Wearing hardhats and waving homemade signs, a diverse collection of construction workers and affordable housing advocates gathered recently to protest the potential passage of Measure S, a proposal that would ban development of low-cost housing and potentially eliminate more than an estimated 12,000 good-paying jobs with benefits. The press conference and protest took place at the Joint Journeyman and Apprentice Training Center near downtown Los Angeles.
For roughly an hour, there were speeches given by workers who believe that the passaage of Measure S will adversely impact their ability to provide for themselves and their families.
In November, a cluster of African American and Latino workers assembled to endorse Proposition JJJ—an initiative that aimed to create more affordable housing in South Los Angeles by requiring developers to designate a certain percentage of condos and apartments in new residential buildings for low-income tenants. Supporters speculated at the time, that this legislation could create jobs.
During the press conference and demonstration last week, Charles Slay, a former convict who was released early from a life-sentence in prison, told the audience that earning a steady paycheck had transformed his life.
“When I was released from incarceration, society was totally new to me,” he explained. “I didn’t realize all the things I needed (to know) to survive in society. Everything was given to me in prison. I was immersed in dysfunctional thinking. Having a steady job has changed my life. I no longer have to depend on the County of Los Angeles or my family to take care of me. I can take care of myself and be a positive influence to my community. I plan on being a first-time homeowner in the next several years. If there’s a moratorium on construction, then there will be less jobs and that will affect me and plenty of other people.”
“I’ll be the first one on the chopping block,” Slay added. “I put all of my eggs into this basket. I don’t have a plan B, and there are a lot of other good men and women who are coming home from prison who are in need of structure and security. This job is imperative to my existence.”
Measure S, called Building moratorium is asking for a restriction on general plans amendments; and requires a review of the city’s General Plan, which is a dynamic document consisting of several elements—land use; plans for each of the city’s 35 community plan areas. It must be approved by the City Planning Commission and adopted by the City and recommends:the measure recommends: 1) imposing a two-year moratorium on 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; 2) prohibiting 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) requires systematic, public review of the General Plan every five years; 4) prohibits project applicants from completing environmental impact report for the city; 5) requires the city to make findings of the General Plan consistency for planning amendments, project approvals and permit decisions; and 6) prohibit certain parking variances.
The Yes on S campaign, a group heavily backed by the Hollywood-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, has spent more than a year highlighting the city’s frequent practice of changing planning rules for individual development projects.
Those decisions, say Measure S supporters, are heavily influenced by campaign contributors—and have helped make neighborhoods unaffordable.
Business leaders, labor unions and the city’s affordable housing groups say Measure S would trigger a dramatic slowdown in housing production, pushing already high rents even higher.
They also argue that the homelessness crisis would grow worse, because nonprofit developers would be unable to use long-established planning tools to win approval for their projects.
Moreover, if the measure passes, some men and women will be “put out of work,” explained John Ferruccio, director of organizing for the Southern California Pipe Trade (District Council 16).
If adopted, Measure S will:
—Prevent developers from writing their own “environmental impact” reports, which supporters of the measure believe is an obvious conflict of interest that is used against communities as an unfair tool of overdevelopment.
—Require the Los Angeles City Council to create a citywide plan for Los Angeles tied directly to infrastructure limitations, true population figures and community desires.
—Preserves neighborhoods and institutes a protective two-year timeout that stops the Los Angeles City Council from its current practice of spot zoning–bending the rules to approve mega-projects and inappropriate development that destroys neighborhood character and displaces longtime residents and small businesses.
From the outside looking in, Measure S appears to be a godsend for low-income minorities who could otherwise be displaced by the development of housing they cannot afford. However, there is a contingent of local elected officials who disagree with the notion that building high-priced megastructures will have a negative impact on minorities.
“I think Measure S is a horrible idea,” declared Eighth District Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson. “I can’t think of a single sitting African American elected official who endorses the measure.”
He added, “The way you raise the price of housing and push people out is by restricting supply,” explained Harris-Dawson. “The less housing there is, the more expensive it’s going to be. This idea that building housing pushes people out is ridiculous. I think the exact opposite is true. The only way people will be able to stay is if we have new housing to absorb the new people who want to live here [Los Angeles]. Otherwise, well-to-do people from other cities will outbid local residents because there will be no other place to go. That doesn’t sound ideal to me.”