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Proposed NIMBY Voter Initiative Could Gridlock Los Angeles In Its Past

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Southern California NIMBYs—that is, not in my backyarders—have always wielded a sizable arsenal in their perpetual quest to slow and stop development in and around the region. Chief in their armory is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), an intensely detailed and sprawling piece of legislation that demands a laborious environmental impact review (EIR) process before a project can begin construction.

Of course, the process is so laborious that developers often skirt the edges, giving land-use attorneys like Robert Silverstein plenty of legal fodder to justifiably halt development projects. Silverstein, along with his trusty backers at the La Mirada Homeowners Association, is responsible for putting the brakes several projects in Hollywood like the Millennium Hollywood Towers, the Sunset-Gordon Apartment Complex, and the Target husk currently lording over the intersection of Sunset and Western.

But Silverstein is not alone in his noble fight against new development in Los Angeles, and indeed has Hollywood company. Michael Weinstein, the president of the Hollywood based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, is working ardently to put an initiative on the ballot this upcoming election to severely curtail the ability of the city to build new housing.

Weinstein is a funky character. Aside from this crusade against development, the man is also responsible for engineering the successful Measure B initiative a few years ago, which required porn-actors to wear condoms during shoots, and consequently drove 95 percent of porn production out of Los Angeles County.

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Weinstein’s current effort, dubbed the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative by the Coalition to Preserve L.A., comes conveniently timed to place a wall in front of Los Angeles’ attempts to plan the region out of its inevitable traffic gridlock.

Last August, the Los Angeles City Council passed Mobility Plan 2035, a sweeping overhaul to the city’s transportation that prioritizes mass-transit and other multi-modal options, like walking and biking, over the personal vehicle. At the same time, Mayor Eric Garcetti is pursuing an aggressive plan to build an extra 100,000 housing units within city limits by 2021 to address L.A.’s housing shortage. Much of this new development is centered in the city’s already dense population centers, like Downtown, Hollywood, Koreatown, as well as other locations convenient to mass transit. The planning ideology follows that if people live near usable transit options, they won’t drive—especially if traffic is terrible.

Weinstein and Silverstein alike have focused their efforts on Hollywood, which, in case you haven’t noticed, has become a hotbed for stratospheric development. High-rises are flying up left and right, all the while the neighborhood’s traffic goes from absolutely insufferable to even more crushingly intolerable.

From his perspective, Weinstein—and Silverstein as well—see the traffic as a result of the augmented development; more people means more traffic, and for some reason the city just doesn’t seem to understand that.

In short, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative would ban the practice of amending the Los Angeles’ general plan, freezing most neighborhoods with an archaic document from the 1980s to guide their future development, according to Streetsblog LA. At the same time, the proposed measure would also increase the amount of required parking in new developments to virtually suburban levels.

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When it comes to how parking minimums affect traffic, the empirically justified philosophy roughly states that people will drive to a destination if parking is plentiful, even if that destination is located convenient to mass-transit, like, for example, the Target built atop a subway station.

That aside, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative has drawn some heavyweight supporters. Former mayor Richard Riordan endorsed the measure earlier this month. The former managing editor of L.A. Weekly, Jill Stewart, left her post at the alternative weekly to oversee the Coalition to Preserve L.A, and direct the initiative’s campaign.

Supporters like these mean the initiative is, in all likelihood, going to make it to the ballot come November.

It would be unfair, however, to simply classify Weinstein and company’s efforts as entirely misguided. Much of what the so-called density-derailleurs argue is rooted in reality, insofar as much of the new L.A. development is being conducted with a lackluster approach to environmental review. Mayor Garcetti and the L.A. City Council offered their blessings to the Millennium Hollywood project, even though it definitely was going to be built directly atop an active fault-line.

At the same time, almost all the new housing being built in the city is hardly what one could consider affordable. While the rest of us are struggling in the nation’s most unaffordable rental market, wealthy transplants move into their new Hollywood condominiums without a second thought about the $3,500 monthly rent.

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Obviously Los Angeles’ new development is somewhat misguided with regard to the needs of the average Angeleno. But the alternative suggested by the Coalition to Preserve L.A. replaces misguided development with an absolutely counterproductive freeze on city-planning.