In the 100-plus neighborhoods that make up Los Angeles, one common thread is the pride residents feel for their block, their local shops and their community. In well-run cities, neighbors have a clear voice in shaping their community's future. But not in poorly run, badly planned L.A.
Instead, in closed-door meetings, Los Angeles City Council members and real estate developers cut “density” deals that ignore local zoning in order to erect huge, inappropriate development. The outsized projects destroy neighborhood character, badly increase congestion, wipe out longtime affordable rentals and send land prices sky-high.
Like the zoning corruption scandals that racked L.A. in the 1960s, these backroom “elegant density” deals are presented to communities as all-but-done deals, and city officials make small concessions to calm local outrage.
This “spot rezoning,” parcel by parcel, is not good planning or planning at all. Areas swamped by spot rezoning and heavy new density have insufficient infrastructure to handle it.
And who is all this building for?
By some estimates, the mostly luxury new development is aimed at households earning $160,000 or more. L.A.'s gentrification on behalf of 3 percenters is pushing out the middle-class and badly exacerbating the city's homelessness tragedy.
What happens if you don't live in a “hot” area targeted by these private deals, but your community needs shops and businesses? Your area could be waiting for those upgrades for decades.
On the November ballot, L.A. voters will be asked to approve the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. The Coalition to Preserve L.A., chief sponsor of the initiative, wants to create a two-year timeout that forces the City Council to come up with a workable plan for a livable Los Angeles.
The measure enacts two crucial provisions:
The first is a two-year timeout on mega-developments and outsized projects, denying all new projects in which developers try to get around existing zoning.
Under this two-year moratorium, developers and construction crews will still be extremely busy — they must merely obey existing zoning rules, which in L.A. allow for millions of square feet of development. But no tall towers in areas zoned for three stories, no massive boxes rising on blocks zoned for small businesses.
The second key provision of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative forces the Los Angeles City Council to do something it seems to dislike — hard work.
The City Council will be required, during the two-year timeout, to write a comprehensive General Plan for L.A.'s growth — a zoning Bible to replace the city's 1980s-era General Plan.
Once the City Council is forced to come up with a citywide plan, residents will know exactly what is allowed — no more ugly surprises or the traffic that goes with it. Residents will play a key role during this two-year period, both in crafting the new citywide General Plan and watchdogging the politicians.
And the politicians do need watchdogging.
City Hall has embraced the dubious urban renewal theory that more crowded, dense communities result in less congestion and a better life. This theory has brought Los Angeles far worse congestion and destroyed neighborhood character.
The poster child is Hollywood, which Mayor Eric Garcetti has called the “blueprint” for all of Los Angeles, now crammed with $4,000-per-month condos, pricey late-night bars and garish billboards. Hollywood does have less of one thing: thousands of decent working-class residents have been pushed out of their homes.
As managing editor of L.A. Weekly, I assigned and edited a 2013 story headlined “Hollywood's Urban Cleansing.” In it, we reported that incessant “spot rezoning” by the City Council had set off a land-flipping frenzy, driving up the land values and attracting developers with plans for massive luxury projects.
As the U.S. Census showed, Hollywood lost some 12,000 people between 2000 and 2010. City Hall says these mostly Latino residents moved to greener pastures. In fact, they were forced out by skyrocketing rents and the 3 percenters.
The same is now unfolding in hyper-hot Downtown. The poor are being forced from their humble housing onto the streets — homelessness is spiking.
The Coalition to Preserve L.A. is underwritten, in large part, by AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a $1 billion non-profit whose legions of doctors and nurses currently care for more than 550,000 HIV/AIDs patients in more than 30 countries. AHF also takes on social justice and fairness issues unrelated to AIDS, and in the U.S. it is currently sponsoring ballot measures that aim to remove the Confederate flag from the Mississippi state flag, and to lower pharmaceutical costs in Ohio.
Not a dime intended for AIDS patients is spent on the organization's ballot campaigns — AHF raises its own political funds to tackle these issues in which it believes.
Now, they have set their sights on the soft corruption that is destroying neighborhood character, creating outrageous congestion, wiping out precious housing and feeding L.A.'s shameful spike in homelessness.
Jill Stewart, the managing editor of LA Weekly, is stepping down in early February to become campaign director of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.
Established in August of 2008 by writer, artist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.