In the aftermath of Measure S, it seems everyone is offering their post mortem observations about this giant struggle over land-use and development in Los Angeles. I’d like to add my “two cents”.
First, the voters made the right choice in sinking Measure S. We can breathe a sigh of relief that a blanket moratorium did not go into effect that would have vaporized thousands of construction jobs and wreaked havoc on our economy. Now we can continue to address the serious shortfall in housing in our region.
Second, although the voters rejected Measure S, it was not a vote of support for the status quo. Far from it. Both residents and businesses made it clear that the current system is broken and needs to be fixed.
Third, the Mayor and City Council need to follow through on the reforms that were promised, among which were to update community plans in a timely fashion and to have the Planning Department select the consultants performing environmental impact reports.
Fourth, once community plans are updated, “spot zoning” (changing land-use rules to accommodate specific projects) should become the exception rather than the rule in approving projects. It would be helpful if criteria could be drawn up that explains when it is appropriate to grant an exception.
Fifth, greater transparency should occur throughout the entire process, so that trust can be established with the public. One particular area that needs improvement is with community benefits packages. The Planning Department and councilmembers now negotiate these packages, sometimes extracting millions of dollars from developers for projects that will benefit L.A. This process needs to be revised so that the public has more of an opportunity to provide suggestions on things that would benefit the impacted neighborhoods. And once a package is finalized and the developer hands over to the City mitigation funds, there needs to be accountability so that the public knows to which department the funds went and that they were spent according to the plan.
An example may help. When the Hollywood & Highland complex was built back in 1988, the City negotiated a contribution from the developer for more than $9-million to be spent on traffic improvements, etc. Years afterward, when I tried to find out if the money had been spent, I could get no answer. Yet, more than 10 years after the project was completed, I saw a motion before the City Council approving the expenditure of some of the mitigation money from that project. I am not implying that anything was done incorrectly. What I am saying is that the system was not set up for transparency with the public.
With today’s technology, there is no reason that a tracking system cannot be set up on a City website that easily allows the public to see what the community benefits packages are for each project and to track the expenditures of those funds as they occur. This is an issue of trust. If the public can see that these funds are truly going to benefit them and are actually being spent on the purposes intended, it will help to instill trust in the system.
Finally, in my conversations with neighborhood councils, one of their largest concerns is with evictions that are taking place to make way for some new projects. Most of these evictions are occurring with rent-controlled buildings and by-right projects. With the affordable housing crisis, some tenants are losing their homes with no place to go. The city needs to review its current policy to strike a balance between property rights and fairness for those being evicted. It is a complicated issue with no easy answers because of conflicting state and local laws, but the conversation needs to occur.
The voters have indicated by large margins in the last two elections that they understand the need to “densify” our City rather than to continue expanding outward. That is the proper course of action, but it is not easy to achieve. The Hollywood Community Plan update will be coming back later this year for reconsideration. Stakeholders will have ample opportunity for public input into the process. With all of the development and changes occurring in Hollywood, we really need to have an updated plan rather than operating under one that dates back to 1988. Let’s have the discussion necessary to adopt a plan that will move this community forward and which will help to reestablish trust in our land-use process.
Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.