If there was a famine in California and people were starving, would we ban farmers from planting additional crops? That’s what Measure S does, but for badly-needed new homes.
Vote No on Measure S!
As an organization working for a better future for Los Angeles, LAplus is interested in good rules and in empowering more Angelenos to help shape the city. But urban policy- like medicine- needs to follow the principle- first, do no harm. In measure S, on the March 7, 2017 ballot, Los Angeles is facing a serious threat to its openness and prosperity. We wish that our kick-off blog post could explore positive visions for LA and rules to help us get there… but let’s defeat Measure S to ensure there is space for positive change.
Key points for advocacy
- LA has a severe housing shortage, Measure S would make it worse by banning thousands of affordable and market-rate homes and even blocking permanent supportive housing for the homeless on city-owned land.
- The types of developments that Measure S would block are 'low-eviction projects' because they tend to be built on parking lots or under-utilized industrial sites.
- Measure S gets in the way of LA's evolution to become a more sustainable city by stopping housing near transit, smarter use of land, and more energy efficient new buidlings.
- At a time when LA needs to resist nationalism and fear, Measure S would make it harder to make space for diverse residents.
Measure S, sponsored by a healthcare executive who has spent over $4.5million because a new building in Hollywood might block his views, would amend city rules around planning and zoning. The two key changes would be to permanently ban general plan amendments except for large sites of 15 or more acres; and place a two year moratorium on zone changes that allow bigger or taller buildings or allow more intense use of land. What does this matter? LA has many out of date plans (and even for newer plans, it’s not possible to perfectly predict what should or should not be allowed on every one of the more than half million individual pieces of land in the city). As a result, land owners often seek zone changes and/or general plan amendments for many building projects. These tools allow parking lots, abandoned auto dealerships, and run-down industrial buildings to transform into hundreds of new market rate and affordable dwellings. Measure S also makes it harder for planners to reduce the number of parking spaces required for new buildings or new businesses in existing buildings.
Why would this hurt LA?
Measure S would worsen LA’s housing crisis
Los Angeles has a severe housing crisis. One of the main causes is that not enough housing has been built in the city and region in recent decades to meet the demand from a growing population. This under-building has led to ultra-low vacancy rates that let owners charge high rents. In fact, LA is considered the best market in the nation to Own apartment buildings, because we have a shortage or rental units and because we make it hard to build new homes. Remember, stopping new housing helps landowners, not renters!
The housing shortage cascades down to inflict real suffering, from homelessness to high rents to overcrowding and displacement. More than 25,000 people in the City of Los Angeles are homeless. 60% of LA households are “rent burdened” under the federal definition of spending more than 30% of their income on housing, and a third of residents spend more than half of their income on rent. Over 20,000 rent stabilized apartments have been lost since 2001, with households evicted from most of these units. There are approximately 50,000 unpermitted second units on single family houses properties in LA city and thousands more unpermitted living units in apartments and industrial sites. Nearly 100,000 households live in severely overcrowded conditions and another 100,000 in overcrowded dwellings. Between 2006 and 2014, 350,000 young people in LA County delayed forming their own household due to high housing costs. LA is 3rd in the nation in the percent of Millennial residents who moved out of the area in the past decade.
Measure S would intensify the crisis by blocking construction of many new homes. While it is hard to predict exactly how many developments that seek zoning changes go through with them, we know that the number of housing units in proposed buildings seeking zone changes and/or general plan amendments is surging upwards in recent years. (See the chart below)
Measure S supporters claim that LA doesn’t need new housing because most new homes are market rate/‘luxury.’ But an increasing number of deeded affordable units would be blocked if Measure S passes. Measure S includes an exemption for 100% affordable developments- but only from the two year moratorium on zone changes. This is a phony exemption because it does not cover the permanent ban on general plan amendments. We have calculated that there are 2455 units of affordable housing that would need a zoning change or a General Plan Amendment proposed in Los Angeles over the past 5 years. Of these, 95% of it would be blocked by Measure S. In addition, most of the city-owned sites planned for housing for the homeless under Measure HHH would also be permanently banned because they need General Plan Amendments.
Finally, because developments that Measure S would block include large buildings constructed on underused and empty land, stopping these projects would increase evictions and displacement. Here’s why. Many displacements in LA are in older apartments, with owners using the state Ellis act to legally evict tenants. The ratio of new units to demo'd units for Ellis act evictions is very low: 2-1. This is because most Ellis act evictions are to upgrade units and/or bring in new tenants to charge higher rents. These evictions don’t need or use zoning for general plan changes to create larger structures. By comparison, the average development in LA has a 5-1 ratio of new to demolished units- think of a small apartment replaced by a somewhat larger building. And the type of developments that Measure S would ban lead to few evictions. This is because changing zoning change and general plan designation unlock entirely new uses and scales of construction. You can think of the projects that Measure S will ban as providing a LOW-EVICTION ESCAPE VALVE for LA's housing demand. Get rid of this outlet and evictions will likely go up significantly.
Measure S stops LA’s future
While LA’s housing crisis is the main reason to oppose Measure S, stopping new development and better uses of land also blocks change and progress in a more broad sense. The way that Angelinos live, work and move continuously evolve due to technological change, social and cultural transformation, and generational shifts. While change is never without friction, LA residents signaled that they welcome smart and green growth and more equity by voting overwhelmingly in November to fund new transit, new parks, and affordable housing (County Measure M to expand and improve transit; County Measure A to expand and maintain parks and open space; City Measure HHH to build permanent supportive housing for the homeless and low-income affordable housing and City Measure JJJ to require developments receiving zone changes to include affordable housing.)
The evolution of the city can allow LA to adapt to climate change, new forms of mobility and new industries. For example, the City of LA is planning to source more water locally and reduce per-capita consumption of water; increase local solar power generation and energy storage; reduce energy use per square foot in buildings by 30%, cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80%; create many more green jobs; install cool roofs and shade; and reduce asthma cases in low-income communities to advance environmental justice. Researchers at UCLA have mapped out more aggressive goals to achieve 100% renewable energy and local water sourcing and better integrate natural landscapes into LA’s built environment by 2050.
Many of these new, more sustainable systems will be created lot-by-lot as buildings are remodeled or constructed. Measure S would slow this process and undermine public investments by freezing many developments and prioritizing letters on zoning maps over real world improvements. As LA Times Architecture and urbanism critic summarizes Measure S, it part of a thirty-year old battle by slow-growth homeowners to preserve an outdated version of Los Angeles. LA is a big place, with room for many ways of life and different urban forms. Don't let the 'haves' freeze the city when we need to be imagining and creating a better place for all residents.
Measure S builds a wall
In assessing Measure S, we also can’t ignore the times we live in and the national political climate. At the Federal level, our leadership is slipping towards nationalism, protectionism, fear of migrants, and nostalgia. Especially at a time when the federal government is seeking to target immigrants and build a physical wall, we need our progressive cities to be welcoming places for all. Los Angeles’ strength is its diversity. LA is home to people from many backgrounds, a mix of longtime residents and newcomers, and welcomes tens of millions of visitors annually. Over 70% of residents of the City of LA are non-white; 37% of residents were born outside of the U.S.; 60 percent live in a household where a language other than English is spoken at home, at least 185 languages are spoken in LA. Despite the challenge of pricey housing, LA city’s population grew by 50,000 between in 2015 to surpass 4 million for the first time. 47.3 million tourists/ visitors traveled to the city of LA in 2016, the most ever.
Los Angeles’ reputation and ethos is as a place where people come to pursue their dreams. Measure S threatens this openness and diversity by blocking new housing and smarter use of land.
More Resources on Measure S