No on Proposition U

We agree with the general goals of Los Angeles City Proposition U. It would wipe the planning slate as clean as it can get in a city of 3 million people and give Los Angeles a fighting chance of mixing business with the pleasures of neighborhood living in ways that will allow it to grow gracefully.

But we are troubled by the concept of broad-brush planning through the initiative process. And because Proposition U has already achieved most of what its sponsors wanted--with the election still six days away--we urge a no vote on Nov. 4 on Proposition U.

What qualifying the initiative for the ballot has done is to stampede the Los Angeles City Council into passing an ordinance that would protect neighborhoods from the sudden appearance of high-rise buildings on 85% of the land that would be affected by Proposition U.

The ordinance is more flexible than it would be if it were imposed on the Council in next Tuesday's election. That is both good news and bad news. In theory, it would make it easier to adjust to changing growth patterns by allowing, after careful study, for some commercial construction that would otherwise be forbidden under either Proposition U or the city's new ordinance. The bad news is that with the council's record of rolling out red carpets for developers, it might slide back into its old bad habits.

We think the prudent course is to go for flexibility. The threat of another initiative should keep the council from backsliding. If not, the city could, and should, go for a second initiative, more carefully drafted to provide the flexibility that obviously will be required as Los Angeles grows.

Proposition U is not a complicated plan, and that is its most serious problem. Land zoned for commercial and industrial use in Los Angeles is divided into four categories that impose density limits on a rising scale, with the lowest in areas still dominated by residential neighborhoods and the highest in areas like downtown Los Angeles, Westwood and in the area around Los Angeles International Airport.

On commercial property in areas that are still largely residential neighborhoods, a builder can--without any special permits--put up a building according to a formula. The limit allows three times as many square feet of floor space as the size of the lot on which it is built. Proposition U cuts that limit in half. The way the limit has worked in the past, a builder who uses only one-half of his lot could build a six-story building. In the future, the maximum would be three stories.

The Proposition's strength lies among neighborhood groups in which high-rise buildings have appeared virtually out of the blue, along with the traffic and noise that go unavoidably with commercial activity.

The initiative would not freeze Los Angeles into the present pattern forever. But it is not clear just how much legal wrangling would be required to make changes that ought to be made to keep up with the needs of a changing city. Those uncertainties warrant a no vote on Proposition U.

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