AIA|LA Supports Smart Community Planning
and Opposes the
“Neighborhood Integrity Initiative”
On March 15, the proponents of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative notified the public that they were postponing the initiative until the March 2017 city elections and have revised the current draft of their petition. SEE ATTACHED.
The AIA|LA welcomes your input as we review this latest draft in depth and measure its potential impacts on the health and safety and well-being of Los Angeles.
One of the ballot initiatives proposed for this November’s election is touted as the big fix to the City of Los Angeles’ planning and development approval process. The Coalition to Preserve L.A. claims that the so-called “neighborhood integrity initiative” will mend the City’s broken planning system. While the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA|LA) has consistently advocated for improvements to the City’s approach to long-range planning and permitting, we find that this ballot initiative will not fix the City’s planning woes; it will make them worse.
The proposed initiative will not solve traffic congestion, it will actually make traffic congestion worse. The initiative will not preserve the authenticity and character of our single-family neighborhoods, it will actually re-direct the pressures and impacts of development from our urban centers and commercial corridors and into our city’s most charming enclaves.
In fact, we are concerned that this prospective ballot initiative may adversely impact the health, safety and economic vitality of our region by placing a two-year moratorium on sizable construction projects in the City of Los Angeles and prohibiting neighborhoods from having the power to determine their own unique vision for the future.
The AIA|LA believes that we as city need to invest more resources into updating all thirty-five community plans effectively and comprehensively, with a strong emphasis on the inclusive community outreach and environmental analysis each update requires. Inclusive and smart community planning becomes the path forward to achieve a safer, healthier, more equitable and delightful Los Angeles – a future Los Angeles that empowers greater human connectivity, creativity and prosperity for all.
Hence, preserving the Los Angeles of the past with its current inequities is not in anyone’s best interest. The neighborhood integrity initiative will severely restrict the ability of communities to determine their own vision for future growth. The initiative takes a “one size fits all” approach to planning and requires all zoning conditions and any future projects to mimic the existing built environment irrespective of an individual community’s vision for future improvements. A planning process that responds to a neighborhood’s unique aspirations would become impossible if the ballot measure passes.
This ballot initiative will detrimentally reduce access to good quality housing at affordable rates for young singles, new families and working people throughout the City. It will also impact housing opportunities for the homeless and the working poor, just at the time when L.A.'s need for more housing is most dire. The provisions of the initiative all but eliminate the planning tools that make the large majority of affordable and homeless housing developments possible. In fact, the initiative preserves the current inequitable grievances that we’re all trying to correct.
Instead of jump-starting creative and forward-thinking planning at the grass roots, the initiative will create a planning logjam that together with a two-year building moratorium will put an immediate halt to construction and chase investment away to other cities in the region.
Many of the initiative’s provisions contradict existing state and local laws. For example, it would make it impossible for the City of Los Angeles to comply with State housing goals. The litigation that is certain to ensue, should the initiative pass, will cost taxpayers millions of dollars and create years of gridlock and uncertainty for communities for years to come. The complex issues at stake deserve more careful consideration (and solutions-oriented consensus building) than a simple yes or no vote at the ballot box.
AIA|LA strongly opposes the neighborhood integrity initiative and encourages its 3600+ members to actively engage with their neighbors, clients and vendors and share these concerns. As a leadership resource, AIA|LA and its members stand ready to assist City leaders and the community as a whole to make workable, common-sense changes to the City's planning and approval process through both community input and the legislative process.
BACKGROUND ON THE “NEIGHBORHOOD INTEGRITY INITIATIVE”
"The planning fix that isn't one."
The ballot initiative claims it will fix a broken and corrupt planning process. It does nothing of the sort. Instead, its provisions actually restrict planning to mimic what’s already built regardless if the community has another vision for its future.
For instance, Section 5, provision D, paragraph 5 reads, “the proposed amendment will not permit development at a density, scale or intensity (including floor to area ratio, height and permitted use) inconsistent with the majority of already developed parcels with a quarter-mile radius”.
That provision, which is a central tenet of the initiative prohibits a community’s ability to evolve from its current existing (and perhaps blighted) condition to a future improvement, which may be more apt for how a neighborhood selects to grow.
"This ballot initiative would halt many multi-family residential development at the time of Los Angeles' greatest need for more housing."
Housing in Los Angeles is more unaffordable than it’s ever been. Many multi-family residential developments, particularly those on boulevards away from single-family neighborhoods, require zoning or General Plan amendments. If passed, the initiative takes away these tools that are key to addressing the City’s housing affordability crisis.
"This ballot initiative would reduce access to housing for the homeless and the working poor."
Workforce and affordable housing is typically built on underutilized sites that require zone changes or General Plan amendments. By rescinding these tools, the ballot initiative makes these sites all but inaccessible for housing for the homeless and working poor. Furthermore, it would jeopardize the ability to apply for county, state and federal affordable housing funds.
"Far from engendering good city planning practice, this initiative would all but freeze Los Angeles neighborhood revitalization, regardless of the community's preferences."
If passed, the initiative will enact new code provisions that freeze in place an outdated vision from the past. Instead of capitalizing on the region’s extraordinary investment in transit, it makes sure Los Angeles can never get away from the congestion and air pollution that comes from over-reliance on the automobile.
"This initiative is not about empowering community; it's about stopping development in Los Angeles."
While the initiative critiques the status quo of L.A.’s City planning and project approval process, most of its provisions would stop new development. It would rescind already granted planning approvals and place a two-year moratorium on new entitlements.
"If approved, the initiative's provisions would open every step of the building process to legal challenge."
The initiative requires City staff to make “findings” along every step of the project review and approval process down to the City inspector signing off a minor building project. Because findings can be challenged in court, even a sign-off for a simple reroofing job could be brought before a judge.
"The proposed initiative conflicts with Los Angeles and California law; instead of certainty it would produce uncertainty for years to come."
The initiative conflicts with planning law at both the City and State level, which could lead to years of unnecessary litigation. For instance, it would make it impossible for Los Angeles to meet state housing goals contained in the Housing Element.
"The initiative's vague requirements would produce unintended consequences for decades to come."
Too much of the initiative is vague and poorly written. Any changes to it must again be approved with a popular vote. Even minor corrections would require another ballot. In the absence of a mechanism to fix unintended consequences the initiative would be contested in the courts, creating uncertainty for decades to come.
AIA|LA is formally requesting that Council President Herb Wesson and the Los Angeles City Council to:
- 1) Direct the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to analyze the potential fiscal impacts to their enterprise fund, to the city’s general fund, and upon overall construction activity if the potential ballot measure were to be law.
- 2) Direct the City Attorney to analyze litigation risks to which the city would be vulnerable from lawsuits filed by affected parties and from the City not complying with various State of California mandates related to housing, environmental air quality, etc. were the proposed ballot measure to become law.
- 3) Direct the Department of City Planning to provide an estimate for how much it will cost the City to effectively and comprehensively review and update all thirty-five community plans within a two year timeframe, including staffing required for project management, oversight and procurement of contractors necessary to perform the work – with a strong emphasis on the inclusive community outreach and environmental analysis required.
For more information, please contact:
Will Wright, Hon. AIA|LA, Director, Government & Public Affairs
American Institute of Architects/Los Angeles Chapter
3780 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 800, Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 639-0764 - firstname.lastname@example.org