Uncaring Council Forced Proposition U

Laura M. Lake is an adjunct assistant professor of environmental science and engineering at UCLA. Barbara S . Blinderman is a land-use attorney in private practice. They are co-founders of Not Yet New York, a citywide organization that deals with land-use decisions

The Los Angeles City Council has betrayed the public trust so many times that it is difficult to keep score.

Each betrayal is cold, calculated and a disaster for our people. The net result of much of this back-room dealing is that communities are ignored, trust in government erodes, beaches become polluted, the air becomes unbreathable and traffic gridlock continues.

Not surprisingly, the council's hubris has triggered a dramatic response: Proposition U, the Reasonable Limits Initiative. Authored by two council members who do care, Marvin Braude and Zev Yaroslavsky, this ballot measure would reduce by half the allowable size of most of the commercial development in Los Angeles.

Yet Proposition U is not a "no-growth" initiative. It allows for plenty of future development. If the five findings required for a variance can be made by the city, then a developer can seek higher density. But variances require notice and public hearings, and the developer must prove that added density will serve the public good.

Proposition U easily qualified for the November ballot with more than 105,000 signatures. These petitioners were sending two messages: The public is impatient with a council that totally ignores its needs, and concern for the quality of life and overdevelopment has reached crisis proportions.

Rather than acquiescing to the will of the electorate, the council, led by President Pat Russell, has tried to undermine the measure by drafting an alternative ordinance that exempts much of the property that Proposition U would control. These actions were taken against the advice of the city attorney. Instead, the council relied on a legal defense of its action from the firm of Latham and Watkins, whose clients are often developers. The public did not elect Latham and Watkins to advise the council or to draft ordinances for us.

The latest maneuver to rezone 56,000 parcels in one day of hearings was temporarily thwarted by the realization Tuesday that, in their haste, the harried Planning Department staff failed to publish the hearing notice in time. Chalk one up for due process, thanks to the city attorney. Prepare for new outrages.

Opponents like to say that the initiative was undertaken as a response to affluent residents of the West-side and the San Fernando Valley who are upset by development in their neighborhoods.

Do not believe that for one moment. Community and environmental leaders from throughout Los Angeles stand firmly behind Proposition U. Each community has its own character and seeks to preserve what it values from the threat of overdevelopment and/or gentrification through redevelopment. And, with few exceptions, each community has suffered the same fate: The Planning Department staff and the Planning Commission may recommend a reasonable proposal, only to have the council overturn those decisions.

Because of this constant betrayal by the council, Proposition U is now a necessity.

Los Angeles is not New York. We have the initiative process, New Yorkers do not. People in Los Angeles still care, fiercely, about the quality of life. We are proud of our city, and we are not embarrassed to show that we care about its future. We do not measure the success of a city by the number of building permits issued but by the quality of projects, air quality, usable beaches and a sense of community.

Proposition U represents a "can do" attitude that the people of this city will do what's necessary to protect communities and conserve the quality of life.

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