Questions You Should Ask Supporters of LA's "Neighborhood Integrity Initiative"

Last week I wrote about 7 of the most important reasons to oppose the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative (NII), a misguided and deceptive ballot initiative that seeks to halt most new housing development in Los Angeles. It got around to the anti-growth folks at City Watch, and they predictably freaked the eff out

Their responses, for the most part, had little to do with the language of the initiative itself—which was the focus of my article—and instead relied on ad hominem attacks and conspiratorial assertions about corruption in City Hall. Based on their comments you'd think we lived in the era of Tammany Hall, and that I was having my undoubtedly lavish lifestyle subsidized by the greedy developers who are tearing our lovely city to shreds. I think their reaction should give readers an idea of how intellectually bankrupt this initiative is.

We know what The Coalition to Preserve LA's future city doesn't look like, but what is their actual vision for the future, and how will the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative help them achieve it? Image from AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Most of the people I interact with who oppose growth (or investments in bicycle and transit infrastructure, or just about positive change in the city) have a very narrow argument: Someone we don't like is doing something we don't like, and so we need to stop them. What they rarely seem to recognize is that maintaining the status quo is itself an affirmative choice. Preventing new development will not stop change, it will just force that change to manifest itself in other ways.

That's exactly what's happened across California for the past 30 years, as we've continued to grow but built very little housing to accommodate the newcomerswith predictable results. We thought that if we stopped building housing, people would stop coming. As it turns out, the people still came. And instead of having new homes ready to accommodate them, they had to compete with the rest of us for the housing that had been built 30, 50, 80 years ago. Prices for those older homes—which were becoming an increasingly scarce resource—went up. The pressures of evolution and change exist regardless of our efforts; the only power we have is in how we choose to channel those forces, whether for good or for ill.

For this reason, I always respond to these individuals with questions about their vision for the city. How will they channel those forces—or will they just stick their heads in the sand and hope that they disappear? You don't want a subway through your neighborhood, or multifamily housing within a 1/2-mile of your home, fine. Then what? What happens next? What are the impacts of that decision; what is your vision for Los Angeles in 5, 10, 20 years, and how do your proposed policies help us to achieve that vision? Things staying exactly the same as they are today is not an option.

With that in mind, here are some of the questions you should ask supporters of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative when they try to make the case for their anti-growth agenda.


Question 1

Most of the subsidized affordable housing being lost in Los Angeles is due to expiring contracts with the city, not demolition. What will the NII do to increase the supply of affordable housing and protect housing from losing its affordable status?


Question 2

Does your initiative have the support of affordable housing developers—those who know the most about what it takes to bring housing to low and moderate income families? What are affordable housing developers saying about the NII?


San Francisco: Great character and "integrity"—but a city we want to mimic? Photo by Andrew Napier.

Question 3

Other cities, notably San Francisco, have done a great job of preserving their neighborhood character over the years by limiting new development and density, but they are also prohibitively expensive for all but the most wealthy. What about the NII sets us on a different course from cities like San Francisco? If new people move here, where will they live without displacing lower income households or crowding more people into the same units?


Question 4

What will happen to the ~200,000 people employed in the construction industry in Los Angeles County? Will they find work in some related field, or will they lose their livelihood and have to leave the region?


Question 5

There are some pretty strict on-site parking requirements in this initiative, and new structured parking usually costs $30,000-$50,000 per space, which means adding about $200-400 per month in rent. What do these parking requirements mean for affordability? And with car-share growing and driverless vehicles on the way, what will happen to all of these spaces in 10 or 20 years?


Question 6

If this is really about reigning in City Council's power and preventing them from giving sweetheart deals to developers, why does it have so many other unrelated provisions? Why not just limit spot zoning and stop there, instead of also making it so that communities can't choose to grow their "islands of density," reduce parking requirements, shift toward mixed-use development, etc.?


Question 7

What will this initiative do to help the city address its homelessness crisis? We need almost 20,000 permanent supportive homes just for the homeless individuals in our city; where will they go if the NII is passed?


More Ideas?

These are just the first few that come to mind. Make your own suggestions in the comments below; if there are some really good ones, I may update the post to add them to the list.

To read my earlier article discussing the top reasons to vote against the Neighborhorhood Integrity this November, click here.