Riordan Endorses Neighborhood Integrity Ballot Measure That Would Put Brakes On City Deals With Developers

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW--The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative targeted for the November ballot picked up an endorsement from former mayor and top philanthropist Richard Riordan on Thursday. The initiative would place a citywide two-year moratorium on projects that attempt to circumvent existing land zoning in Los Angeles. 

Riordan has expressed disapproval with Mayor Garcetti’s policies. “If a person moved to the city now and heard Eric Garcetti talk, they’d assume he’s a member of the Tea Party,” the former mayor shared. “He isn’t doing anything for the poor but helping the rich get richer – through these zoning deals on land development.” 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, sponsored by the Coalition to Preserve LA (CPLA) would prevent spot zoning by individual city council members that paves the way for developers to bypass existing zoning laws to build taller, denser buildings across the city on land zoned for less dense development. 

Should the initiative make the November ballot, stakes would be high. In attempt to address rising rents in Los Angeles, Garcetti has promised to add 100,000 housing units by 2021. A second piece of Garcetti’s plan is to place housing within proximity of rail and bus lines to encourage mass transit. 

On the other side, supporters of CPLA and the Neighborhood Integrity Commission argue that mega-development adds to street traffic and has a negative impact on both neighborhood character and livability with developers cutting deals to build larger structures than the city’s infrastructure can handle. 

Riordan cautions against placing too much zoning control in the hands of single council members. “That person is being lobbied by the developers and getting campaign money or campaign promises and this just has to end,” he warns. (Photo right: So-called Palladium Project that prompted the ballot measure.) 

The former mayor also questions the impact of positioning developments near bus, rail, and subway lines, noting that traffic congestion surrounding “elegant developments” near mass transit has worsened rather than improved. “You’re going to have more and more traffic around these over-developments,” he adds. “You cannot put in expensive condos and rental units and hope to attract people who will use public transportation. You will have two cars in each family.” 

The issue of affordable housing is crucial as LA moves forward. Tying development to encourage residents to use mass transit is an ambitious plan but spot zoning is unlikely to be the panacea. As Riordan predicts, the working class and poor will continue to be driven out, a historically prevalent outcome of gentrification. “Los Angeles is not a fast-growing city and it won’t grow all that much in the future but it’s going to switch to wealthier people under current policies,” Riordan observes. “It’s like San Francisco – a lot of wealthier people and a lot fewer minorities.” 

Riordan reflects on his own record as mayor. “When I was mayor, we prevented people from taking industrial land and turning it into high-rises because we still needed factories and manufacturing – for the good jobs it provides to the working class in LA.” 

He believes the moratorium to end land flipping and spot-rezoning is necessary to stop the net loss of existing, older affordable housing units in LA and he challenges Garcetti to define affordable housing. 

“It has zero to do with housing the homeless. It has to do with creating solidly middle and upper-middle class condos that area $4,000 a month,” he concludes. “Garcetti’s affordable housing will probably go for close to $3,000. So I want him to define it because the working poor in L.A., without question, can’t afford City Hall’s ‘affordable housing.’” 

Changing the landscape of affordable housing in Los Angeles, as in cities across the country, is complicated. Developers are more likely to build multi-unit projects that will capture rents that the market will bear. If we don’t curtail the power of individual city council members to assist developers in bypassing zoning restrictions, we aren’t likely to see that landscape change. We need to address the affordable housing issue in Los Angeles. Paving the way for developers to work around existing restrictions is not the way to do it.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and CityWatch contributor.)

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 29, 2016