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Coalition submits signatures for ballot measure

LOS ANGELES — Proponents of a measure that would temporarily halt major development projects in Los Angeles said Aug. 24 they are moving forward with their initiative, after Mayor Eric Garcetti failed to offer up a substitute plan.

Jill Stewart, campaign director for the Coalition to Preserve L.A., said the group submitted petitions with nearly 104,000 signatures to the city clerk, more than the 61,487 valid signatures needed to qualify the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative for the March 2017 ballot.

The campaign held a news conference Aug. 24 to announce plans to submit the signatures outside the proposed Cumulus project in South Los Angeles. Stewart said the project contains plans for skyscrapers that “ignores the community and is essentially a takeover of the existing community.”

The coalition’s measure proposes to temporarily ban, for up to two years, projects that are denser, taller or contain more floor area than is allowed in existing zoning and land use rules for the area.

Developers must routinely ask the city to grant exceptions — known as general plan amendments —for those types of projects to be built. The coalition contends the process has become standard practice and creates cozy relationships between City Council members and developers.

The initiative is officially named “Building Moratorium; Restrictions on General Plan Amendments; Requires Review of General Plan.”

Cecilia Reyes, a spokeswoman for the City Clerk’s office, said proponents turned in signatures for the measure. The city clerk has at least two weeks, and potentially up to a month and a half to review and verify the signatures, Reyes said.

The Coalition to Preserve L.A. said two weeks ago that it would drop the initiative if the mayor came out with an alternative plan that met four terms laid out in a letter to him.

Stewart said the group has been waiting since April to see an alternate plan, but “so far we have seen nothing from the mayor,” other than a small increase in the number of planners and a 10-year timeline for updating community plans.

About 30 members of the campaign met personally with Garcetti two weeks ago to give him a final chance to meet their demands, Stewart said, but since then, the mayor’s staff has failed to reach out to them with anything “substantive,” except to say that they wished to “keep lines of communications open.”

The alternate terms laid out in a letter to Garcetti included banning “ex parte,” or private meetings between City Council members and developers, and instituting changes that make the process of updating the city’s General Plan, which guides what is allowed to be built in the city, faster and more transparent.

The coalition is also demanding that “spot zoning,” in which developers request zoning changes, be reduced so that it becomes a rare occurrence, rather than standard practice.

A fourth proposed term would prohibit developers and lobbyists from being able to pick the consultants who write the environmental impact reports needed to allow the projects to go through.

The letter was signed by actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Kirsten Dunst, Chris Pine, Joaquin Phoenix, Chloe Sevigny and Garrett Hedlund, as well as several dozen representatives of community groups, businesses and homeowner associations.

Despite the support from the acting community, others are not so supportive of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.

“The city of Los Angeles needs at least 382,000 more housing units just to meet current demand,” said Gary Toebben, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. “With 28,000 people sleeping on the streets every night, rents going up and vacancies going down, it makes no sense at all to put a halt to increasing our housing supply.

“The so-called Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is reckless and misguided and is the opposite of what we need.”

“This is a measure that would throw thousands out of work and put thousands more living on the street,” said Ron Miller, executive secretary of the Los Angeles/Orange County Building Trades Council, AFL CIO.“The last thing L.A. voters want right now is to ban new housing development. We need more housing to get through this crisis — not less.”

In a May poll by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, simulated ballot language based on the petition drew the support of only 37 percent of likely March 2017 voters, with 44 percent opposed and 19undecided undecided.

After pollsters discussed the specific impacts that the measure would have on affordable housing and homelessness, large majorities of voters express concern with the initiative.

Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) were extremely or very concerned that this initiative “prevents building shelters and transitional housing for victims of domestic violence, homeless veterans, low-income elderly residents and the mentally ill.”

Nearly as many (62 percent) fear that it “will increase the rate of homelessness in Los Angeles and make it virtually impossible to address this problem.”

 

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