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Champion of L.A.'s 'Neighborhood Integrity Initiative' Speaks

A longtime Los Angeles journalist has joined the cause of a sweeping anti-growth initiative that has city leaders on high alert.
February 19, 2016, 9am PST | Elana Eden
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In an exclusive interview with Jill Stewart, who left LA Weekly to become campaign director for the potential ballot measure at the Coalition to Preserve LA, The Planning Report delves into her arguments in favor of the controversial Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.

Stewart decries the current state of planning in Los Angeles, which she says relies heavily on General Plan amendments, as the result of a deadly combination of blindness, inertia, and "soft corruption." The initiative would put a moratorium on General Plan amendments—also known as "spot-zoning"—until the city rewrites its General Plan.

"The City Council does not want to do the work of creating a new General Plan," she asserts. "They’ve allowed the one from the 1980s to fester and be unworkable."

Instead, Stewart argues that the city has slid into a practice of "smoke-filled-room development" in which "individual councilmembers control development in their areas, through buddy-buddy relationships with developers, behind closed doors… Then they blame local neighborhoods as NIMBYs."

City leaders, including Mayor Garcetti, have said publicly that the initiative would stifle Los Angeles' economy and undermine city's commitments to affordable housing.

But Stewart takes issue with the turn in planning toward density and transit-oriented development, which she says purport to improve affordability and equity while in fact undermining communities.

"I put that theory on par with the urban planning theory that crowding poor people together into high-rise public housing was a good idea," she says. "It was a social disaster."

Furthermore, she argues that the data doesn’t support the efficacy of TOD in reducing either congestion or driving.

"The Environmental Impact Reports show again and again that it is not going to get people out of their cars," she says, adding, "It’s a fantastic thing, to be able to drive your car. That’s not cool to say, but that’s what the vast majority of people are thinking."

Agree or disagree, anyone invested in the future of planning in Los Angeles should consider the interview essential reading. In fact, planners in other cities might pay attention, too—Stewart notes: "I think the Coalition to Preserve LA hopes to move beyond LA, because there are a lot of cities screwing themselves up based on these theories."

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Published on Tuesday, February 16, 2016 in The Planning Report
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