Here’s Why That Big Anti-Development Ballot Measure Could Be So Dangerous For Los Angeles

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Zoning workarounds are a necessity today

Much hoopla has been made over developers scoring amendments to zoning guidelines in order to build structures that are taller and denser than what’s actually allowed. While on the surface it appears the city is doing favors for large developers, that theory may be misguided, as amendments are the only way to navigate LA’s 20-year-old General Plan. The city plan is considered pretty outdated, as it does not account for LA’s unprecedented housing crunch and the necessity of increased density. Banning zoning amendments could keep the city in development handcuffs, rendering it unable to properly expand in the face of rising housing demands. Mott Smith, principle at the Civic Enterprise design firm, argues that the initiative effectively “bans planning” by not allowing the adoption of any city plan that would alter a neighborhood’s current density or height. Passing the initiative, Smith argues, would “lock the entire city in amber as it is today.”

The initiative maintains LA’s addiction to parking

More than 200 square miles of Los Angeles are dedicated to parking, with some 18.6 million parking spaces occupying valuable land and encouraging inefficient commutes by single drivers. Zoning rules require developments to provide an astronomical amount of parking to tenants and visitors, thereby incentivizing Angelenos to drive to their destinations, increasing traffic and robbing public transportation of potential riders. LA’s recently passed Mobility Plan 2035 (which was challenged by a similar crowd) aims to pull the city out of its car culture by funding public transportation and bicycling infrastructure, but the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative would fly in the face of that progress.

The NIN contains a provision that restricts officials from reducing the amount of on-site parking required at new developments. If passed, city officials would only be allowed to reduce on-site parking by one third, stifling any future plans for denser, less car-centric developments, especially because parking is enormously expensive to provide. Saddling developers with unreasonable parking requirements all but ensures new developments remain small, favoring horizontal sprawl over vertical growth.

Limits on density economically segregate the city

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is being spearheaded by a group of activists who first gained prominence by opposing megadevelopments in the Hollywood area. They feel the development of Hollywood over the past several years is a microcosm of the rampant development in LA in general. Ideally, they would like to keep Hollywood as it is, which is to say full. By limiting growth in a neighborhood like Hollywood, housing stays in high demand, prices remain high, and economic diversity stays low.

A recent UCLA study found that restricting the density of a neighborhood increases housing prices overall, “exacerbating the concentration of affluence.” In short, it sets the price of admission for living in a neighborhood at a level only obtainable to current residents. To encourage this trend through a ballot initiative could result in the wealthy “coloniz[ing] the most central, economically functional, and desirable locations” in town. Paavo Monkkonen, author of the study, says the initiative “punishes younger people and people that are new to the city.”

The initiative needs 60,000 signatures before it can get on the ballot in November. The backers of the initiative have not said how long they expect the signature gathering will take, but hopefully it’s enough time to put this ballot measure under the microscope for further investigation.

· Doubling Down on an Unsustainable Future: Looking at L.A.’s “Neighborhood Integrity Initiative” [Streetsblog]

· Proposed Ballot Measure Seeks to ‘Preserve’ an Outdated Version of Los Angeles [Curbed LA]

· LA Mayor Garcetti Looking to Compromise with NIMBYs on Anti-Development Ballot Measure [Curbed LA]

·What Would It Look Like If All of Los Angeles’s Parking Was in One Giant Blob? [Curbed LA]

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