Eric Garcetti

March Election: What to Know About Measure S

Neighborhood activists and elected officials have lined up on both sides of the debate for a controversial -- and sometimes confusing -- ballot measure.

We break down Measure S, on the ballot in the March 7 Los Angeles election, for you here.

What It Is:
One of four city-wide measures up for vote on the ballot in the next election. Also known as the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, Measure S would do the following:

  • Stop any new high-density construction projects (such as apartments) for the next two years
  • Prohibit "project-specific" changes that would create loopholes in the city of Los Angeles's General Plan for urban development
  • Require the city to complete studies of environmental impact of new projects rather than the developers behind the project.

Scroll down to read the full text.

What It Means:
Basically, advocates of Measure S want to stop high-rises from being built in LA's neighborhoods, but opponents argue that real estate development is key to the prosperity of the city and of its overcrowded residents.

The city of LA maintains plans for individual communities governing height and density restrictions for most real estate projects. According to CurbedLA, 29 of 35 community plans are at least 15 years old — meaning out of date in the real estate world. Most developers have to seek special approval for their project through the city. This measure would put the brakes on high-profile projects, which typically are signs of a thriving economy and can provide jobs and tax revenue as well as more spaces for people to live in the second largest city in the nation. Approximately one-third of construction in Los Angeles would be affected.

When It's Up for a Vote: March 7, 2017 — the same election in which the mayor, other city officials, and school district officials are on the ballot.

Who's Behind It: Measure S supporters have largely organized behind the Yes on S LA banners you may have seen on billboards around LA. The group's efforts, led by former LA Weekly editor Jill Stewart, are paid for by the Coalition to Preserve LA which is sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Foundation president Michael Weinstein has been involved in political advocacy campaigns before, such as the fight to require condom usage on adult film sets.

Weinstein and the AHF began organizing the Yes on S group in February 2016; the following month, a developer won City Council approval to build two residential high-rises next door to the foundation's headquarters, saying that the project was too tall and dense for its location. Weinstein told the LA Times that they "intend to to exhaust every legal avenue, including filing suit, to stop the Palladium towers." Other members of the Yes on S LA coalition include the Los Angeles Tenants Union, former LA mayor Richard Riordan, environmental advocates, and numerous homeowner associations and neighborhood councils.

What They Say: The language of the measure specifically addresses concerns about developers making political donations to elected officials to ensure city approval of their projects. Measure S supporters say these developments, intended to accommodate Los Angeles's growing population, will increase local traffic, ruin the character of neighborhoods, and contribute to the eviction of residents such as senior citizens and low-income Angelenos. They've been waging an aggressive public relations campaign, posting videos on social media and hosting events almost every week highlighting people affected by the real estate development.

"City leaders are approving luxury housing projects that my community can't even afford," said South LA resident Damien Goodmon in a Yes on S LA YouTube video.

Who Opposes It: The opposing group organized in response to the measure is paid for by the Coalition to Protect LA Neighborhoods, which says it gets the majority of its funding from CH Palladium LLC, the developer behind the project that incited Weinstein's legal battle. But it's also garnered support from a number of local officials such as Mayor Eric Garcetti, chambers of commerce, nonprofits like the United Way of LA, philanthropists like Eli Broad, urban planning professors, homeless advocates, both the Los Angeles County Democratic and Republican parties, and homeowners associations and neighborhood councils as well.

What They Say: Opponents fear that this two-year moratorium would significantly hurt the economy of the second largest city in the nation, contributing to an already severe housing shortage and blocking thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in taxes for education and parks. Los Angeles pays for public education via property taxes, so the more dollars there are in an area the more funding there are for the schools.

"If Measure S passes, if you think the housing crisis is bad now, it's going to get worse," Garcetti said at an event opposing Measure S. "Rents will rise even more quickly than they are today. Our strategy to move people from the streets into housing will be stuck."

According to an economic report on the Vote No on Measure S website, Measure S could cost over 12,000 jobs each year and $27 million in property tax revenue over the two years of the moratorium.

"Placing a ban on construction of residential development will result in higher rents throughout the city," said low-income housing developer Robin Hughes.

Official Summary of Measure S (What you'll see on the ballot):

"BUILDING MORATORIUM; RESTRICTIONS ON GENERAL PLAN AMENDMENTS; REQUIRED REVIEW OF GENERAL PLAN. INITIATIVE ORDINANCE S. Shall an ordinance amending City laws related to the General Plan, including to: 1) impose a two-year moratorium on 80 YES 81 NO projects seeking General Plan amendments or zone or height-district changes resulting in more intense land use, an increase in density or height, or a loss of zoned open space, agricultural or industrial areas, with exceptions including for affordable housing projects and projects for which vested rights have accrued; 2) prohibit geographic amendments to the General Plan unless the affected area has significant social, economic or physical identity (defined as encompassing an entire community or district plan area, specific plan area, neighborhood council area or at least 15 acres); 3) require systematic, public review of the General Plan every five years; 4) prohibit project applicants from completing environmental impact reports for the City; 5) require the City make findings of General Plan consistency for planning amendments, project approvals and permit decisions; and 6) prohibit certain parking variances; be adopted?"

The full text of the measure is available here.

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