The debate over a proposed ballot initiative to limit commercial development in Los Angeles erupted in a spate of charges Wednesday from opponents claiming that the measure is a “political ploy” and supporters arguing that it is needed to save a strangled city.
In back-to-back news conferences, both sides clashed over the initiative that would seek to reduce the development potential of roughly 75% of the city’s future commercial properties--if it qualifies for the Nov. 4 ballot.
“This, in essence, takes and down-zones 100,000 pieces of property without any consideration to those properties under the California Environmental Quality Act, without any rhyme or reason,” said Richard Wirth, executive director of the Governmental Affairs Council of the Building Industry Assn. of Southern California.
Wirth called the aim of limiting building density a “meat-ax” plan, and William Robertson, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, joined him in warning that the consequences of the initiative would cost thousands of jobs and millions of dollars.
“We feel that this initiative is flawed, and we’re going to muster all the forces we can in opposition to this initiative,” said Robertson, who called the measure a “political ploy” designed to further the mayoral ambitions of Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky.
Yaroslavsky, who along with Councilman Marvin Braude is sponsoring the initiative, scoffed at charges that his motives are political. He told reporters that the petition grew out of legitimate concerns about overcrowding and overbuilding in the face of fierce opposition from organized labor and developers.
“At every turn, those two organizations--the building industry association and the trade unions--have fought us, have fought us strongly and effectively,” Yaroslavsky said. “And it’s for that reason among others that we have to go through an initiative route--an extraordinary route--to get the legislation that should have been done by the City Council a long time ago.”
Braude said that the initiative would not halt development.
“Our initiative is not a no-growth thrust,” Braude said. “It says building is fine in its proper place but not (by) . . . having commercial development around neighborhoods that will (increase) congestion and strangle the neighborhood.”
Under the initiative--which needs 69,516 signatures to qualify--zoning designations would change, restricting new commercial construction to only half the present permissible density over 75% of the city. The effect, supporters say, would be to channel high-rise construction into the commercial centers of the city--such as the downtown business district or the Wilshire Corridor--and away from residential neighborhoods.
“I think Los Angeles is at a crossroads. I think that the very concept of neighborhood life styles, as we know it, is at stake,” said Councilman Joel Wachs, who came out for the initiative Wednesday along with colleagues Joy Picus and Michael Woo.
Councilman David Cunningham, however, opposed the plan and said it reflected an “elitist” attitude by Yaroslavsky and others, who Cunningham said are merely protecting a few affluent residents concerned about encroaching development.
“My good friend is insensitive or unaware of a vast part of the city that would love to have the Westwood problems,” Cunningham said. “They would love to have the traffic congestion of people who want to get to an office center or a boutique shopping center. They would be ecstatic.”
Although Yaroslavsky dismissed the elitist argument as a “smokescreen,” Coy Sallis, a homeowner in South-Central Los Angeles, said he also was concerned that the new plan would curtail needed development in predominantly black neighborhoods. “They don’t need more growth on Westwood Boulevard but we need more growth on Adams Boulevard,” he said.
In what is shaping up as an expensive campaign, both sides said Wednesday that they have hired political consultants. Supporters of the initiative, who have formed the “Citizens for a Livable Los Angeles” committee, have retained Jackie Brainard and the firm of Berman & D’Agostino Campaigns Inc. to manage the circulation of petitions. Initiative opponents have hired the firm of Winner, Taylor & Associates to run their campaign.