When the Build Better LA coalition submitted its ballot initiative proposal on Wednesday, it set the stage for a November showdown among voters on how to address rapid development in Los Angeles.
The Build Better LA initiative is backed by a coalition of public transit advocates, affordable housing activists, and union labor. Their vision is to require new housing developments near public transit hubs to incorporate affordable housing and employ local labor on building sites.
Build Better LA advocates argued that city-approved development happening now generally does not include enough affordable housing or employ enough local workers, though they declined to name any specific projects.
Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi, Policy Director for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said, "The city is not using its powers to create good jobs and affordable housing."
Coalition representatives emphasized the need to harness L.A.'s rapid growth to benefit all residents.
"Instead of saying 'no more development', we are saying L.A. is growing, and that development can actually lead to sustainable healthy communities. But we need to make sure that that is equitable development so working class people are included," Laura Raymond, the Campaign Director for the Alliance for Community Transit-Los Angeles, said.
The Build Better LA initiative directly conflicts with another proposed ballot measure, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative targets mega-projects, aiming to place a two-year moratorium on all development that is more dense than what a given property is currently zoned for zoned for in the city's development plan.
Both initiatives target similar developments, but they have different approaches. The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative aims to stop development of more dense housing, while the Build Better LA initiative would allow dense development to occur but force developers to incorporate affordable housing and local jobs.
The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is backed by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, and an organization called the Coalition to Preserve L.A.
Jill Stewart, Campaign Manager for the Coalition to Preserve L.A., told the Los Angeles Times that getting affordable housing in exchange for giant projects isn't worth it.
"[Build Better LA] can be expected to saddle Los Angeles residents with more traffic misery, more concrete, more congestion, more noise and more air pollution — all in all, a diminished quality of life," Stewart said.
The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative has drawn criticism from Mayor Eric Garcetti, who said to the Los Angeles Times that the measure could worsen L.A.'s housing crisis.
However, Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation said that affordable housing isn't currently being built even under more permissive laws, so it wouldn't make a difference to increase development restrictions.
The mayor and city council have yet to comment on the Build Better LA proposal.
For those who live in affordable housing, it can change lives. Angella Gaines, a South Los Angeles Jumpstart preschool teacher and single mother of a special needs son, took advantage of affordable housing options after being referred by a friend. She waited in line for 17 hours to be first in line to get her apartment.
"Thanks to affordable housing, I've been able to move to a safe and healthy home. Now my son is happier, I'm happier, and we are closer to public transit. I can get back and forth to work and I can also be at home with him longer," Gaines said.
Due to the current housing crisis, there is a shortage of affordable housing units for individuals like Gaines. In 2014, the California Housing Partnership Corporation and Southern California Association estimated that Los Angeles would need to build around half a million affordable housing units to house low- and extremely low-income families.
Because the Build Better LA proposal is centered on providing affordable housing and the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative doesn't directly address the issue, affordable housing is likely to be an important point of contention between the two policies.
If both were to pass, the initiative with the most votes would supersede the other in conflicting clauses.
Neither of the proposed initiatives has gained the 60,000 signatures required to be placed on the ballot in November, so only time will tell what decision voters will be actually be making at the polls.