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Nothing less than L.A.'s future hangs in the balance in Tuesday's election

Nothing less than L.A.'s future hangs in the balance in Tuesday's election
Workers counting ballots at the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk main office on Nov. 17, 2016. (Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles voters, look beyond the mailers, the phone calls and the barrage of confusing and misleading campaign propaganda, and see Tuesday’s election primary for what it truly is: A referendum on whether and how to address the conflicting tensions caused by growth and poverty.

In many ways, it’s a continuation of the debate from last November’s election about the region’s future. County voters gave a resounding thumbs up to Measure M, dedicating billions of sales tax dollars to mass transit improvements that could reshape how the area develops — if policymakers concentrate development along transit corridors. And city voters overwhelmingly backed both Measure JJJ, to require affordable housing in developments that seek exemptions from land-use rules, and Measure HHH, a $1.2-billion bond measure to build housing for the homeless, addressing a crisis that has metastasized before our eyes.

But HHH put just one piece of the puzzle in place. It can’t work as intended unless the L.A. County finds the money to fund the services needed to support homeless people as they move from the streets into new housing units. County voters now have the chance to fill that gap by supporting Measure H, a countywide quarter-cent sales tax to fund the supportive services — mental health counseling and drug rehabilitation, for example — that are essential to keeping people off the streets.

Homelessness is just one ramification of the city's dysfunctional approach to housing. Los Angeles has consistently built less housing than needed, creating a shortage that has driven up prices. One in three renters now spends more than half his or her income on rent, leaving little money for food, healthcare, education or savings. Will voters worsen the crisis by supporting Measure S, which would block new development? Or will they reject the false narrative of the measure and allow much-needed housing to be built, replacing parking lots, vacant public buildings and strip malls?

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The concerns over growth, development and housing have permeated the races for the City Council as well. In northeast Los Angeles, incumbent Gil Cedillo faces a strong challenger in Josef Bray-Ali, who has tapped into residents' concerns that new development will drive gentrification and displacement, and that the city is not doing enough to protect existing communities. Likewise, candidates running against incumbent Curren Price worry that new real estate investment in the neighborhoods south of downtown won't benefit longtime residents.

And in coastal and west Los Angeles, critics of Councilman Mike Bonin argue that new housing will worsen already bad traffic — even if the housing is built right next to an Expo Line station. Yet the latter is exactly what's needed to ensure the success of Measure M, which will double the size of the region's rail network and increase funding for buses, bike lanes and other projects to get people out of their cars. These are steps in the transformation of Los Angeles from low-rise, car-dependent suburbia into a more urban, walkable and, yes, affordable city. Measure S and the backlash against development would make it harder for Los Angeles to evolve. And what doesn't evolve dies.

Click here for a full list of The Times' endorsements for the March 7 election.

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