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The People Behind That Terrible NIMBY Ballot Measure Also Hate Public Transit

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Editor's Note: As of December 2016, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is known as Measure S.

Remember the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, that terrible NIMBY ballot measure coming for L.A. voters this March? A new finance report reveals that its backers have also been quietly funding the campaign to oppose Measure M, Metro's desperately-needed plan to fund a veritable urbanist wet dream of transit projects via a half-cent sales tax. Seriously? Are you guys for real?

A quick refresher: the NII positions itself as being about preserving L.A. from the dangers of overdevelopment, but it would actually freeze almost all major development in the city right when L.A. desperately needs to construct more housing.

We went into the nitty-gritty of the urban planning woes that the NII seeks to address, and why—despite the fact that those woes are very real—the NII would still be a "horror show" for housing in the city here (and more on why it sucks here and here).

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"The philosophy behind the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is a backwards-looking kind of nostalgia for a Los Angeles of small buildings and car-dominated transportation," policy expert and Abundant Housing cofounder Mark Vallianatos told LAist. "So to me, it makes sense that the same people who don't want there to be housing or other buildings built would also be scared of a future in which transit is a more normal way of getting around and a car isn't always given priority."

"This just proves who they are. It proves that they are people who are trying to turn back the clock on Los Angeles and want this to be a city that, frankly, it never was," Mott Smith, professor at USC's Price School of Public Policy, told LAist. We would be remiss if we didn't note that Smith is also developer—he's a principle at Civic Enterprise.

"[The backers of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative] say they're looking out for the little guy," Smith said. "If that's true, they should be out there campaigning for more transit, not less. They say they're fighting for affordability. If that's true, they should be fighting for more housing, not less. It just gives lie to their whole claim that they're looking out for anything but the preservation of suburban, single-family housing."

As our friends at Curbed LA noted, the coalition's opposition to Measure M isn't all that surprising, given that coalition director Jill Stewart spoke out against the measure in an August interview. Her main complaint seems to be that Metro encourages development around transit hubs because, in her words, "there are not enough people already there to justify that station or bus stop when it gets going." In Stewart's view, this creates congestion, with fixed rail being "the terrible burden that Metro has to carry right now." We love her long-term vision and commitment to preserving NIMBY livability in Los Angeles for a select echelon of home-owning Angelenos, while ignoring the city's very real transit future, and the crucial role that thoughtful transit-oriented development can play in building a more equitable city for all.

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Here's how Vallianatos—who co-wrote The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City—broke it down: "Transit and denser, more walkable development go hand-in-hand in enabling the positive qualities of urban life. You want to have enough people and activities—that is homes and businesses—near transit to let there be adequate ridership to support frequent service that then makes the transit really useful in people's lives."

In Vallianatos' view, transit is what flips the switch on density, shifting it from being a bad thing that leads to traffic, "to making density a wonderful thing, because there's more places to walk to and to live and to work and to shop."

"Extending transit and allowing adequate urban density are really powerful, positive forces when they work together," he said.

All of this is why Metro's goals need to be broader than just reducing congestion. Wired writer and former CityLab fellow Aarian Marshall explained it well a recent piece:

Killing congestion is a laudable and popular goal, but it’s not the point of big transit projects like the Expo line. Public transportation is about offering people more options—and opportunities—when they’re choosing how to get around. New transit lines give those who cannot or will not buy cars the ability to affordably reach a wider range of businesses and employers. They let employers cast their nets more widely in search of qualified workers. They encourage shops, corporations, and residents to densely cluster around stations and lines, which economists tell us often lead to serious money injections (like, over-$1-billion-increases-in-annual-wages serious, per one study.)
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Sounds awful, right? This morning I took the Purple Line (part of Metro's "terrible burden" of a fixed-rail system) from my apartment in densely-populated Koreatown to my job downtown. Small as it may be, this single person in a single car wasn't on the road, increasing congestion. I said "hi" to my neighbors during the two-block walk to my station and supported a local small business when I bought my coffee. During the quick stroll and seven-minute long subway ride surrounded by Angelenos of every stripe, color, and income bracket crowded into one clean car, I was reminded, as I am every morning, of why I love my city. Now please stop trying to ruin it, Jill Stewart.