If you live in the Los Angeles region, you’ve probably been unable to avoid the propaganda surrounding Measure S. “Save our neighborhoods” “We’re in a housing slump” “Make City Hall do its job” “It could block affordable housing,” are likely some of the slogans you may have heard in the clamor over the Anti-Development Ballot Measure.
With March 7th right around the corner, we wanted to digest what you really need to know before casting your vote. We have spoken to developers and non-profit builders, both for and against this Measure, as well as attended lectures regarding its potential impacts. With this insight, we’re providing you an unbiased (yes, it does exist!) synopsis of the measure.
First, Let’s Define a Few Things
Measure S, known as the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, seeks to limit development in the City of Los Angeles. According to Ballotpedia, “Measure S is an initiative to change the City's laws governing changes to the General Plan and development projects."
The General Plan is a long-term visioning document for the City of Los Angeles, serving as a guideline for future development in the City.
An EIR (Environmental Impact Report) assesses the environmental impacts of proposed projects in order to identify mitigation measures, reduce environmental impacts or identify reasonable project alternatives for projects to move forward.
The Ballot Measure:
What Does Measure S Propose?
- Imposes a two year moratorium on projects seeking General Plan amendments, Zone or height-district changes. 100% affordable housing is excluded from this moratorium on Zone or heigh-district changes.
- Prohibits geographic amendments to the General Plan unless the affected area has significant social, economic or physical identity.
- Requires systematic, public review of the General Plan every five years.
- Prohibits project applicants from completing EIR (environmental impact reports) for the City.
- Requires the City make findings of General Plan consistency for planning amendments, project approvals and permit decisions.
- Prohibits certain parking variances.
Between the Lines
The General Plan, Community Plans and Their Impact
The General Plan was originally adopted in 1996 and since then re-adopted in 2001. However pieces of the plan have recently been updated, including: the Mobility Plan 2035, the Transportation Element of the General Plan, and the Plan for a Healthy Los Angeles, a new Health and Wellness Element of the General Plan. Included within the plan are thirty-five Community Plans that outline specific visions for a variety of neighborhoods throughout the City. Twenty-nine of these plans have not been updated since 2001, leaving many to believe that our governing neighborhood planning isn’t keeping up with real estate trends and citizens’ needs.
However, the City of Los Angeles is actively addressing this issue. On January 21, 2016 the Planning Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) reviewed an accelerated six-year cycle from the originally proposed ten-year cycle to update Community Plans. The City Council adopted this proposition early this month, approving a $5,190,676 budget to add additional staff and a robust approach to achieving the six-year cycle.
With a yes vote on Measure S, the City would be tied to maintaining the General Plan and subsequently the thirty-five mainly outdated community plans over the next two years. Measure S puts a two year moratorium on projects outside of the Plan, hindering the City’s ability to circumnavigate outdated visions while they get updated.
Also the measure requires a systematic update of the General Plan every five years. A General Plan update can take close to five years, so creating a framework for reviewing it every five years may be unrealistic. Furthermore the vision plan looks to the far future, and by revisiting it every five years it may shift the visioning objectives to focus on the short-term.
EIRs and Conflicting Interests
The current EIR process allows developers to directly hire CEQA consultants to assess the environmental impact of their projects which can be a conflict of interest. Yet again, the City is already looking at this process and recently passed a revised EIR protocol. After examining four options, developers now have to select and hire CEQA consultants from the City’s pre-qualified list. The City retains rights to remove consultants from the prequalified list for not meeting criteria or performance. The RFQ process is slated to begin during spring 2017.
The Potential Effects of Measure S on the Housing Crisis
There is no doubt that Los Angeles is facing a housing crisis, but is Measure S the solution? Many factors account for housing affordability and availability, but at the root it is still a problem of supply and demand.
Los Angeles has long seen an increase in both rental and housing prices, highlighted by a growing homeless population. The rental vacancy rate has dropped to 2.4% in the end of 2016 from 6.0% a mere two years prior. Median house prices continue to rise which means that a single person has to make roughly six-figures to afford a home in the region. Homelessness in the City is such a problem that the Los Angeles County supervisors declared a state of emergency in early June. Homelessness in the County of Los Angeles totals 47,000 people, jumping 12% over the last two years.
There’s some debate as to how many projects and units would be affected by the passing of the Measure. Measure S will not affect any projects that fall within the guidelines of the General Plan and Zoning Codes. There are many different types of projects built within Los Angeles that never apply for a General Plan amendment. It will also not affect any 100% affordable housing projects even if they do require an amendment to the Plan or Code.
Supporters claim that it would only affect about 5% of projects; however others estimate it would halt 22,000 slatted units. In a recent article, the LA Times found that the City usually finds a way to allow most zoning change requests – only denying 10% of the 959 requests over the last sixteen years.
The measure also restricts the City to reduce parking requirements. the City to reduce parking only up to one-third of the current requirements, may also have an impact on the viability of new projects. Developers have long argued that the City of Los Angeles requires too much parking that is expensive to build and can ultimately hinder their project from penciling. The impacts of the measure, should it pass, remain unclear as many projects within the Code would continue to move forward.
Most Importantly: VOTE
If you support or oppose Measure S, the most important thing is to actually go out and VOTE. With a historically low voter turnout – only 8.6% in March of 2015 – our civic duty is to ensure the outcome of this measure and the other items on the ballot reflect the majority of Angelinos’ opinions.
Smith, D., Poston, B. (2017, Feb 10). "When developers want to build more than zoning allows, L.A. planning commissioners almost always say yes, Times analysis finds". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 1, 2017