LOS ANGELES — Proponents of a proposed ballot measure that would temporarily halt some large developments in the city of Los Angeles said they are willing to withdraw their initiative if Mayor Eric Garcetti agrees to an alternate plan.
Prior to meeting privately with Garcetti, members of the Coalition to Preserve L.A. said they have more than enough signatures to qualify their measure for the March 2017 ballot.
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 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.
Jill Stewart, the campaign director for the ballot initiative, said the coalition plans to submit its petition this week unless Garcetti agrees to the group’s terms.
The mayor has “one week to take care of these key issues in a meaningful way, or we go forward with our initiative,” she told reporters at a news conference outside Los Angeles City Hall Aug. 17.
“We do believe that [city] leaders should do this work,” Stewart said of the changes being sought. “They aren’t doing the work, so the citizens have stepped forward to clean up the dirty and broken system here at City Hall that lets developers plan Los Angeles and ruin neighborhoods and neighborhood character.”
Stewart said the media has focused on the “sexy” part of the measure — the ban on certain types of development — but “that is a small part of what we’re doing.”
“That’s a wake-up call for the City Council,” she said. “No more mischief, no more backroom meetings with developers during a two-year period. Take all that wasted time you’ve spent creating a luxury housing glut in Los Angeles and instead do your jobs, create a plan in L.A. that involves the public.”
The alternate proposal is laid out in a letter to Garcetti that includes the signatures of several dozen representatives of community groups, businesses and homeowner associations. Actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Kirsten Dunst, Chris Pine, Joaquin Phoenix, Chloe Sevigny and Garrett Hedlund also signed the letter.
The coalition’s terms include 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.
Mayoral aide Connie Llanos said the mayor’s office is “reviewing this request.”
Llanos said the mayor has already taken steps “to reform the development process in L.A.” by calling for the city’s “most aggressive schedule to update community plans and the general plan, and new efforts to increase transparency with the [environmental impact report] process.”
“We will continue to advance this reform agenda and look forward to working with all stakeholders,” she said.
Jonathan Zasloff, a law professor at UCLA who is part of a campaign opposing the ballot measure, said the alternative terms contain some straightforward requests, such as not allowing developers to pick who authors the project’s environmental impact reports.
But he also said the idea that City Council members favor developers by granting them private “backroom” meetings ignores the power of homeowners’ associations.
City Council members are “very, very interested in what homeowner associations think” and are willing to meet with those groups, since they need homeowners to vote for them, Zasloff said.
“I don’t think the homeowners’ associations are being excluded from the process,” he said. “They are very well-taken care of in the process.”
But Zasloff said that ultimately, he does not believe the coalition’s intent is to make a “value neutral” fix to the city’s development issues.
“This is not about just the right procedures and good government,” he said, but rather a “a conflict of vision of what the city should look like.”
“The bottom-line problem of all of this is that there are some interests that want to keep the city in an urban form that looks as much as possible like the 1950s,” he said, while others want more density, or a mix of the two types.
“The idea this is about the people against the interest — it’s a good slogan, has very little relationship to the reality,” Zasloff said.