Why it is thumbs down on Neighborhood Initiative

By now, you may have heard of a new anti-growth effort, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, being promoted by a group called the Coalition to Preserve L.A. The initiative would impose harsh restrictions on projects that require major changes to city planning rules – including putting a moratorium of up to 24 months on development projects that cannot be built without votes from elected officials to increase density. It would make it difficult to change the L.A. General Plan for individual real estate projects. It would place City employees directly in charge of preparation of environmental review of major projects. It would require the City Planning Commission to update the City’s community plans to be consistent with the City’s General Plan – even though these initiative supporters often fight any effort to update the community plans.

Let me say the obvious – that the goal of the initiative proponents is to stop any significant development within the City of Los Angeles. They claim that their initiative “will preserve the character of neighborhoods throughout the City of Los Angeles and improve the overall quality of life for city residents.” In actuality, it will worsen the quality of life for city residents – as there will be fewer jobs, higher housing prices, and more congestion.

In order to justify radical initiatives like this one, the proponents always paint City officials as inept and developers as villains out to make a buck and destroy the character of neighborhoods. They never want to discuss the reasons behind the City’s actions or where growth should occur. They have no solutions. They merely want to turn the clock back fifty years to the Los Angeles of another time.

The problem is that you cannot go back. Los Angeles is the least affordable place to lease or buy a home in the nation and has had the biggest housing price increase over the past 15 years in the U.S., primarily because it is so difficult to build anything here. One of the reasons why we have so much gridlock is because of people who over the years have refused to consider smart growth solutions that have been implemented in cities around the globe.

The Los Angeles metropolitan area has reached its physical limits. We cannot keep growing outward and forcing people to commute vast distances. We should not allow the interior areas of the City to deteriorate in order to “preserve” neighborhoods. We should not prevent affordable housing from being built in our city.

Smart growth advocates and planners will tell you that the successful planning model is to direct growth to occur along transit corridors. As our mass transit system is built-out, it will eventually enable people to travel where they need to go without using their vehicles. We are then able to preserve those single-family neighborhoods that are so valued by the initiative proponents. (This used to be referred to as the two-percent solution – to direct development onto two-percent of the land in order to preserve 98 percent of the land.)

Opponents argue that the mass transit system is not yet built-out and that we should wait until that occurs before we build around mass transit stations. However, if we wait, traffic will continue to worsen for everyone because housing and jobs will be built in places that only add to congestion.

They also argue that it is impossible to build new projects without creating more traffic. They are correct that there will be some additional traffic. However, by matters of degrees, the increase in traffic will be substantially less due to the nearby transit, and because jobs will also locate close to these stations. There are currently five mass transit lines under construction by Metro in greater Los Angeles – that is more than any place else in the nation. As these lines come into operation, it will be easier to see the wisdom of guiding development to transit corridors.

Hollywood is the poster child for those opposing development. They point to the 70 or so projects in the pipeline and argue that development will destroy the quality of life and the character of Hollywood. In my view, exactly the opposite is occurring. We are creating a great example of how urban development should happen – with walkable neighborhoods and jobs, shopping, and entertainment close by. Opponents seem to forget how bad things were in Hollywood 20 years ago. What has turned central Hollywood around is the new development. And this development is occurring in the center of Hollywood, close to mass transit. Parking lots are being replaced by exciting new development that make it an attractive neighborhood.

New development has made it possible to preserve historic structures. About 15 years ago, I was visited by representatives of the Los Angeles Conservancy who were concerned about the possible loss of two very historic properties – Columbia Square and the Palladium. Today, because of new development, both of those historic venues are saved and will again be show places.

I was recently told the story of a local resident whose children have moved to the East Coast with no intention of moving back to L.A. Why? Because they are tired of living in an urban area where it is impossible to get by unless you use a car and are stuck in traffic gridlock. Passage of this initiative will only perpetuate that ineffective and outdated model.

So I ask the proponents of this initiative to tell us exactly where they think development should occur. They have no answer to that question. And until they can answer it, then this initiative should be given no credence. If you like the current gridlock in L.A., it will never change with their plan. Their solution to go backwards is no solution at all. They would merely be preserving a model that we already know no longer works.

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Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 23 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood

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