L.A.’s Poor and Minorities Also Have a Big Stake In Controlling City’s Development

<i> Rob Glushon is a Los Angeles city commissioner on the Environmental Quality Board and for the past two years served as its president. He is an attorney in Century City and formerly served as a deputy to Councilman Braude. </i>

During the course of recent public debate over the future of development and growth in Los Angeles, a new ideology has emerged that poses a dangerous threat to peace and harmony among our diverse ethnic and economic populations.

In an effort to defuse the growing public sentiment against coastal oil drilling, overdevelopment, traffic congestion and pollution, some pro-growth leaders are attempting to portray the broader issue of environmental quality as a battle between wealthy white neighborhood activists and minorities who need economic opportunity.

Proponents of this misplaced view claim that the quality-of-life issue is championed only by “elitist” residents of the Westside and San Fernando Valley. The facts show otherwise, and demonstrate that the call to City Hall for stronger environmental controls comes from every community--minority and lower-income neighborhoods included.


This year’s election of Ruth Galanter and Nate Holden to the City Council has correctly been attributed to public dissatisfaction with existing city environmental policies. The voters who elected them include ethnic minorities, middle-class and lower-income residents who were fed up with development and zoning decisions that adversely affected their neighborhoods and quality of life. In opposing Occidental Petroleum Corp.’s attempt to drill for oil in the Pacific Palisades, Holden emphasized that poor people are also entitled to clean beaches.

Mayor Tom Bradley’s withdrawal of support for the LANCER trash incineration project reflects the organized opposition of South-Central residents who steadfastly refused to be guinea pigs when city officials could not adequately assure them that air-pollutant emissions from the plant would not pose a threat to their health.

The opposition by residents of Echo Park, Silverlake and other central-city communities to the construction of the Angeles Oil Pipeline, which would allow the refinement of 300,000 barrels of highly toxic crude oil per day, leading to additional air pollution in Los Angeles, is another example of the environmental militancy among people in middle-class, minority and lower-income areas of the city.

Yet another example is the prolonged fight for environmental review on a proposed prison site in East Los Angeles. Led by Councilwoman Gloria Molina, Eastside residents have rightfully insisted that the same environmental considerations that are routinely required in other communities be implemented in theirs.

Still, the best example of widespread public support for stronger environmental controls is the overwhelming voter mandate last year for Proposition U, which placed reasonable growth restrictions on commercial overdevelopment. Support for growth controls came from every area of the city, including those communities that need economic opportunity the most.

In the predominantly minority and lower-income 9th District, represented by Councilman Gilbert Lindsay, 72% supported the growth-control initiative. In the 10th District, now represented by Holden (who in April beat the mayor’s candidate), the vote in support was 71%. In the 8th District, represented by Councilman Robert Farrell, 68% voted in support. In the 13th District, represented by Councilman Mike Woo, 71% of the voters were in support.


These percentages compare favorably with the 72% of voter support in the 11th District, represented by Councilman Marvin Braude, who co-authored Proposition U with Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky. The fact that this initiative was overwhelmingly supported in every City Council district reveals the lack of merit in the argument that “slow growth” is anti-minority, anti-poor and anti-economic opportunity.

As was the case with demands for property tax relief, which led to Proposition 13, the public’s vehement discontent with overdevelopment, traffic congestion and the deterioration of our environmental quality is a direct result of the failure of government to respond to such problems.

The politicians and lobbyists who are trying to attack the slow-growth movement as a “class war” are more than just wrong. They espouse a viewpoint that is irresponsible and dangerous; it is nothing more than an attempt to manipulate people into racial and economic conflict to serve pecuniary interests. Moreover, this ideology is an insult to the residents of minority and lower-income neighborhoods who are equally entitled to uncongested streets, unpolluted water and air and environmental quality.

Reasonable minds may differ on the future development of Los Angeles. But we must not let the proponents of overdevelopment use this issue to promote class warfare, neighborhood divisiveness and racial tension to further selfish political and economic interests.