My essay in today's CITYWATCH:
Will Janice Hahn Save Us from Forces of Greed?
Repealing Density Bonus Bill
By Brady Westwater
Right now – while your children lie asleep in their beds – you may get a phone call at 3 AM when a neighbor finds on his computer a notice about a massive apartment building being built next door with far too few parking spaces, zero open space, vastly more units and considerably more height that the property is legally zoned for.
And in exchange for your neighborhood's permanent loss of parking, mature trees, green spaces for children to play in, light and air - and in exchange for all the increasing gridlock and congestion – this neighborhood-destroying new development will include a handful of affordable units that will invariably be far fewer in number than the ones in the usually rent controlled apartment building being torn down for the new building. And there will not be a thing you or any of us will be able to do to stop this.
Nor will all of us combined be able to stop even one of the tens of thousands of other developments of this type throughout our city that have just been 'legalized' – even though every single one of them will violate our neighborhood approved specific and community plans.
So we will have all to suffer the negative effects of inappropriate development – and far fewer affordable rent-controlled housing units throughout our city - thanks to the city council's recent approval of the biggest payoff developers have ever received in this city.
In fact, right now – throughout our city - sleeper cells of developers and architects are designing massive, neighborhood busting complexes of the type you and your neighborhood council – mistakenly – thought your community plan protected you against.
Now you may ask – how can this be happening?
And why now?
SB-1818 … popularly called the Density Bonus bill … in all its various forms, has been around for many of years. It is one of two types of laws passed in Sacramento that infringe upon our rights to plan our own future.
The first type mandates a certain amount of affordable housing in each city and mandates that city's will provide adequate housing for all of its citizens. This type of legislation ensures that each city provides its fair share of low income housing – and most people support this type of a general mandate.
Then there is the second type of law that strips cities of the right to protect single family and lower density neighborhoods and make it illegal for cities to fully consider congestion, public safety, traffic and the historic character of neighborhoods when permitting new housing. All too often this law type is lobbyist driven and disproportionately rewards developers for including even a tiny amount of low income housing in their projects.
And Los Angeles had no choice but to approve a law of this type … SB1818 … because it is a state law that legally requires the city to do so.
So what can we do about this? What can we do to stop the bulldozing of the historic and low density neighborhoods of our city?
Well, the answer was proposed at last Saturday's LA NC Congress meeting when Janice Hahn described her fight against the Los Angeles version of SB1818 that the city council just passed. Her audience had a suggestion for her. Some of us proposed she introduce a bill demanding that the state legislature repeal this now infamous SB1818 – and every other law that steals from the citizens of this state the right to protect our existing neighborhoods.
And it's important to remember that repealing these bills does not in any way repeal the legal requirement for California cities to build their fair share of affordable housing. All this will do is to allow each city to develop its own plan to meet these still state-mandated goals.
SB1818's repeal also does not keep the city of Los Angeles from passing each of the rules the City Council just passed should the city feel these are the rules we should be following.
Its repeal would allow us to achieve the same goals and to do so after we have created our own guidelines that respect our community plans. And our laws can also be rewritten so that there is a correlation between increased density and a real world increase in affordable housing units.
So this bill's repeal will protect our neighborhoods, slow the destruction of existing affordable housing units – and allow construction that creates a net increased in affordable housing units.
So why would any member of the LA City Council not support this? There is one reason - and only one reason only.
Right now, because a local version of SB1818 is mandatory, members of the city council can vote for developer-enriching, affordable-housing bulldozing, neighborhood- destroying laws by claiming they are being forced to do so by a state law.
But if that law goes away – then they can no longer use that excuse.
Of course, we all know that no single member of our city council would ever stoop to doing that. So there should be no problem getting a 15–0 vote on this and have it ready for the Mayor to sign within say… thirty days?
So Janice – are you ready to introduce that bill?
And NCs' – are we ready to support her?
If so, look for an example of a resolution your neighborhood councils might want to consider passing in the next issue of CITYWATCH. It’s time to get past the talk stage and start walkin’ the walk.
And also look for an announcement soon from the LANCC Economic Development Committee on its upcoming forum on 'How to Build Financially Sustainable – And Neighborhood Friendly – Affordable Housing.’
(Brady Westwater is a writer, a long-time downtown and neighborhood council activist and Chair of the LA NC Congress Economic Development Committee. Westwater is a regular contributor to CityWatch. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org