NIMBYs Gone Wild!!

New Proposed Initiative Would Make Los Angeles a BANANA Republic

NIMBY GrandmaLos Angeles is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis: the city’s renters pay on average nearly half of their disposable income on rent alone. This threatens the city’s social and economic health: you simply cannot have a great city and hollow out its middle class.

But NIMBYs never rest, and in the midst of this crisis have proposed this:

The Coalition to Preserve L.A. announced plans for a ballot measure, titled the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, that would put a moratorium of up to 24 months on development projects that cannot be built without votes from elected officials to increase density.

The proposal also would make it harder for those officials to change the city’s General Plan — the document that spells out the city’s policies on land use and traffic — for individual real estate developments.

The coalition’s announcement comes amid a real estate boom in Los Angeles, with multistory projects being approved in downtown, Hollywood and elsewhere. Opposition groups have filed lawsuits challenging some of those projects, including the Millennium skyscraper towers in Hollywood.

Note that while the Orwellian-named “Coalition to Preserve LA” claims that it is just about “mega-projects,” it would apply to anything that needs a zone change or a General Plan Amendment to increase density.
It’s better not to call these protests NIMBYism, but rather BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody. Banana Republic might be a decent (if somewhat overpriced) clothing store, but it is no way to run a city.
And  observe two more critical points:
1) So much of the protest over development occurs in Hollywood, which is precisely where development should occur, because it is on the Red Line Subway. This is planning 101: put density near transportation infrastructure. The Hollywood Palladium project is two blocks from the Hollywood and Vine subway stop.
2) And of course, slowing residential construction in the City of Los Angeles will mean that people will move to the suburbs. They will then take their cars to work, increasing congestion, VMT, and carbon emissions.
Many NIMBYs and BANANAs cast themselves as environmentalists, arguing that development harms the environment. Not so. It depends upon where development is built, and projects in the city are where development should occur. I hope that the Los Angeles environmental community quickly speaks up and says: Not In Our Name.


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Reader Comments

7 Replies to “NIMBYs Gone Wild!!”

  1. Who cares how the people that live in these neighborhoods want their towns to look? Central planners and lawyers, who don’t have to live near high density housing, know better. We’re the experts and we’re here to help.

    1. Agreed. Those same central planners you hate are the ones who once passed laws to destroy our cities and regulate all development to fit a single family home, freeway model. It clearly failed and now we have unaffordable housing, choked traffic. Down with central planners! Let’s use the ballot to stop any and all change! That’s gonna solve the problem!

  2. Jonathan said;
    “……They will then take their cars to work, increasing congestion, VMT, and carbon emissions……”

    “They” will also increase terrorism and premature deaths, vote for hillary. Where is Megan Herzog and the CPP?

  3. These groups don’t want development until the City updates the community plan but these same folks fought updates to the Hollywood Community Plan.

  4. Mr. Zasloff’s comments completely ignore the many HUGE problems with LA City’s planning process. Most citizen activists who are involved with challenging the City’s approvals of projects do so because of the very LARGE influence that developers (who most often are also LARGE campaign donors) have on the planning / entitlement process. When you allow the City Council to override local community land use plans and initiate General Plan changes, you have, in essence, given electeds unlimited permission to do spot zoning. Residents of Los Angeles are well aware of how that looks. Want to put a 14-story so-called residential transit oriented development in a community zoned for 3 story heights? No problem. Want to put nearly 500 residential units on industrially zoned land within 300 feet of a major interstate freeway? No worries. We will just let the electeds’ hot air clean the air the residents will be breathing and remove all the harmful particulates to which they will be exposed in the required open space of their residences whose land should have remained in much-needed industrial-job producing zoning. LA is a city where developers oversee the crafting of their own EIR’s including hiring the expert consultants who write the traffic studies, etc., unlike San Francisco where the city takes charge of that process. Not even a CEQA project review can halt projects shown to have a great number of unmitigatable impacts-because the City Council approves them using “over riding considerations” (such as jobs for union laborers) as the reason for approval.
    Had the City Council shown some respect for neighborhoods and dedicated resources for updating the community plans, resisted allowing developers to initiate changes to the General Plan and Community Plans, required mitigations when it was clear that neighboring properties and/or entire communities were going to be impacted (and that the City did not have the resources to address unmitigated impacts later), perhaps there would not be the petition drive or many project challenges you hear of today.
    It does no good to demonize property owners (commercial and residential) who would like some certainty and understanding about zoning and land use practices in their communities. The politicians brought this onto themselves by being representatives of developers, by abandoning funding the Planning Department and its staff that were tasked with updating community plans, by turning the Planning Dept. in a fee-for-service entity working for developers, by allowing the City’s Department of Building and Safety to selectively enforce code. The list could go on. The community activists haven’t been the root cause of the lack of affordable housing in LA. That is the product of unbridled real estate speculation — the boom and bust stuff that LA is all too well known for. Why not take a tough look at the impact of the mortgage loan crisis and the impact of the federal government’s program that sold thousands and thousands of single family homes to large investment groups, REITs, etc.? They removed leagues of folks from their homes and also reduced the numbers of local mom and pop landlords and replaced them with money grubbing absentee landlords who are “in the game” to maximize revenues for their investors…. What is the impact these property owners are having on the cost of housing in LA? You can’t listen to a radio broadcast without hearing advertisements on how to take part in the real estate flipping business. What was once an affordable housing market has been over-run with profiteers paying all cash deals for any homes decently priced. They do a cosmetic fix, add an amenity and charge hundreds of thousands more for a home. How do you stop that kind of spiral? Rent control in LA has only provided a small amount of relief but it has, at the same time, created great incentives for rent controlled apartments to be torn down. The City’s own adoption of the state’s bonus density legislation served to INCREASE tear downs of affordable rent-controlled units.
    The affordability crisis is complicated and will need a multi-pronged approach over a long term to create true affordable housing. However, destroying residential neighborhoods by allowing spot zoning, upzoning on steroids because a property happens to be near a transit stop or bus stop (never mind that the traffic doesn’t move on that street), is folly. Cities need a broad mix of different land uses that reflect the different needs of their residents. While a single young professional may find it both convenient and exciting to live downtown, that individual’s needs and desire may look very different after partnering or marrying and having a kid or two. That downtown loft may not seem so appropriate and, yes, a little back yard may be just the thing for that stage of life of that family. (Just as we seek to reduce urban sprawl, it doesn’t seem right to condemn all individuals or families who seek to live in a single family home to the distant suburbs.) A healthy city needs a good mix of different housing types. And it shouldn’t strike affordable housing advocates as a surprise to learn that that family with a small patch of grass likely does not want to have a 7, 14 or higher storied building looming over them robbing them of any hope of sunlight (or privacy).
    Rezoning in LA near transit is not being done as a community planning exercise. It is being done in the old urban renewal way… by taking large swaths of community and drawing circles around them and initiating a zone change. The result? The wiping out of all community businesses, small mom and pop operations that will lose their locations as the properties beneath become too valuable for commercial uses and will instead become residential or mixed use developments. The result? All community serving business GONE all at once. Adjacent residential properties will be dwarfed by the influx of insensitively designed projects designed to maximize square footage and numbers of rental units. It should be noted that LA does not have the infrastructure to support the added density that the new upzoning plans bring — from schools to sewer capacity. And, while LA has to start somewhere, the modest transit that has been developed and is under construction now does not come close to providing public transit options for the great majority of Angelenos. We have a vast metro area spanning almost 500 miles and a transit system in its infancy. Selective upzoning is a more realistic tool but that would not feed the insatiable appetite of developers who are themselves riding the “transit oriented” express to cash in on what they can grab– with no assurances whatsoever that their projects will be “transit oriented” (beyond reducing vehicle parking and adding bicycle parking spots), that there will be affordable housing components in their projects, etc. This is a new real estate boom created for the developers who are tired of having to answer to CEQA challenges to poorly conceived projects that don’t pass muster and rely on political cronyism and labor support to get adopted. Some environmentalists have failed to understand that just because a project is near transit does not make it good. (Putting a car-trip generating Target store, for example, in a transit oriented project just didn’t seem like a good idea to community activists and yet the City was on the threshold of allowing such a use in a mixed use project.) Upzoning can be done in a reasonable manner in selected target locations — not by wiping out entire communities of businesses and placing unsustainable numbers of buildings and residents there. (FYI: LA gave up on doing annual coordinated infrastructure assessments some years ago. There is no department/office/staff charged with bringing together the data generated by individual departments (if those individual assessments are being done) to get a “big picture” point of view to help determine where added densities can be supported.
    If you lived in LA and saw the City Council vote to approve a major project that required a zone change, community plan change and had not submitted a site plan for review (by the community or by the City Council)… all because the developer wanted it approved before the Mayor left office and the Council membership changed, you might not be so critical of the current ballot initiative. What I wonder about is (since frustrations are very high in all areas of the City– so-called rich and poor, hillsides and harbor, valley and city) why it took so long for this kind of uprising to occur. And, I suspect if others really knew what drives the planning process in LA, they would be supporting this measure, too instead of blaming some citizen activists of being NIMBY’s. It is the City’s abdication of its planning responsibilities coupled with arrogance that brought this initiative into being. Nothing more and nothing less.

    1. You argue that a healthy city requires a wide variety of housing types to be viable. Yet you oppose all efforts to do exactly that, and fix the vast oversupply of single family residence districts that are zoned so strictly that the eliminate the logical market operation that matches their value to their replacement, where needed.

      I agree that there is no balance in LA. The number of areas that need more urban infill and density are severely restricted by law. This perverts that market and pushes developers to find exemptions and tricks to build, and often in places that are not the right fit. If an area is zoned for three stories, and there are many clamoring to build way taller, why not change it to 6 stories and relieve the pressure? But no, every time that is proposed your allies refuse to allow it and throw up straw men. All the while ensuring that your little house that sold for 25K in 1950 stays well above 1 million dollars. With taxes to match the 1950 price.

      Young people and working people are the victims of reckless SFR zoning. They are priced out of the market while you get richer.

      1. I didn’t make my neighborhood too rich for most new blood. Unscrupulous developers did. I don’t covet my property value; I like where I live.

        The paper tiger is our city government. It steadfastly refuses to enforce standing law. It attracts career politicians instead of public servants. It decimated the Planning Department – which is the single best-qualified agency to design a balanced development landscape in this sprawling megalopolis.

        We have legions of highly-trained and deeply experienced planners, analysts and administrators who are prevented from doing their jobs specifically because the Mayor, the City Council and the City Attorney won’t let them.

        So, before you go blaming your neighbor for your boss’s failure to bring in bigger design, construction or advertising jobs – whatever floats the low-hanging fruit of your career ambitions, look at your calendar. Mark the next election day. And take half the day off and VOTE.

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About Jonathan

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic – Land Use, the Environment and Loc…

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About Jonathan

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic – Land Use, the Environment and Loc…

READ more

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