Activists submit signatures for ballot measure to stop LA development

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Outraged by a severe shortage of housing in Los Angeles and “mega developments” that “overwhelm streets” and “destroy neighborhood character,” a group of activists said Wednesday it submitted enough signatures to place on the March ballot an initiative to freeze large construction projects citywide.

If news about the signatures sounds familiar, it’s because the Coalition to Preserve LA, the initiative’s backers, has dragged this out. In March, the coalition announced that rather than floating the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative in November 2016 as originally planned, it would wait to try to get it on the ballot in March 2017. Then, last week, it said it had collected enough signatures, but was giving the mayor an ultimatum before submitting them.

The coalition did not reach a deal with the mayor, so here we are.

Among its demands were that the city fast-track a new general plan and that developers not be allowed to meet in private with city officials. The Los Angeles Business Journalreports that Mayor Eric Garrett was actually in “agreement with many of the views expressed by initiative backers. But the only concrete proposal he offered—notifying the public of closed-door meetings between developers/lobbyists and city officials—did not go nearly far enough to satisfy initiative backers.”

The coalition was asking for changes less extreme than the initiative itself, which would impose a two year moratorium on most major development projects. It says elected officials are allowing too many developers to build projects that are bigger than zoning codes allow.

One of its biggest complaints is that too much luxury housing and not enough affordable housing is being built. “We’re displacing people in Los Angeles [ranging] from South Central to the San Fernando Valley,” Luis Saldivar, a Hollywood United Neighborhood Council member said in a statement. “You need to plan before you build. You can’t build, build, build.”

But many planning experts say stymieing growth only further drives up the cost of housing. Research shows that adding new luxury units to the housing supply actually frees up more affordable units already on the market. According to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, in a housing shortage, for example, affluent tenants choose to live in places historically occupied by lower-income households, which means there’s less housing available for the lower-income households.

As Venice Beach-based political columnist Conor Friedersdorf put it, “Restrictive zoning keeps rents high or, in a city experiencing significant population growth, raises them. That’s supply and demand.”

It’s up to the City Clerk’s office to verify the nearly 104,000 signatures submitted by the coalition. It needs 62,000 to qualify for the ballot.

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