At a time when affordable housing is a national urban crisis, we usually turn to precious, self-righteous burgs like San Francisco for the most atrocious examples of NIMBYism. But now, Los Angeles may have them all beat.
On March 7, L.A. voters will vote on “Measure S,” which would impost a moratorium on all development citywide that is denser than allowed under the current (old) city planning rules. It would shut down the ability of a thriving city with a lack of housing to build anything close to enough housing to meet demand. Opponents say it would “effectively impose a moratorium on everything from apartment development along transit corridors to office space for a flourishing tech community and even homeless shelters.” The mayor says it would be a disaster for the city’s attempts to meet housing needs. The LA Times, noting that the city is in the midst of a “severe housing crisis,” calls it “unreasonable and irresponsible.”
It is no exaggeration to say that Measure S is an idea that exhibits the intellectual depth that a toddler displays when bursting into tears about any and all imminent threats.
This sort of blanket ban on building more housing—the very thing that cities in housing crises need to do more of—reflects, I am sorry to say, plain old stupidity. It is the slack-jawed response of someone who looks at new apartment towers being built and concludes that they are the reason that they can no longer afford the rent. They’re not. In fact, cities that don’t have enough housing to meet demand—cities like Los Angeles, and New York, and San Francisco—are cities that fall into affordable housing crises, with rents skyrocketing and middle and lower class people being priced out. This is common sense, if you think about it. Want to make sure that lower and middle class people can afford to live in your city? Don’t make housing such a rare commodity that it becomes impossible to afford! Average people on the street can be forgiven for drawing surface conclusions based on walking past some fancy new condo building, because they don’t have all the municipal housing data at their fingertips. But any group well-financed enough to design and run a sophisticated ballot measure campaign in a major city has no such excuse. There are surely many productive reforms that can be made to city development laws to make them smarter and fairer, but this is not one of them.
There are only two possible reasons to put a moratorium on building dense housing in a city at the same time the city is in great need of dense housing: Either you are so greedy that you don’t care about the ability of other people to live in a place once you’ve already got your spot there, or you are stupid, and you are proposing a counterproductive solution to a real problem. I make no judgments about which is true in this case.
Anyhow if you have the misfortune of living in L.A., don’t vote for this.