October 12, 2016 The Code Solution

Neighborhood Integrity Initiative And Proposition JJJ Will Do More Harm Than Good If They Pass

Image courtesy of L.A. Times

It’s a two sided debate that continues to spark conversations and protests surrounding development in Los Angeles and its effect on rental costs, affordable housing, LA’s planning process, construction wages, and the like.

These are all important issues to tackle. However, opponents to these anti-development ballots have voiced concerns that they are not going to solve the issues proponents have set out to address. In fact, many opponents argue that these ballots would actually make it harder to develop affordable housing, which is already harder than it was in the past.

Read on to learn more about the ballots and their proposed effects on real estate development.

Build Better LA Initiative

Also known as Proposition JJJ, the Build Better LA Initiative seeks to prevent the city council from authorizing any changes to current zoning codes and would also place a two year moratorium on most large-scale construction projects in LA. According to Curbed LA:

“If approved, the measure would require developers to include affordable housing units in large projects for which they seek special permission to skirt zoning codes or to build beyond density and height restrictions. It would also require that 30 percent of construction workers on these projects be hired locally, and that 10 percent be from areas where the median income is under $40,000. Or, developers could avoid the affordable housing rule altogether by electing to pay a fee instead.”

There are many apparent issues that the “pro-development affordable housing ballot measure”  would cause, rather than solve. First, it is not going to do anything to help solve homelessness. As mentioned before, it’s going to make it harder to develop affordable housing. Second, just a few weeks ago, the measure’s proponents gathered outside of the Medici apartments in protest of the apartment complex’s developer Geoff Palmer. There’s no denying that a developer of his grandeur is able to afford the proposed fee. Therefore, it continues the cycle of big-time and sometimes controversial developers getting past the red tape with the available funds that small time developers find impossible to match. Lastly, the measure claims to be pro-development since it is largely in response to the anti-development Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, when it would cause the very opposite effect.

In a letter sent by the LABC to the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, to formally state their opposition to BBLA, the LABC expressed why they believe this measure is the wrong approach for the City of Los Angeles.

“We are concerned these new mandates would deter future housing development in Los Angeles, a result which would be counterproductive to the goals that BBLA seeks to achieve – more affordable housing development and much-needed, high-paying jobs for the local workforce. Perhaps most importantly, we believe the coalition who developed this initiative should have obtained the input of market-rate, affordable housing developers early in the process, because of their extensive experience developing here in Los Angeles and awareness of some of the biggest challenges to developing housing for middle- and lower-income Angelenos.”

The Build Better LA Initiative will be on the November 2016 Ballot.

Neighborhood Integrity Initiative

Another measure that is causing a major divide between developers and NIMBYs is the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative (NII). The measure positions itself as being about preserving Los Angeles from the dangers of over-development, but what it would really do is freeze all development in the city for the next two years on any projects that require a zoning change, and permanently prohibit any projects that require amendments to L.A.’s General Plan.

According to Shane Phillips of Better Institutions:

“Opponents, like myself, argue that passage of the NII will be a catastrophe for the future of the city: New housing is the only thing keeping rents from growing even faster, and anti-development advocates are making a grievous error when they view new luxury housing as a cause of rising prices, rather than a symptom of them. It will throw the baby out with the bathwater, leaving us with fewer low-income units and more expensive housing for every other resident of LA. Opponents also view the NII as a fundamentally pessimistic initiative—one which essentially asserts that Los Angeles’ best days are long-since past.”

Yes, housing costs are insane and only getting worse. However, instead of halting development on projects that require a zone change or amendment to the General Plan, what we need is to lower the market rate for housing by making it more abundant, rather than subsidizing a few units for the very poor at the expense of every new unit we build and calling it affordable housing. Also, in case you didn’t know, zoning variances are used for a number of other things that we enjoy every day, such as restaurants with valet parking.

The only point backers and opponents can agree upon is the fact the city’s planning code is outdated. Unfortunately, it isn’t likely that the General Plan will be revised until 2026.

On a more positive note, resistance to the measure appears to be growing in recent months. According to Curbed LA, “The CPLANJ (Coalition to Protect LA Neighborhoods and Jobs), which formed in opposition to the initiative, raised more than $720,000 in the second quarter of 2016. Last week, a coalition of homeless advocates including the leaders of Skid Row Housing Trust, United Way of Los Angeles, and the Downtown Women’s Center released a statement formally opposing the measure on the grounds that its moratorium on development would worsen the city’s growing homelessness crisis.”

Also, a recent poll funded by NII opponents found that only 37 percent of prospective voters say they are in favor of the measure, 44 percent oppose it, and 19 percent are currently undecided. For now, we will have to wait until March 2017 when the measure goes to a vote.


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