Measure S and the Future of Los Angeles

Ronald Altoon, FAIA, LEED AP  - 1991 AIA|LA President & 1998 AIA National President

"My Thoughts on Measure S

In the early 1960's the City of Los Angeles brought an inspired city planner from the East Coast to become the Director of its Department of City Planning. Cal Hamilton and his colleagues created a visionary master plan entitled the Centers Concept. It recognized the special nature of the sprawling Southern California region, coupled with the challenging and persistent reality of continuous population growth. Their overriding planning principle was to reinforce and enrich existing centers of mixed-use urban development connected by a system of multi-modal public transit, in order to protect the idyllic vision of sustaining well established residential neighborhoods. This vision was widely embraced.

There are always NIMBYs. These are self-interested citizens who, citing clay pigeon concerns against urban densification relative to unsubstantiated harm inflicted on our environment, increased traffic and other popular themes, want to assure that if economic developments occur, it will be elsewhere, Not In My Back Yard. In short, stuff it in your community. 

To address the social/political/economic conflicts inherent in this myopic dream, the Urban Land Institute Los Angeles District, partnering with the USC Luck Center for Real Estate hosted Reality Check in 2002. The subject of urban population growth was fully vetted in 2002 by three hundred people from diverse communities, racial and economic backgrounds, and professional competencies. They addressed the issue, "If not here, where should growth be accommodated?" Highly successful and informative, it is now a national program of work at ULI.

In addition, and in response to citizen concern, the City Council established multiple Neighborhood Councils within each City Council District. They, and their Design Review Boards evaluate the impact of development in their various communities to assure that local values are embraced, and local voices are heard. This is working very effectively.

When the voters of Los Angeles County approved Measure R in 2008, this vision evolved into reality. As Measure M was also approved last year the sales tax financing of a comprehensive build out of the public transit connectivity system was assured. The citizenry of our communities stepped up and assumed the responsibility to fulfill the greater vision. It was our finest hour.

The reality of unconstrained population growth suggests limited options for conscientious planning. The region is desperately short of needed residential units. Either we will accept the unattended, untenable, unsafe, unsanitary, crammed living conditions for hundreds of thousands of all ages and classes of people, or we default to the discredited public policy of further urban sprawl without mobility, or we can responsibly plan to redefine our urban paradigm with a creative and optimistic vision and a clearly stated desired outcome. It seems we have been following the latter course for the last decade. That suggests that we are responsibly remedying the failed growth policy that Los Angeles officials had put in place in the first half of the 20th Century. We now have traction to offer real solutions.

Improvement has been occurring throughout the private sector in office buildings, retail centers, and even the conversions of both of those to other uses not originally contemplated. Mixed-use and multi-use projects are creating urban experiences across our region. Multi-family residential units are under construction, with greater growth than anywhere in the United States. The enlargement of the single-family house is a natural outcome of several concurrent forces--energy costs, mobility, redefinition of the family structure, multi-generational families, etc. Some suggest that we just capriciously apply the brakes and just stop! 

If we accept this reactionary rhetoric, we will also mute our regional economic engine, which has finally, after so many years, gained significant traction once again. Several years of proposed delayed development will bring even more years of debate, and further years of entitlement processing. Taken collectively they will produce perhaps a decade of lost employment for those who need it most. Lost jobs lead to diminished spending, and the return of all the negative aspects of a flatline economy that simply is insensitive to basic human needs. We are better people than that. We deserve better than that. 

And, there may well be unintended consequences. The City of Los Angeles has recently submitted its bid to host the 2014 Summer Olympic Games. Our exemplary such efforts in 1932 and 1984 resulted in the only games in history to be held without a financial deficit to the host city. The well-documented outcomes of the 1984 games were the positive short-term economic infusion to our economy, and the long-term impact of supporting disadvantaged communities and children with sports venues and programs. These may be terminally impacted by this misguided initiative. What is going on with Measure S is, to paraphrase, akin to the poor taking to the streets in search of food, and they way they express themselves is to burn the bakeries.

We have the tools, we have civic leadership in the person of the Mayor, the City Council, Metro, and many inspired private sector professionals who are applying their skills to crate a better Los Angeles. As an alternative to the negativism of the initiative, we should be looking to streamline and strengthen the entitlement process to enable those who are willing to risk their investment in support of the greater vision to be able to realize this promise.

Smart growth is inspired growth. No growth is the uninspired abdication of affirmative action. Let's do the right thing. Reject the culture of negativism and vote no on Measure S."


Ronald Altoon, writing as a private individual, was 1998 National President of The American Institute of Architects, and a former Chair of the Urban Land Institute, Los Angeles District Council.


As you may already know, Measure S is on the ballot on March 7th and it is an issue that deeply effects the future of the City of Los Angeles, the built environment and the architecture profession.

AIA|LA reached out several AIA|LA Past-Presidents and Gold Medalists to share their individual thoughts.  We will be sharing those thoughts over the course of the next few weeks.

The AIA|LA Board of Director’s voted to oppose Measure S in January 2016 back when it was referred to as the 'Neighborhood Integrity Initiative'. The Board voted to re-iterate that opposition at the January 2017 board meeting and instructed staff to communicate that opposition in a constructive manner and to elevate the architect’s role as the bridge builder between developers who are investing rapidly in the transformation of Los Angeles and communities who may feel uncomfortable with the intensity of our current development boom.

Yes, the AIA|LA opposes Measure S - but we also want to share with the public our pro-active ideas for how we can ensure Los Angeles evolves as a more beautiful, equitable and prosperous place and yet preserves its authentic character.  For well over the past twelve years, we’ve been strong advocates encouraging City Council to invest more robustly in an inclusive community outreach process to update community plans.  However, that investment has never occurred at the scale we’d like to see - hence the community backlash that is manifested in the Measure S initiative.

We’ve noticed how divisive Measure S has become between professionals (architects, developers, city planners) and the community-at-large.  Therefore, rather than inflame that division, we’d like to deliver a carefully crafted article that captures the voices of a diverse set of design professionals and offer that blended perspective as a bridge that connects the two camps so that we can underscore the role of the architect to serve clients AND communities with a thoughtful approach to inclusive community outreach.

To read the Measure S initiative in its entirety, please CLICK HERE

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

tel: (213) 639-0764



Last updated: 14-Feb-2017 02:27 PM
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