Los Angeles Business Journal

L.A. Council Places Building Moratorium Initiative on March Ballot

By Howard Fine Friday, September 30, 2016

The Los Angeles City Council on Friday voted to place on the March ballot an initiative from neighborhood anti-development activists that would impose a two-year moratorium on most major building projects and sharply curtail major projects going forward.

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative would place a two-year moratorium on major developments and prohibit most “spot zoning,” where variances from community plans are granted for development projects. The coalition of neighborhood activists behind the initiative is led and largely funded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles city clerk officially certified the measure as eligible for the ballot after initiative backers submitted 104,000 signatures, nearly double the number needed. Under city charter rules, once an initiative is certified, the council can either adopt the provisions in the measure immediately or let the measure go through to the ballot; councilmembers Friday unanimously chose the latter option.

Initiative proponents welcomed the council’s decision, saying voters will now get to decide how development should proceed in the city.

“Our measure allows 95 percent of all development to continue while the greediest 5 percent of developers are put on a timeout while we force the City Council to come up with a real plan for Los Angeles,” Jill Stewart, campaign chair for the Coalition to Preserve Los Angeles, said in a statement after the council vote. “Our ballot measure forces the council…to follow our zoning rules, instead of ignoring them as they have in recent years.”

The measure is opposed by a broad coalition of development, business, labor, and nonprofit groups that contend it would dramatically slow the pace of building affordable housing at a time when the city faces a severe housing crunch.

“This poorly written ordinance goes way too far,” Gary Toebben, chief executive of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement after the vote. “Damaging our city’s economy means moving hundreds of thousands of Angelenos one step closer to homelessness.”

Last month, knowing they had more than enough signatures in hand to qualify the measure, initiative backers met with Mayor Eric Garcetti to give him and other city officials the opportunity to come up with their own proposals to restrict large-scale developments in the city. Garcetti said he was in agreement with many of the views expressed by initiative backers. But the only concrete proposal he offered - notifying the public of closed-door meetings between developers, lobbyists, and city officials - did not go nearly far enough to satisfy initiative backers.

Public policy and energy reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @howardafine.