The city of Los Angeles does not fact-check ballot measure arguments that will appear in its voter guide and on the 2017 ballot, according to city officials. That fact-checking duty belongs to either the electorate or other stakeholders.
Last week, the Coalition to Preserve L.A., initiators of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, assumed that responsibility and sued the signers of the opposing argument that will appear in the voter guide for the March 7 election. The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative – which will appear on the ballot as Measure S – proposes to put a two-year moratorium on projects that are taller or denser than allowed under the city’s zoning laws, or projects that require specific amendments – a process referred to as “spot zoning.” Measure S would also direct the city to update zoning laws, all Community Plans and the citywide General Plan.
The Coalition to Preserve L.A. (CPLA), funded largely by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and represented by petitioner Grace Yoo in the lawsuit, alleges the argument contains false claims against Measure S, and described the report used as a basis for the argument as “fake news” and part of an effort mislead voters.
The lawsuit, which will be considered by Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant, argues that authors of the argument lie by citing “independent studies” that conclude Measure S will not fix the city’s planning issues, but will instead drive L.A. into a recession. The argument cites a study conducted by Beacon Economics and presented for opponents to Measure S. It claims the measure would halt “more than one-third” of all construction in Los Angeles, as well as cost the city billions of dollars by eliminating tens of thousands of jobs, shrinking the budget and stopping efforts to build affordable and homeless housing.
“I can’t think of anything less responsible than voting to cut a $70 million hole in our city budget each year,” said Gary Toebben, president & CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Los Angeles.
The study concluded that although the language in Measure S has a two-year limit, the moratorium “could extend ten years because of loopholes and poison pills written into the law.”
The “loopholes” refer to restrictions on development that would remain active while Community Plans are updated – which can take longer than two years to complete.
The study was also posted on the website for “the Coalition to Protect L.A. Neighborhoods & Jobs,” (No on S) which claims to be “the largest coalition in the history of the city.”
CPLA, however, said Beacon Economics is a paid consultant for the opposition movement. In a release announcing the lawsuit, CPLA said Beacon Economics accepted at least $30,000 to “taint and attack” Measure S. Yoo, the plaintiff in the case, said Beacon’s report was paid for by “ultra-rich developers” to prevent voters from knowing the truth about the city’s “rigged and broken” planning practices. CPLA refuted Beacon’s claim that the two-year moratorium would stretch to 10 years, and said the “two-year timeout” would only prevent exemptions for 5 percent of the developers in Los Angeles.
“These 5-percenters shower city hall with money, then get to wreak havoc on neighborhoods,” the group said in a release.
In response to the lawsuit, the “No on S” group referred to Beacon Economics as a “highly regarded research firm.” The “No on S” group is largely funded by a development group, CH Palladium, that required “spot zoning” specific plans to gain approval for two towers set to be constructed near AHF’s headquarters on Sunset Boulevard. CH Palladium was also identified by the city’s Ethics Commission as one of the top 10 paying lobbying firms in the third quarter of this year.
“We welcome the chance to put the economic impact of slashing housing development on trial,” the group said in a statement in response to the lawsuit, provided by Josh Kamensky, spokesman for the group.
According to its website, Beacon Economics is an independent research and consulting firm founded in 2007.
Supporters of the “No on S” group include Mayor Eric Garcetti, Assemblyman Richard Bloom, 50th District; Los Angeles Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, 13th District; Council President Herb Wesson, 10th District; the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce; the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce; United Way of Greater Los Angeles; the Coalition for Economic Survival; County Assessor Jeff Prang; and Mid City West Community Council Chairman Scott Epstein, among others. On its website, GoesTooFar.com, the group contends that Garcetti said Measure S will drive L.A. into recession, cost taxpayers millions and make the homelessness and housing crisis worse.
The “No on S” group pointed to Section 5 of Measure S, which the group said would institute permanent restrictions on planning tools “that Los Angeles needs to address its housing crisis.” Section 5 of Measure S is called “Protecting the Integrity of the General Plan: Permanent Restrictions on Spot Zoning that Usurps the City Charter.” It stipulates that the city’s General Plan “may be amended from time to time” however, “no General Plan amendment shall be adopted “that does not have a significant social, economic or physical identity.” The city council’s approval of any General Plan amendment must include specific findings based on “substantial evidence demonstrating that the amendment is not solely to facilitate the approval of a pending project or projects.”
“Under no circumstances may a General Plan amendment be approved that permits a single project or group of pending or concurrently-submitted real property development projects to be approved where the approval of such project or projects would otherwise be inconsistent with the General Plan,” according to Measure S.
Kamensky said the first hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 5.
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