On March 7, 2017, Los Angeles residents will vote on a ballot initiative that includes a two-year moratorium on much of the city’s new construction. The very controversial initiative, known as Measure S, is formally called the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative (Initiative). The Mayor of Los Angeles and a broad coalition of City of Los Angeles Council members, California State Assembly members, businesses, and organizations oppose the Initiative.
Motivation for Initiative
The Initiative was proposed by the Coalition to Preserve LA in response to what it sees as unchecked development in Los Angeles over the last few years. The group alleges that City Council members approve large-scale projects requiring amendments to the City of Los Angeles’ General Plan (General Plan), a comprehensive plan for development within the city, in exchange for support from developers. According to the Coalition to Preserve LA, development is leading to problems such as traffic congestion and a decrease in affordable housing.
Two-Year Ban on New Construction or Additions
The Initiative imposes a temporary ban on any new construction or additions to a structure requiring an amendment to the General Plan, a zoning variance, or changes to the height district (maximum allowed building height) if the construction or addition would require:
- zoning changes that alter land-use restrictions or increase the allowed building height;
- an increase in “floor area ratio, density, or height”; or
- a loss of areas zoned for open space, agriculture, or industry.
The ban extends two years from the effective date of the Initiative unless the City Council adopts an updated General Plan Framework and revised community plan text and zoning map.
There are several exceptions to the moratorium. These include projects:
- completely comprised of Affordable Housing Units as defined by the ordinance;
- required by the Los Angeles Department of Buildings and Safety for safety purposes or to respond to a natural disaster; or
- for which there is a vested right under state law or the Los Angeles Municipal Code.
New General Plan Amendment and Update Process
The Initiative prevents General Plan amendments to accommodate single projects by prohibiting amendments for individual projects as well as a group of “concurrently submitted” projects that are inconsistent with the General Plan. To be approved, an amendment must include an area that “has significant social, economic, or physical identity” such as an entire community and cannot be smaller than 15 acres.
The General Plan would go through a public review process for updating the plan every five years. The review must include all the Community Plans and District Plans, and public hearings would be held as part of the review process.
New Requirements for Preparation of Environmental Impact Reports and Parking
The Initiative also requires that whenever a state or city law mandates the preparation of an environmental impact report for a project, the report will be drafted by the city staff or a third party contracted by the city. The environmental impact report may not be prepared by the applicant or someone hired by the applicant.
The Los Angeles Municipal Code currently permits the City Planning Commission to authorize a reduction of the number of required on-site parking spaces in a particular area to allow for development. The Initiative adds a provision stating that a such a reduction cannot decrease the number of required spots by more than a third.
Development Project Approval and Permits
Before approving any development project, the city’s representatives must specifically determine based on “substantial evidence” a project complies with the General Plan’s elements. Also, before issuing a permit, it must be shown that a project conforms with the General Plan Land Use Designation and zoning code.
Opposition to Initiative
A diverse group of opponents to the Initiative believes it would place a freeze on almost all new residential and non-residential construction in Los Angeles. The Initiative would potentially stop construction of necessary institutions such as hospitals and schools. Also, Los Angeles requires more housing to meet current demand as the city’s population increases, but the Initiative would make it extremely difficult to build much needed housing. A moratorium on residential development will only raise housing costs and reduce the amount of affordable housing. The Initiative would also reduce jobs, economic development, and tax revenue.
We will be closely watching this critical ballot initiative, Measure S.