Why Measure ‘S’ Does Not Measure Up

Photo courtesy of Nicole Veldink.

By Tina Snieder

Providence students know how great it is to go to school in Los Angeles county. However, for many college students across L.A. county, we may not ever know how great it will be to live here post-graduation. This is because, according to Zillow, the median home value in L.A. is over half a million dollars; 616,900 dollars to be exact. Apartments and condos? Typically upwards of 1,500 per month.

The work of developers and urban planners centers on housing issues such as traffic, gentrification, homelessness, and affordability within the housing market. Increasingly, issues such as these have become public discussion for residents of L.A. County, partially due to the recent measure ‘S’ on the ballot for March 7, 2017. Large billboards towered over neighborhoods reading “Say Yes on ‘S’”, and, “Save our Neighborhoods”. Despite the push for a positive vote on measure ‘S’, which would place a two-year moratorium on building projects as well as requiring more consistent reviews and regulations on the city’s development policies, the measure shot down with 69% of voters rejecting it, according to a Los Angeles Times article.

This majority vote speaks to the strong oppositions and awareness of the voters to look past the rhetoric and discuss for themselves what will and will not be beneficial for their communities and neighborhoods. Lisa Schweitzer, a USC professor of Urban Planning, spoke against the subtle discriminatory effects Measure ‘S’ would have had on impoverished people of color. “Many in these communities  have no reason to believe that THIS TIME, well, unlike the last 30 times, planners promoting growth really really know what is best and what the consequences are going to be for development in South and East L.A.,” said Shweitzer.

Clearly, the subject of urban development is many-faceted, and while measure ‘S’ didn’t measure up to Los Angelenos, everyone agrees that something has to be done. Shane Phillips, successful author of urban planning blog “Better Institutions”, spoke with me about the core issues Measure ‘S’ tried to address, why it failed, and what development issues Los Angelenos should be supporting instead. Simply, Measure ‘S’ proposed limiting development when it was housing shortages that were causing rents to skyrocket. One issue Measure ‘S’ did correctly address was the outdated 15-year old community plans. These guidelines are written for a city drastically different than it is today. These plans are now scheduled to be updated every six years.

While urban planning and city development comes with its own jargon and complexities that can sometimes isolate the person affected by new building projects, Phillips spoke in great detail about the human aspect of these projects. As the housing shortage increases and prices continue to rise, people are continually pushed out. “Unfortunately the bulk of the burden will fall on lower-income households, because they’re least able to adapt to higher costs,” said Phillips.

In order to prioritize the people living in the city, changes need to be made in the way Los Angelenos view their city and their houses. “Housing must change alongside transportation,” said Phillips. He goes on to suggest that more housing should be built near metro stations, and new housing should be “car-lite.” Other societal shifts such as viewing housing as “social housing,” instead of housing as investment or a retirement fund, will help the city sustain itself in the long run. These ideas are elucidated upon in Phillip’s blog, which features discussion of new and innovative ideas within the urban planning community. Every Los Angeleno should continue to become familiar with these discussions and make improving their city for the masses a priority. “We have to prioritize between the physical character of our neighborhoods—the buildings themselves—or the actual people who live in those neighborhoods,” said Phillips. Let’s hope the Los Angeleno voters agree.