on S campaign has been positively Trumpian in its promises. Be warned: If the initiative is passed, they won't come true.