David Senden – Los Angelenos Rethinking Development After Failed Proposal

Mansion Global

March 15, 2017

Los Angeles residents are rethinking the future configuration of their city now that they’ve overwhelmingly voted against a proposal that would have frozen new real estate projects for two years.

Fewer than one in three residents voted in favor of the ballot proposal, known as Measure S, last Tuesday. The anti-development measure would have halted projects in the city that required exemptions from the city’s current zoning rules, pressured lawmakers to reform Los Angeles’s outdated planning system and slowed the proliferation of skyscrapers.

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But the sweeping moratorium on development garnered broad opposition from unlikely allies. Those against it included low-income housing advocates, who said the measure would block the plans for more affordable housing; luxury condo developers, some of whom scrambled to push through project approvals ahead of the vote; and The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, which called Measure S “a childish middle finger to City Hall.”

“To literally turn off development—no one who knows anything about anything could agree to that,” Ben Belack, a real estate agent with The Agency, told Mansion Global.

Mr. Belack, who primarily helps middle- to upper-middle-income buyers find homes, said he’s in the trenches watching Los Angeles families deal with a housing shortage. He described intense bidding wars in the $1 million-$2 million market, where some buyers are left picking through slim inventory for a year or longer.

Measure S, if passed, would have exacerbated that shortage and driven prices and competition even higher, Mr. Belack and many other opponents of the measure argued.

Nevertheless, the failed measure has sparked a crucial conversation about issues like the housing shortage, as well as density and the character of the city’s skyline, all of which are wrapped up in the city’s General Plan, a blueprint for growth that hasn’t been updated in 20 years.

“‘S’ was this weird sweeping thing that woke people up to development and what’s really going on,” Mr. Belack said. “Everyone agrees that our General Plan needs work… It’s a juncture that we cannot ignore.”

Jill Stewart, a campaign manager for Measure S, said making the city’s outdated planning a key issue was a win for their cause even if the ballot measure lost.

“We lost the election but in many ways we won the argument,” Ms. Stewart said. “L.A. is one of the most poorly planned cities in the country… It literally took a ballot measure to get the city leaders to admit something needed to change.”

Ms. Stewart, who hails from the San Fernando Valley, said she’s not sure how the measure’s coalition will be involved in the future.

Mansion Global has previously reported on the boom of luxury and upper-midrange residential skyscrapers under construction across Los Angeles, growth that will eventually alter the skyline.

Measure S supporters were also concerned that the city, until now a flat, sprawling patchwork of neighborhoods, has started to become too dense and too vertical. Many others, particularly those in the real estate industry, countered that increasing housing density, particularly in walkable areas in Downtown Los Angeles, through more condo and rental towers is unavoidable.

“A lot of this is about anti-density, it must be human nature to keep things the way they are,” said David Senden, principal of KTGY Architecture + Planning, which is headquartered in L.A. “There’s no way around it. The only way to make any kind of dent in the affordability problem is density.”

But in a car-heavy city with infamously horrific traffic, lawmakers and the pro-development crowd will need to push for alternative modes of transportation, like bicycles, improve mass transit and address parking shortages if they want to win over anti-density folks, Mr. Senden said.

“If you can do away with the parking and transit issues then you can do away with most of the problems,” Mr. Senden said. “There’s some short-term pains. It’s like a snowball that gets rolling kind of slow in the beginning.”

The Los Angeles Times argued in a post-election editorial that the city has the best chance for addressing many of these concerns—from the housing shortage to traffic to economic growth—if residents remain vocal and involved as the Planning Department comes up with a new blueprint for Los Angeles.

“This is a once-in-generation chance to set the big-picture vision for how Los Angeles should grow,” the Editorial Board wrote. “There will be fights over density and building heights in communities, but residents can’t just say no to growth and new development; they have a responsibility to figure out where the city should say yes.”