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Image via Archie Tucker

It’s possible that the entire future of what’s built in Los Angeles could be decided at the ballot box this November. Last year, the Coalition to Preserve LA introduced the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a ballot measure that would freeze development in many cases and ban any exemptions to LA’s severely outdated zoning codes. Today, another coalition has unveiled a development ballot initiative in opposition to the NII—a group of labor unions and affordable housing activists have teamed up to champion the Build Better LA Initiative, a ballot measure that fast tracks developments that include affordable housing and hire local workers. Both groups are hoping to win favor with voters for their ballot measures, and according to the LA Times, a bit of a dust-up has already begun between the two factions.

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, in partnership with several affordable housing advocates, is behind the new Build Better LA ballot initiative. The initiative “establishes favorable conditions for General Plan amendments” for developments that include affordable housing and hire local workers.

BBLA also calls for a local hire provision on construction of all new buildings in LA, with the guarantee of a living wage and good job standards for workers. Rusty Hicks, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, describes the initiative in a nutshell: “developers who build affordable housing will move quicker…as long as they hire local people.”

The BBLA initiative calls for the active courting of zoning amendments in exchange for developers making concessions for affordable housing, something that flies directly in the face of the Coalition to Preserve LA’s vision. Their Neighborhood Integrity Initiative calls for an end to what they feel are a rampant overuse of zoning amendments and a strict adherence to the zoning laws set out in LA’s General Plan, which dates mostly from the 1970s and ’80s.

The CPLA calls the Build Better LA initiative “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” and “a slap in the face to the middle class, working poor and the homeless.” The CPLA believes that opening the door to zoning amendments in exchange for living-wage jobs and affordable housing will only incentivize developers to “super-size their projects.”

Even some who are opposed to the CPLA are wary of the the new Build Better LA initiative. While the CPLA initiative swings far to the anti-development side, some business groups that oppose it still don’t like the BBLA. Ruben Gonzalez of the LA Area Chamber of Commerce tells the LA Times the BBLA initiative would actually make it harder to meet their goals of increasing the number of affordable housing and jobs in LA, somehow. Carol Schatz, soon-to-be-ex-CEO of the Central City Association, says the BBLA initiative would “distract attention” from the fight against the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative and result in job losses, somehow.

This could be the makings of an epic conflict at the ballot box. The initiatives represent two entirely different potential futures for Los Angeles: the denser city with more affordable housing and lots of local construction jobs, but built under a flawed and messy system, versus the sprawly, more expensive city, built under a strict and pure system. If both initiatives can gather the necessary 61,486 signatures to get on the ballot, it’s going to be a historic election season for the future of LA.
· Ballot proposal would require L.A. developers to provide affordable housing