By Gary Toebben, President & CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.
Last month, a group of activists calling themselves the “Coalition to Preserve L.A,” led by Michael Weinstein with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, filed papers to place an initiative on the November 2016 ballot that would establish a citywide building moratorium on higher density housing. The measure is officially titled “Restrictions on General Plan Amendments, Required Review of General Plan; Building Moratorium Initiative Ordinance,” but don’t be fooled by the archaic sounding language. The implications of this measure would be devastating to Los Angeles and doom us to a permanent housing shortage.
Much attention has been devoted in recent months to City and County efforts to combat homelessness. Just yesterday, the Los Angeles Times reported nearly 3,000 campers or RVs in which people are living in the City. Tens of thousands sleep on sidewalks or in tents by the side of the road. Mayor Garcetti has called for 100,000 new housing units by 2021 because the current demand for housing far outstrips supply.
The ripple effects of halting building projects also means vanishing construction jobs and more traffic as people are forced to live further from employment centers. Today, there is a desire by many people to live in walk-able, transit-oriented, density-appropriate neighborhoods close to when they work and play. This measure would put a screeching halt to the growth of housing in those areas.
The proponents of this far reaching moratorium argue that developers are breaking zoning rules and destroying neighborhood character. The truth is that the city’s planning documents are hopelessly outdated. Our codes reflect the suburban L.A. of the 1950s, 60s and 70s so most projects require some form of code amendment or variance. This does not however, translate to a lack of scrutiny. All projects are required to adhere to the appropriate environmental regulations and go through the City Planning Commission and City Council. Throughout this process, there are many opportunities for community input and negotiation.
While this initiative correctly points out that the City’s General Plan and Community Plans are in need of 21st century updating, the moratorium is a dangerous ploy by activists to paralyze the badly needed construction of new housing. We have major problems in our city including homelessness, a lack of affordable housing and soaring rents. Stifling the supply of housing will exponentially increase these problems and doom Angelenos to a permanent housing shortage.