October 25, 2007
The downside of upscale growth
Los Angeles deals with a housing crisis as expansion clashes with ethics
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Temple Israel of Hollywood encountered the same sort of situation when it bought two apartments for the expansion of school and administrative facilities. I was told that the board discussion was painful, as the members wrestled with the ethical issues posed by evicting tenants who would not have an easy time finding other housing.
"We did follow all of the legal requirements for the relocation of the tenants in the two buildings we purchased and provided relocation assistance when requested," Phyllis Klein, the vice president for administration, said in an e-mail.
Richard Lichtenstein, a Los Angeles public-affairs consultant and a member of Temple Israel who is serving as a neighborhood liaison during the expansion, said that the new facilities will provide "a place for the educational program for the kids and a gathering place for people not only in the temple but for the people in the neighborhood." He said this includes Jews and nonJews, because the facility will have room for concerts, lectures and classes. He said that expansion was needed because of the growing number of Jewish families in the area served by the temple. It will provide for expansion of the day school and religious school, plus new meeting rooms, and will significantly expand parking facilities, removing congregants' and visitors' cars from the neighborhood streets.
Lichtenstein also said that the temple used a consultant to help tenants find new housing, and that they received more in relocation payments than required by city law.
While these two temples' board members, concentrating on their own problems, may not realize it, similar discussions are going on throughout the city, from neighborhood meetings to City Hall.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has his own vision of Los Angeles.
"If we are not creating hope," he told the editors of the Los Angeles Business Journal, "if we are not bringing in investment, if the official bird of Los Angeles isn't the crane, then we won't be able to do all the good things we would like to do with people."
But Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky is warning against crane worship. As a Los Angeles city councilman, Yaroslavsky joined with his colleague Marvin Braude to persuade the voters in 1986 to approve Proposition U, which sharply limited development. Today, his district includes the Westside and parts of the Valley, and he is concerned about development there.
"What is happening in Los Angeles is that the economics of real estate are such that it is economically profitable to tear down existing buildings and build new ones," he said. "More density, more units, no rent control -- we lose all affordability. It is a profound social challenge. The social implications are more homelessness, more people doubling up in units, more people living in garages, people finding really unsatisfactory living conditions."
He warned that "the initiative process is still available in the city of Los Angeles, and the next Proposition U will go farther than" his 1986 measure.
Now, Yaroslavsky is fighting a city proposal that would give developers a huge break. It would permit teardowns if the developer promises to put affordable housing in the new building. Of course, the developer could get away with putting in only one such unit. In return for putting in a minimum of lower rent housing, a developer could build bigger, taller and more profitable projects. "This is a wolf in sheep's clothing," Yaroslavsky said.
He said the proposal threatens neighborhoods such as Beverly Fairfax. Displaying a house-by-house knowledge of the area, he said, "Streets like Orange Grove, Genesee, which have these beautiful quadplexes which have served the tenants for 70 years, Sycamore, between Rosewood and Third. Apartments in Studio City, Leimert Park. Why all of a sudden are we lighting a fuse that will blow up those neighborhoods?"
The proposal came from the city planning department and was approved by the Los Angeles Planning Commission.
After interviewing Yaroslavsky, I talked to Los Angeles Planning Director Gail Goldberg. She's been on the job since January 2006. Previously, she was San Diego's planning director.
Goldberg said she was sympathetic to low-income renters.
"The problem is ... there is not enough housing for them," she said. "We have terrified folks in the rental business, or scared them enough so they will not build rental housing. "
Los Angeles has inadequate plans guiding development in the many areas of the city, she said, and there is a "complex entitlement process, getting all the approvals. In this city it is complicated and lengthy. It adds to the costs of the project. It keeps lower-cost projects out of the market."
Goldberg said she expects the proposal opposed by Yaroslavsky to be changed by the City Council. That was assured when the mayor weighed in on the subject at a UCLA summit meeting on housing sponsored by the Los Angeles Business Council. There, the Los Angeles Times reported, he called for his version of a city law that would require housing developers to include in their projects units affordable to the poor and middle class.
Such a proposal has been defeated in the past because of opposition from developers and other business people. Groups in affluent neighborhoods have also objected to apartment projects that would have room for the poor. They don't want poor people around.
Villaraigosa, taking note of the opposition, said, "I believe it is time to have a grown-up conversation about the gravity of the crisis of affordable housing in Los Angeles. Only with shared responsibility can we address the situation."
Still to be determined is just how much affordable housing will be required by Villaraigosa's proposal. Will it be as small as the Planning Commission proposal, or will it be more expansive, more neighborhood-friendly, along the lines envisioned by Yaroslavsky? The mayor, like the rest of Los Angeles, is confronted with a dilemma. He wants growth to provide economic health, but he also knows that the cranes building the new high rises are taking away the housing of his blue-collar constituents.