Measure S and the Future of Los Angeles

William H. Fain, Jr., FAIA – 2006 AIA|LA President

“I plan to vote NO on Measure S.  


My main concern is the measure's requirement for a two-year moratorium for developments involving zoning and general plan changes.  Given that the general plan and zoning have not been updated for over twenty years, a moratorium will greatly impact a number of worthwhile projects including those with affordable housing which we all know is an important priority for the city and the Southern California region.  Also, realistically it would be impossible to update the entire general plan with its 35 community plans within the two-year time frame.  If the city is unable to complete the update, we may very well find ourselves back to square one at the end of the moratorium. At that point the damage to the city's economic development will have been done without the benefit of a re-planned city, which addresses the concerns expressed in the measure.  Remember a moratorium is not a remedy.  It is a method for stopping development in place while the remedies are created.  If they are not created the moratorium is for not.


An underlying issue behind the measure is a need for better city planning in Los Angeles.  The city needs, a) land use policies which better anticipate development issues, and b) an approval process which is more predictable.  This should be a goal for everyone involved whether a neighborhood member, politician, or developer. Certainty helps everyone.  What we do not want is a city planning process "by exception" where everything is negotiable and subject to "pay-to-play" politics.  It breeds unfair treatment, denies equal access, and promotes favoritism.  The measure is good to point this out.  I firmly believe Los Angeles has the tools for translating planning policies into programs, which support and protect neighborhoods while providing economic expansion and the opportunity for change.  These include, a) more "comprehensive" special purpose commissions and authorities, such as for transportation or addressing open space like the LA River, or b) more focused planning that address the needs of a specific area like the Warner Center Specific Plan or the CASP near Chinatown.  These specific plans are in place and from time to time can be adjusted to meet changing circumstances.  The city has many issues that need to be addressed with good urban design and planning including: the lack of affordable housing which has made the jobs-housing balance even worse; a rising homeless population in need of shelter and services; erosion of manufacturing jobs which coincides with the conversion of industrial properties to housing like in the Arts District and in other areas along the LA River; land use plans for neighborhoods which have historically focused away from rather than embracing the LA River as an amenity which is a part of regional open space system; and transit related development which creates the opportunity for higher density mixed use nodes with less required parking and walkable places. To address these many areas and issues, there needs to be enough time, resources, patience, and an ability to listen to citizens, enabling them to become owners of their community plans.  Architects and the AIA can help facilitate the process.


It is important to realize that regardless of the outcome of the measure, the city must update its general plan. A lack of political leadership has allowed our general city planning to stagnate, but Los Angeles cannot continue in this way.  Our city's leaders need to step up.  A resolution was recently passed by the LA City Council to revise the general plan every six years, but to be effective such a resolution needs the support of funds for the staff and resources required for good urban design and planning. The city should also address the "pay-to-play" issue that is eroding the integrity of government and its relationship to the private sector. In summary, instead of a development moratorium, what Los Angeles really needs is an updated general plan with clear rules for playing the real estate game and a council willing to act aggressively, now. 


Today’s active real estate market is forcing many of these issues to the surface of public discourse.  This is a healthy sign, as for many years architects and planners, policy makers, city activists, and developers have tried to revitalize some of the older areas of the city burdened with crumbling housing stock and outdated infrastructure.  For decades, optimistic redevelopment and adaptive re-use plans were drawn up and passed by officials.  None succeeded.  Today, despite the absence of the Redevelopment Agency, we are seeing the opposite.  In downtown alone, there are sixty thousand new residents, several new food markets, over six hundred new bars and restaurants, and more.  All over the city, people are embracing the benefits of urban living and all it offers.  Information age people want to be near each other, our virtual connections creating an ever-greater wish for real connections, face-to-face encounters that urban living alone provides.  This is happening worldwide, and in LA this movement provides an exciting opportunity to reinvigorate our urban lands, while also bringing to light issues of inclusion, dislocation and affordability.  If we anticipate and confront these issues through the planning process now, we can embrace this momentum and make Los Angeles a more humane and civic place.”


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 04:21 PM
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