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Conflicting ballot initiatives target development issues

LOS ANGELES — A battle of ballot initiatives — one seeking to limit development in Los Angeles and the other seeking to provide initiatives for developers to provide more affordable housing — are shaping up in the next year.

Proponents of the ballot initiative that would create more affordable housing units near transit hubs submitted nearly 100,000 signatures to the Los Angeles city clerk May 16 in a bid to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

The Build Better L.A. initiative needs 61,487 signatures from registered voters in order to qualify for the ballot. The signatures on the submitted petitions will now undergo verification by the city clerk’s office.

Proponents say the initiative calls for incentives for developers to build more affordable residential units near transit hubs and would require a percentage of the units that require amendments to existing zoning and planning rules to be affordable.

The initiative would also establish local hire rules, which include standards for wages and working conditions.

Los Angeles County Federation of Labor Executive Secretary-Treasurer Rusty Hicks, who formed the Build Better L.A. coalition, said proponents are “grateful to the nearly 100,000 Angelenos who signed and have faith that our city can do better.”

“The voters in Los Angeles will soon not only get the opportunity to vote on the future of our country, but they will vote on an initiative that brings housing people can actually afford and good, local jobs they could rely on,” Hicks said at a press conference in front of City Hall May 16.

Critics of the measure said it would lead to more developments that require exceptions to be made to existing zoning rules that limit the height and density of projects.

Supporters of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative stage a rally in Venice earlier this month. The group wants to place a measure on the March 2017 ballot that would prevent the city from changing neighborhood zoning rules regarding height and density for individual projects. (Courtesy photo)
Supporters of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative stage a rally in Venice earlier this month. The group wants to place a measure on the March 2017 ballot that would prevent the city from changing neighborhood zoning rules regarding height and density for individual projects.
(Courtesy photo)

Backers of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative — which is proposed for the March 2017 ballot — said in a statement that the Build Better L.A. measure “will boost gridlock and hasten demolitions in rent-stabilized communities, all while accelerating L.A.’s price-gouging luxury housing craze.”

“The Build Better L.A. measure will fuel the city’s development frenzy,” said veteran Westwood community leader Sandy Brown, who is backing the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.

“The situation is bad enough now,” Brown said. “But if this measure passes, we’ll have a nightmare on our hands. No neighborhood will be safe.”

But proponents of the Build Better L.A. measure said the region needs more affordable housing and their initiative is the best way to get it.

“Build Better L.A. is crucial to move L.A. in the right direction,” said Laura Raymond, campaign director for Alliance for Community Transit-Los Angeles and a member of the Build Better L.A. Coalition. “Too many residents are getting priced out of their homes, and too many are struggling to find a good job. This is an issue that impacts all Angelenos from every corner of our city.”

Former Mayor Richard Riordan, who supports the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, said the Build Better L.A. measure will not produce the kind of affordable housing its backers say it will.

“That plan will create overdevelopment all over Los Angeles, and a lot of apartments that rent for $3,000 a month,” Riordan said. “We’re seeing people displaced and homeless pushed out, and this idea just makes things worse.”

Riordan said that any plan that hands the City Council even more power to alter the zoning of a single piece of land for a developer friend is bad news for neighborhoods fighting congestion, displacement of residents and destruction of neighborhood character.

But union members say the city needs more affordable housing so workers can live closer to where the jobs are.

“Growing up in L.A., I always assumed that I would continue to live and raise my family here,” said Lyn Landers, a sheet metal worker with SMART Sheet Metal Local Union 105. “But with the way rents have skyrocketed, I had no choice but to move away from the city that I called my home. Build Better L.A. will give me and other hard-working people the opportunity to find affordable homes close to work,”

But backers of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative say that loopholes in the Build Better L.A. measure make it too easy to slash the affordable housing component of the measure.

Former Los Angeles City Planner Dick Platkin said the loophole that lets the City Council decide if developers are getting a “reasonable return on investment.” If a majority thinks a developer isn’t getting rich enough, the measure lets the City Council slash the promised affordable housing.

“The City Council and mayor have accepted $6 million in campaign donations from the real estate industry since 2000, creating a clear conflict of interest,” Platkin said.