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Opinion

Op-Ed: Build L.A. up or slow growth down: Should you vote ‘no’ or ‘yes’ on Measure S?

Against

Cyclists should vote no on Measure S

 (Los Angeles Times)

(Los Angeles Times)

Major cities around the world — including New York, London, Paris and Tokyo — have embraced cycling to ease congestion and improve public health. Los Angeles has joined this movement in recent years and made important strides in becoming cycling-friendly.

The Los Angeles City Council approved an ambitious bicycle plan in 2011, providing a blueprint for the development of infrastructure for cyclists. Since then, the city has seen a significant expansion of bike lanes and other important features, such as physical buffers that protect cyclists from motorized traffic.

In 2015, the Mobility Plan 2035, also passed by the City Council, brought even more new bike lanes to L.A. and provided a vision for a more balanced transportation network throughout the city. That same year, Mayor Eric Garcetti signed an executive directive proclaiming L.A. part of the “Vision Zero” program, an international initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities in participating cities by 2025.

Last summer, the Metro Bike Share system opened in downtown L.A. Most recently, in November, Angelenos voted to support a permanent sales tax, Measure M, that will provide $120 billion for new transportation projects.

If passed, Measure S would slow all this progress.

There is a well-established correlation between higher-density neighborhoods and the feasibility of cycling as a mode of transportation. The closer people live to their work, the easier it is for them to bike or walk. The farther people are from work, the more likely they are to drive.

If L.A. wants to be poised for the future, it needs to be planned for people, not cars.

A growing body of research also shows that the more cyclists there are on the road, the safer it becomes for them, because motorists drive more safely when they are aware that cyclists are present. As roads become safer, more people will take up cycling. By preventing density, and therefore also cycling, Measure S would reverse this momentum.

Measure S would also solidify automobile parking requirements for new developments, undoing the benefits of L.A.’s bicycle parking ordinance, which allows for bicycle parking to substitute for automobile parking for a certain percentage of parking requirements. We’ll once again be left with too many parking spaces for cars and not enough for bikes.

In some cases, L.A. depends on fees from developers to build cycling-related features. Funds from the Wilshire Grand Center, for instance, are financing improvements to 7th Street, including new bike lanes, more visible crosswalks and raised transit platforms. Measure S would eliminate this type of assistance, putting some bike lanes on hold.

Finally, cycling is a relatively affordable way to get around and therefore accessible to people of different income levels and ages. By reducing density, Measure S increases the barriers to cycling, making it more likely that people will opt for a more costly mode of transportation.

If L.A. wants to be poised for the future, it needs to be planned for people, not cars. People who bike, people who want to bike, and all Angelenos should vote no on Measure S.

Carol Feucht is the communications director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.

Against

Los Angeles has a housing crisis. Measure S will make it worse

 (Los Angeles Times)

(Los Angeles Times)

Measure S is advertised as a radical fix to business as usual, ending cronyism between big developers and City Hall. But it will worsen, not help, our housing crisis.

In terms of our city’s land-use politics, the proposition is a continuation of the “homeowner revolution” that began 50 years ago — an attempt by homeowners to perpetuate a low-density, single-family Los Angeles, one that resembles a suburb more than a global city. 

Our housing crisis has many sources, but among the most important are the exclusionary zoning policies pushed by anti-growth advocates. A growing body of research shows that zoning itself is a major culprit in the lack of housing, particularly affordable housing. Zoning also plays no small part in the maintenance of racial and income segregation.  

The 1960s brought a national abhorrence of comprehensive planning. Although progressives were among those who pushed back against top-down policies, much of the opposition came from majority-white suburbs. Homeowners, both nationally and in L.A., did not believe growth came with any economic benefit to them, and they were therefore willing to deny growth to everyone.

More than 60% of Angelenos live on 10% of our city’s land.

As the planning historian Andrew Whittemore has shown, L.A.’s “anti-growthers” were convinced that planning for growth was the same as stimulating it. Homeowner groups fought hard, taking on an “us versus them” mentality. Though clamping down on the supply of housing would make their property values skyrocket, these groups claimed the moral high ground. They insisted that they were not getting richer by stopping growth. Rather, they were “saving our neighborhoods.” (Sound familiar?) Higher-density zoning was condemned as having no purpose but to make developers rich. The consequences for renters, particularly low-income renters, were ignored.

Over the following decades, the growth debate continued, resulting in a series of downzoning efforts, each one reducing multifamily and commercial zones to the benefit of single-family homeowners and the detriment of renters.

Today, about 58% of Los Angeles is zoned as residential, including commercial areas that allow multifamily units. This is high compared with other major cities. The real shame is that 80% of all residential land is zoned for single families. 

Correlating renters and homeowners with zoning data, the data show that more than 60% of Angelenos live on 10% of our city’s land. The dearth of land zoned for multifamily housing exacerbates our crisis by increasing rents. According to a 2014 Harvard University study, almost 60% of L.A. tenants pay more than 30% of their income on rent, and one-third of this group pays more than 50%.

We need to hold developers accountable, but we need to hold anti-growthers accountable too. Let’s insist on transparency in meetings that planning commissioners and council members hold with developers. But meetings between city officials and homeowner groups need to be equally transparent. We should move quickly to update both our general and community plans, but let’s incorporate the needs of residents who make this city work.

Jan Breidenbach is a longtime housing advocate and professor of public policy at USC.

For

New rental units cost nearly double what the average Angeleno can afford. That’s an insult, not a housing solution

A view of the downtown skyline from the room of the Barker Block loft complex in L.A.'s Arts District. (Los Angeles)

A view of the downtown skyline from the room of the Barker Block loft complex in L.A.'s Arts District. (Los Angeles)

Critics of Measure S, including Eli Broad, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Times editorial board, say that our housing crisis stems from a housing shortage and that only more building will solve the problem.

But developers build luxury and market-rate housing, which doesn’t meet L.A.’s real needs. Rental units built over the last decade require an income almost double the average Angeleno’s. That’s not a solution — it’s an insult.

Market solutions do nothing to address displacement. They treat renters’ homes — our connection to our neighborhoods, families and friends — as interchangeable units. Tenants know what new development means: When local property values rise, so do our rents. Landlords are incentivized to harass us, scam us, even evict us so that we might be replaced with higher-rent-paying tenants or profit-maximizing Airbnb units. They are also incentivized to remove rent protections completely.

The real housing crisis is displacement and a lack of affordability. It’s a crisis of ethics, not analytics. We won’t solve it with lessons from Economics 101.

The housing market doesn’t produce homes; it produces opportunities for investment. The goals of maximizing profit and making the city livable are at odds. Truly accessible housing — public and rent-stabilized housing — counteract market-made inequality.

Rental units built over the last decade require an income almost double the average Angeleno’s. That’s not a solution — it’s an insult.

Instead of public housing, we get expensive voucher programs: public subsidies to private landlords. Just 1 out of every 5 families who deserve assistance gets it. Instead of truly affordable rent-stabilized housing, we beg developers to add income-capped “affordable” units through incentives that exclude the poor and, as the city controller’s office admits, don’t even work.

Renters support Measure S not because we’re NIMBYs concerned with the aesthetics of our neighborhoods, but because we’re fighting to stay in our neighborhoods. Not because we don’t understand how markets work, but because we do. To advocate for more city-subsidized development projects or watered-down versions with bad-faith “affordability” provisions is to advocate for market solutions that we know will fail. 

Critics say Measure S goes too far. For tenants, it doesn’t go far enough. Measure S is a chance to stop more of the unaffordable new housing that accelerates displacement, a chance to buy time for tenants to organize and demand rent-stabilized and public housing. We need solutions to the housing crisis informed not by the neoliberal ideals of supply-and-demand, but by the everyday needs of real renters. Profit is not a human right. Housing is.

Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal is a member of the L.A. Tenants Union.

Against

Measure S does nothing for South Los Angeles

A homeless encampment on a South Los Angeles vacant lot that was supposed to be developed into an entertainment district, on May 27, 2016. (Los Angeles Times)

A homeless encampment on a South Los Angeles vacant lot that was supposed to be developed into an entertainment district, on May 27, 2016. (Los Angeles Times)

The signs of growth and development across much of Los Angeles — soaring cranes, new businesses, street improvements — have been slow to arrive to South Los Angeles.

Remnants of the 1992 civil unrest are still visible here, and the lack of government and private investment is part of a long-term pattern of neglect. As development slowly starts to make its way south of the 10 Freeway, residents are concerned that it won’t deliver the affordable housing and high-paying jobs that the community urgently needs and deserves.

Planning and development haven’t been kind to South L.A., and it’s easy to understand the anger and mistrust that resulted in Measure S. The proposition has raised important questions about who are the winners and losers in the city’s planning process.

But the initiative’s one-size-fits-all approach would stymie much-needed growth in underserved neighborhoods. At best, Measure S falls short of offering real solutions to build a better city. At worst, it would be catastrophic for the future of South L.A.

In our long-ignored neighborhoods, concerns about poor planning are more pressing than ruined views or lack of parking.

In our long-ignored neighborhoods, concerns about poor planning are more pressing than ruined views or lack of parking. The chronically high unemployment rate can be tied directly to a lack of strategic planning that might have lured high-paying jobs. Here, where oil is drilled next to homes and it’s easier to buy fast food than affordable produce, residents suffer from disproportionate rates of heart disease, asthma, diabetes and obesity. We have less than one acre of park space per 1,000 residents, compared with almost 200 acres per 1,000 residents in Westside neighborhoods. With little affordable housing, residents live in overcrowded conditions. The area has among the city’s highest fatality rates for people who walk and bike.

So while we do not support an initiative that co-opts the concerns of low-income communities of color, we firmly believe that the status quo is unacceptable.

The residents of South L.A. have long stepped up to fill the void left by City Hall. Community organizations have worked to demand better retail options than the proliferation of liquor stores we once had. Residents have been engaged in efforts to convert underutilized vacant lots into green spaces and to bring healthy eating options and produce stands into the area. We joined conversations to help set a vision for the long-awaited community plans for South and Southeast Los Angeles, which will update growth guidelines and build much-needed housing near transit stations.

South L.A. doesn’t need growth for growth’s sake. We need thoughtful investment that serves our residents, and representation in the planning process so that we cease to be a dumping ground for projects that other communities don’t want.

Developers shouldn’t be the only ones to benefit from construction projects. Investment in our neighborhoods should come with a promise of employment and housing for people who are being priced out of their homes. We should take advantage of growth to create pipelines to the jobs of the future, create green space and add healthy retail options that all residents can enjoy.

Here is just one example of what’s at stake. My organization, Community Coalition, recently renovated our building, which now serves as a vibrant community hub in the heart of South L.A. We intend to use this space to engage the people of South L.A. and help them get a fair share of the city’s new prosperity. If Measure S had been in place, the renovation could have been stalled or prohibited due to outdated zoning requirements for the area.

Residents of South L.A. — and all city voters — should channel their frustration with the planning process not into a vote for Measure S, but into civic participation.

Alberto Retana is the president and CEO of the Community Coalition.

For

Measure S stops developers from having their way with City Hall

Los Angeles City Hall on Nov. 30, 2011. (Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Hall on Nov. 30, 2011. (Los Angeles Times)

City Hall is handing out runaway “spot-zoning” exemptions to luxury developers to build whatever they desire, wherever they desire to build it. The result: standstill traffic, environmental damage, pay-to-play tactics and skyrocketing rents.

Measure S gives the decision-making process back to the people. It makes City Hall work for us, not for the developers, special interests and lobbyists.

As a two-term mayor of Los Angeles, I speak from a place of both experience and deep concern for our city. I know how the city works. The current political environment is rife with corruption and backroom deals servicing land speculators and luxury housing developers over the needs of citizens. If passed, Measure S will hold our elected officials accountable again.

Specifically, it will preserve neighborhoods by preventing developers from building as big as they want. It will ban developers from writing their own environmental reports, an indisputable conflict of interest. It will stop pay-to-play dealing between developers and city leaders. It will move key planning hearings out of downtown and into communities. It will set a two-year moratorium on backroom deals that ignore local zoning. And it will require the city, with input from residents, to update the languishing, decades-old collection of community plans as well as the city’s general plan, which the City Council quietly voted to stop updating in 2005.

City officials and urban planners claim we have a housing crisis. From my vantage point, they created it by fixating on the needs of global and national developers whose motives run contrary to sensible planning. City Hall has stood idly by while 22,000 affordable apartments have been lost since 2000, pushing out an estimated 60,000 people.

Despite misinformation to the contrary, voters should understand that Measure S will halt for two years only outsized projects that would ignore local zoning. It does not stop the 95% of developments that play by the rules, and it encourages developers to build 100% affordable housing.

City Hall has stood idly by while 22,000 affordable apartments have been lost since 2000, pushing out an estimated 60,000 people.

Measure S will also help to address our homeless problem. Over the last 10 years of the city’s luxury-development frenzy, Central L.A. has lost one-third of its properties for the homeless. Previously, we had more than 9,000 affordable single-room units. Today we have only 3,500. Mayor Eric Garcetti, the City Council, and greedy developers do not acknowledge that this is one of many of the detrimental consequences of breaking our planning and land-use rules.

Our population growth is moderate and manageable, at about 1.3% percent annually. But with growth comes conflicts in almost every area I can think of — traffic, jobs, environmental impacts, education and housing, among many others.

Measure S is an opportunity to decide how we as a city want to move forward. Do we want to continue allowing rule-breaking developers to do as they please? I don’t think so. Los Angeles is better than this.

Richard Riordan is the former mayor of Los Angeles.

Against

Prohibiting dense development doesn’t prevent traffic, it creates sprawl

Traffic jams the Harbor Freeway on Dec. 20, 2013. (Los Angeles Times)

Traffic jams the Harbor Freeway on Dec. 20, 2013. (Los Angeles Times)

Supporters of Measure S say it will stop mega-developments that worsen traffic. But in fact, the measure will do little to improve traffic. Congestion has many causes and possible cures, none of which are addressed or advanced by Measure S.

Traffic is growing in L.A. because the population and economy are growing. Though it is true that bigger buildings produce more traffic on nearby streets than the vacant lots and smaller buildings they replace, denser development near stores and offices lessens traffic overall.

In neighborhoods of higher density, more people walk and bike. More people also ride mass transit because service is best where density is higher. This is why California’s greenhouse gas reduction law requires each region to plan denser housing along transit-rich corridors. When people in dense communities drive, they make shorter trips, because more destinations are close by.  

Proponents of Measure S are asking to reduce traffic where they live while creating more traffic everywhere else.  

Prohibiting density does not prevent traffic. Instead, it drives new development to lower-density communities farther away from offices and stores. We call this sprawl. Though sprawl produces fewer trips per acre of development because there are fewer people and stores at each location, it produces more and longer trips in total because people and jobs are more spread out.

In other words, proponents of Measure S are asking to reduce traffic where they live while creating more traffic everywhere else.    

Measure S would reduce the city’s ability to lower the amount of parking required in new buildings, because proponents want to prevent parking on their neighborhood streets. But more parking in new buildings leads to more car trips — and more traffic.

Parking spaces, moreover, cost as much to build as bedrooms, driving up the price of each unit. In San Francisco, for example, researchers found that parking requirements undermined housing affordability. While only 6% of units were affordable in developments with parking requirements, 23% of units were affordable in those without such requirements. The estimated construction cost per dwelling was $330,666 for buildings with parking requirements, and $230,208 for those without.

Like many planners, I don’t favor spot-zoning, and like many proponents of Measure S, I think L.A.’s community plans need updating. But that can be accomplished without the harsh actions mandated by the proposition. Voters should not be fooled by specious arguments that it will reduce traffic congestion. This would require a set of measures not addressed on the ballot.

Martin Wachs is a professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering and city and regional planning at UCLA.


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