Measure S failed. Good. Now city leaders need to keep their pledge to fix L.A.'s broken land use policies
Los Angeles voters resoundingly rejected Measure S, the slow-growth, anti-development proposal on Tuesday’s ballot. That was the right choice. The initiative would have imposed a destructive two-year moratorium on real estate projects that require exemptions from the city’s existing (albeit outdated) land-use rules. It also would have worsened the city’s housing shortage by, among other things, making it harder to build low-income and homeless housing.
But even the most adamant opponents of Measure S have conceded that it highlighted very real problems with Los Angeles’ planning and land-use system.
For years, mayors and City Councils have failed to do comprehensive land-use planning. The General Plan, the city’s blueprint for growth, hasn't been updated in 20 years, and the 35 community plans, which spell out what can be built where, are decades old in some cases. Because the plans are outdated, proposed developments are often considered on a case-by-case basis, with council members dictating what's appropriate on particular sites based on the desires of developers, many of whom are campaign donors.
It’s a system that produces too little housing to meet population needs, results in poorly planned communities and feeds distrust and NIMBY attitudes because there are no firm rules, just political negotiation.
Proponents may have failed to pass Measure S, but they can rightly claim victory for forcing the mayor and the City Council to get serious about doing real planning. The council has voted in recent weeks to require community plans to be updated every six years and to increase developer fees to pay for that work. The dedicated funding is especially important because past attempts to update community plans fell victim to budget cuts during the recession.
The council also voted to bar developers from picking their own consultants to produce traffic studies and environmental impact reports. And several council members have proposed banning political contributions from developers with projects currently or recently before city decision makers. These are all good steps toward rebuilding trust in City Hall.
But this is just the beginning. Measure S tapped into the angst that many Angelenos feel about how growth and development are changing their communities, and in some cases displacing their inhabitants. The concerns over density, traffic and gentrification are not going away because the forces behind them are not abating. Planners, residents and city leaders must figure out how to reconcile those concerns with the need for housing, jobs and economic growth.