Last week, the so-called “Coalition to Preserve LA” submitted signatures to place an initiative on the city ballot in March 2017 that would put a two year moratorium on building projects that require a zoning change, and permanently ban any projects that require amendments to the city’s General Plan. An LA Weekly story called the milestone the beginning of “L.A.’s Great Development Debate of 2017.” But even that generic headline is too generous for the bizarre backstory and inexplicable funding that are propping up the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. March of 2017 seems a long way off in the face of the daunting November ballot that Angelenos will face, but the damaging potential of this initiative is too important to go unnoticed. This may be the first time we are covering this initiative, but it will certainly not be the last.
On its surface, the initiative seems relatively straightforward: require developers to follow the rules of the city’s General Plan, without exception. Unfortunately, that’s where the simplicity ends. Scratch just a little below the surface and it becomes abundantly clear that this initiative is, to put it as nicely possible, wrongheaded in its motivation, and ham-fisted in its application.
Let’s put aside the fact that this initiative seems to be solely motivated by Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and his crusade against the proposed Palladium Residences planned to rise across the street from his high-rise Hollywood office building. (Some have suggested his main concern is that the new development will block the view from his 21st floor office.)
Let’s put aside the hypocrisy of a man who works in a highrise building opposing additional highrise development in the same neighborhood, and then having the arrogance to call that position “Integrity.”
Let’s put aside the fact that the organizers of the initiative went election shopping, moving the initiative to the March ballot in the hopes that lower voter turnout would help their chances.
And let’s put aside the fact that over 96% of the funding for the initiative (at least $1.02 million to date) has come from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, whose mission is “to rid the world of AIDS through a network of pharmacies, thrift stores, healthcare contracts and other strategic partnerships.” (An admirable goal, no doubt, but how mangling Los Angeles planning regulations furthers that mission, I have no idea.)
As troubling as all those things are, that’s not even the worst part about the initiative.
The single worst part of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is that it is simply terrible public policy. It is a punitive action, intended to punish city officials and developers. Los Angeles’s planning system is broken. It’s painfully out of date, and even the mayor has acknowledged the problem. But that old and broken system means that to get almost anything built in this city, such as the housing our city desperately needs, zoning changes, or general plan amendments, or exemptions, are required.
Rather than propose a productive solution to the problem, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative would throw salt in the wound, and eliminate that flexibility altogether, freezing the outdated system in place with potentially dire consequences. Many expect passage of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative would make L.A.’s housing affordability crisis even worse. Despite proponents’ claims that they are concerned about the affordability crisis, and the last minute addition of an exemption for projects that offer 100% affordable housing, affordable housing and homeless advocates remain opposed.
So, no, this is not a “debate” of different visions for the future of Los Angeles. This is about people who would cripple the system to satisfy their own anger, rather than provide productive input on how to improve it. The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is the "Donald Trump of ballot initiatives," all bluster and fear-mongering, backed by policy proposals that would be nothing short of disastrous.