Can We Cool It with the Ballot Box Planning Measures Already?

Polling place photo via Santa Monica Next
Polling place photo via Santa Monica Next

Syndicated from SBLA’s sister site Santa Monica Next

Last night, Los Angeles voters soundly beat Measure S, a poorly-conceived and draconian attempt to control the city’s planning process at the ballot box. The defeat of Measure S comes only a few months after Santa Monica decisively rejected a similarly regressive measure, Measure LV.

The defeat of these measures is not definitive proof of a new urbanist wave of voters. These results, however, do shine a light on the massive flaws in ballot box planning. They show the difficulties in simplifying the complex task of designing the future of cities down into a one-size-fits-all up-or-down vote.

To call last night simply a defeat is an understatement. Measure S lost after it barely managed to get only 31 percent of the vote despite (or, maybe because) its supporters running one of the most deceptive campaigns in recent L.A. history.

Today, the Los Angeles Times wrote: “Los Angeles voters have now sent a message about what kind of city they want: more housing, more affordable, more public transit.”

It was a definitive rout of a measure that would have severely hampered new housing — both affordable and market-rate — growth, since the measure would have put a two-year moratorium on zoning changes or General Plan amendments. Due to the city’s antiquated zoning, these amendments are what allows the city to permit new housing to replace outmoded uses like empty parking lots or industrial spaces.

As our regional housing shortage continues to grow and rents continue to skyrocket, anti-growth measures like S and LV would have undermined efforts to keep our region affordable and to prevent displacement of low- and middle-income people.

In short, Measure S was anti-change and anti-transit (the same people who backed Measure S also mounted the only formal opposition to Measure M in November).

Measure LV, which went before Santa Monica voters in November, similarly sought to put the brakes on growth and change by requiring nearly all projects taller than 32 feet to be approved by a vote of the people before moving forward. Measure LV was also decisively rejected by voters, losing by nearly 11 percent points.

Not even a full month after Measure LV was defeated, however, some on the Santa Monica City Council began calling for another, less severe version of the measure to go before voters next election year.

At what point do we look at the results from these elections as an indication that while we may not all agree on the direction our region is going in, more people than not agree that going to the ballot box to plan our cities’ futures isn’t the way forward?

One of the main points of living in a city is that it is full of diversity. This inevitably means a diversity of opinions about how to plan for the future. The real work of planning is taking that diversity and creating a coherent future out of it.

However, measures like S and LV are attempts by a vocal minority of people to foist narrow visions of the future on diverse communities by exploiting real frustrations and fears. But that these visions of our future truly do belong to a minority of people is a truth that was born out in two separate elections less than six months apart.

So, how do we go forward? One option is to make these sorts of measures harder to pass. California Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) wants measures designed to block growth to need to get two-thirds of the vote instead of just a simply majority in order to pass.

Already, in L.A., there is talk about steps needed to address the underlying problems that the pro-S people exploited to sell their measure: skyrocketing rents, an arcane and archaic planning system, and growing inequality. Notably, unlike in Santa Monica, no one seems to be talking about the need for another, less severe version of Measure S.

In Santa Monica, the pro-LV people exploited, more than any other single issue, frustration over traffic. So why are leaders discussing another ballot measure instead of real solutions to the underlying frustrations that were exploited by supporters of LV?

One thing is clear from Tuesday’s election results: voters have once again rejected the myth that the problems of urban planning can be solved with a simple yes-or-no vote at the ballot box. How many more times do we have to say no to an idea before we can stop posing the question?

  • Mike Jones

    Look at the turnout figures… the people of Los Angeles said nothing. The whole idea of running government by propositions is the problem… and a waste of money.

  • ranzchic

    Why not do the opposite and use the ballot measures and start putting up pro-growth propositions? Propositions that make it easier to build near any transit stop or station? Or better yet, a proposition to repeal Prop U. It’s high time the NIMBYs taste their own medicine.

  • ranzchic

    The Yes on S campaign specifically delayed the vote from Nov 2016 to March 2017 because they hoped that the lower turnout election was their terrain. They would have been trounced even more in a larger turnout election and probably looking at support in the high 20s versus low 30s two days ago.

  • JustJake

    Democracy in action. Attempts to deny this voice of citizens, as opposed to what the legislative stew produces, should fail. Ballot box is the last vestige of citizen input.

  • Steve Neman

    I’m sorry, but we have way, way, way too many people in LA already, many from different states and countries. Why couldn’t these people be happy back home and improve those areas rather than invading other peoples’ homes? We don’t need more people in LA.

    I don’t buy the whole entitlement to affordable housing mantra. When I was poor, I lived in the valley. I commuted to work with a crappy car and didn’t have a cell phone. I’m a native Californian and native Angelino. Now that I make money, I bought a home in Silver Lake. People aren’t entitled to live in, i.e., enjoy “affordable housing” in Santa Monica, DTLA, Beverly Hills, Weho, etc. It’s something you EARN — by educating yourself, building upon your skills, becoming more of an asset to society, and in turn making more money. There is plenty of affordable housing in LA — people just don’t want to live in those areas due to racism. The argument that people are entitled to live and have affordable housing in wealthy areas of LA “just because” is a socialist argument.

    And don’t kid yourself — these developers will do nothing to improve public transportation. They have received rubber stamps on their projects and the freeways have gotten worse with little improvement in public transportation.

  • Jason

    NIMBYs keep both obstructing both transit itself, and the density needed to support transit. Guess what, it’s not a 1:1 correspondence of new residents to cars unless you force the city to continue being car-dependent; yet NIMBYs love to foster such an environment, and then turn around and complain about traffic.

  • Bliss

    LA is made more vibrant with this diverse array of peoples. They came because LA offers something they couldn’t get back home, and we’re all better off for it.

    I am sure the rent (or mortgage) you paid in the Valley was many times less than the average today, even adjusting for inflation.

  • Steve Neman

    What a crock of bull. “Vibrant” and overpopulation are two separate things. And why do people have to invade other people’s homes when they feel they can’t get something from their home? Why not better themselves and their community rather than invade someone else’s home? If they do, are you saying there shouldn’t be competition? Milarky!


Bloom and his colleagues spoke Friday about action the State legislature will be taking to address California’s worsening housing crisis. Photo courtesy of Assemblymember Bloom’s office.

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