From his office on the 21st floor of a Hollywood skyscraper, one powerful man looked out the window and saw cranes, construction sites and new buildings rising from the ground below. He didn't like what he saw. The result is Measure S, a slow-growth, anti-development initiative on the March 7 ballot that could transform Los Angeles for decades to come.
The man is Michael Weinstein, who heads the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, an enormous, tax-exempt nonprofit that runs clinics and pharmacies that serve hundreds of thousands of patients worldwide. The foundation has helped prevent the spread of HIV. It has saved innumerable lives by providing care and medicine to people with HIV and AIDS. And Weinstein has been a fierce advocate for his clients for 30 years.
Which is why it's so puzzling that Weinstein is using his nonprofit and the money it brings in to bankroll Measure S, a deceptive and draconian ballot initiative on city land-use policy that has absolutely nothing to do with healthcare. It's especially frustrating because Measure S — which is superficially appealing to some voters because it claims to be about displacement and protecting neighborhoods — would in fact worsen L.A's severe housing crisis and put a target on the backs of renters — hurting the very people Weinstein claims he wants to help.
The foundation has spent $4.6 million on the initiative. That's nearly 99% of the money the campaign for Measure S has received, according to a Times analysis. The nonprofit's money has paid for the "Yes on S" billboards around town that lambast City Hall and "greedy developers" as well as for mailers that flat-out lie about what the measure would do. (FYI: The initiative would not help house homeless veterans. It would not stop evictions. And it would not protect affordable housing.)
The mission of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation — a not-for-profit with tax-exempt status — is to provide "hospice and health care services to AIDS, HIV and other patients, and engaging in related educational activities." How does a two-year construction moratorium in Los Angeles serve that mission? Weinstein has said the foundation has a history of waging "social justice battles." Perhaps. Those battles include the unsuccessful ballot initiative last year to require that actors in adult films wear condoms. But the AIDS Healthcare Foundation has never been a significant voice advocating for more affordable housing and homeless housing in L.A. Nor has the group played a role in planning and land-use issues — at least not until a developer proposed building two 30-story towers right next to Weinstein's office.
The Palladium Residences would be a 731-apartment development a block from a subway stop, near existing high-rises. The buildings would rise on what is currently a parking lot — demolishing no existing apartments — and would preserve the historic Palladium theater below. Weinstein, in an interview with LA Weekly last year, bemoaned the project as too dense and said: "So yeah, I have a bird's-eye view of all the crap." The AIDS Healthcare Foundation first sued to block the project and then drafted Measure S.
Weinstein says he is against building "gleaming, luxury housing towers." But Measure S is not a ban on luxury construction. It is a broad-brush moratorium that would stop all kinds of projects — modest apartments and homeless housing as well as million-dollar condos.
Measure S would make it virtually impossible for developers to build badly needed housing on parking lots, vacant city properties or underutilized strip malls. If it passes, real estate investors likely will begin demolishing existing residential properties instead, which will result in a loss of rent-stabilized apartments to make way for larger, more expensive units, causing more evictions and more displacement.
How is this social justice? How is this helping AIDS patients? And most important, why should a nonprofit dedicated to healthcare be the driving force behind a significant land-use policy change in Los Angeles — especially when its irresponsible, excessively broad proposal will exacerbate the city's severe housing crisis?