With only two weeks to go until the election, there has been a lot of “ink” written on the topic of Measure S. You’ve heard the statistics about how this measure is going to cost our economy $1.9-billion and 12,000 jobs for each year it is in place. You’ve heard about its devastating impact on affordable housing, especially in light of the passage of Measure HHH to build permanent supportive housing that Measure S would make difficult to build. And you have heard the claims of the proponents that only five percent of the proposed construction within the City will be impacted.
With the debate drawing to a close, I would like to share a few of my final observations. Here are my thoughts:
- The idea for this initiative sprang from a small group of activists in Hollywood, who were not able to stop development here, and thought they would have a better chance by enacting a citywide moratorium. They have cloaked their real intent under the cover of popular terms such as “updating community plans” and “ending spot zoning”. They continue to minimize the impact of this measure (far below what real studies have shown). In reality, their goal is not to update community plans, but to stop all significant development that adds traffic near their homes.
- Almost everyone agrees that the City of Los Angeles project approval process leaves much to be desired and needs reform. The one positive result of the initiative is that it spurred the City Council to vote on February 8th to update L.A.’s 35 community plans every six years, which is realistically about as fast as the City can move in updating all of its plans. That vote has triggered creation of a new ordinance that will mandate these updates. If the ballot measure sponsors really cared about updating the plans, they would declare “victory” at this point and move on. The fact that they haven’t done so, tells you that they really have another agenda.
- The proponents of Measure S are disingenuous when they say that the moratorium will only last for two years. They know that it is impossible for the City to update all of its plans within that timeframe. They also know that there will be lawsuits challenging the approval of new updated community plans, which will prevent their implementation. It has now been five years since the Hollywood Community Plan Update was approved and then blocked by a lawsuit. We are still waiting for it to be reconsidered. This is a good example of what is in store if this measure passes. Voters need to understand that the moratorium likely will be in effect for years.
- In an ideal world, no exceptions would be granted to zoning rules. However, in the real world, that is not possible for various reasons. There are cases where spot zoning is needed, and where it demonstrably is a good thing. Probably the best example in Hollywood is our beautiful new Emerson College campus on Sunset Blvd., which has won numerous design awards. Under the previous zoning, about all that could have been built on the site was a hamburger stand. I don’t think anyone would argue that a hamburger stand was a better usage for that site. Until such time as community plans are updated to reflect today’s circumstances, there is a need to allow legislative bodies to exercise judgment to consider the issues in addressing development at specific locations. And, even after a plan is adopted, there is a need for flexibility. Changing circumstances, new opportunities that may never have been contemplated, or mistakes in classification require some flexibility in allowing exceptions. Granting exceptions to the rules should be infrequent, but blanket prohibitions of “spot zoning” without considering real life situations are not in the public’s best interests.
- Measure S is really a case of “the haves” versus “the have nots”. If you already own a home and don’t care about the larger community’s interests, then you may be inclined to vote for Measure S, but if you truly care about those who are just getting started in L.A. or who are forced to commute in from outlying regions, then this measure is not for you. Last fall I spoke with Councilmember Nury Martinez, who represents the 6th District, stretching from Van Nuys to Panorama City. She said it is a challenge to bring development into her district and that the Measure S moratorium would harm her efforts to do so. Her concerns are echoed in many communities across this great city. Other than Hollywood, Koreatown and Downtown L.A., most areas of L.A. are not seeing a great deal of new development. Many communities want and need development. As I have said before, developers are not the enemy. They are the ones who help to revitalize older neighborhoods. Our opponents forget how bad Hollywood was 20 years ago. It has been primarily through new development that we have been able to turn this historic film capital around. Where you see no new development is where you most often see communities in a state of decline. Measure S will perpetuate that problem and make it more difficult to revitalize communities.
- Measure S is about the future of Los Angeles. I remain convinced that one of the main goals of the proponents of this measure is to stop the addition of density near mass transit centers. The Palladium Residences project that seems to have been the genesis of Measure S (at least for the largest contributor to their campaign), is only one block from a subway station. Opponents of that project do not want density near transit centers, and yet they have suggested no alternative. The horizontal city model with connecting freeways may have worked when we had three million residents in this county, but it does not work when we have 10 million residents. In city after city, we have successful models on how development has been focused along mass transit lines in order to avoid increasing congestion elsewhere. That has also been the plan for Los Angeles. With the passage of Measure M last November, we have an opportunity to truly accommodate growth and new residents in a logical fashion. To not allow density where it makes the most sense will create future chaos for this region. It will result in a lot of housing and businesses moving outside Los Angeles, and it will force many new residents into peripheral areas, only worsening commute times. We cannot go back to the 1950s.
I add my voice to those who say that Measure S is the wrong remedy for Los Angeles. Now that the City Council has committed to regularly updating community plans, our energy would be much better spent on seeing that we get visionary, well-thought out plans adopted for each area of our city. Let’s work to see that good developments are added along future and existing mass transit lines, and that they contribute to making this a more livable city. That way, we will all be winners.
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.