Anti-Development Initiative Gains Backing of Leonardo DiCaprio, Other Hollywood Celebs

Left, a rendering of the Hollywood Palladium Towers; right, a rendering of Leonardo DiCaprio clutching an OscarEXPAND
Left, a rendering of the Hollywood Palladium Towers; right, a rendering of Leonardo DiCaprio clutching an Oscar

Backers of an initiative that aims to curb development in Los Angeles have assembled an impressive coalition of supporters, including a cavalcade of neighborhood activists from South L.A. to Van Nuys to Silver Lake.

The coalition now also claims half a dozen stars of screens big and small. Kirsten Dunst, Joaquin Phoenix, Chris Pine, Chloë Sevigny, Garrett Hedlund and the King of the World himself, Leonardo DiCaprio, have all signed on to support the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, according to a press release put out by the authors of the measure.

DiCaprio, an L.A. native, is a longtime environmental activist who, in his 2016 Academy Award acceptance speech, warned the television audience about the perils of climate change. He is not known for his involvement in city politics. 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative aims to limit development by curbing the practice of "spot zoning," exemptions to zoning laws that City Council gives developers on more or less an ad hoc basis.

Yesterday, about 20 supporters of the initiative, including its campaign manager Jill Stewart (former L.A. Weekly managing editor, by the by) and feared anti-development attorney Robert Silverstein (who helped write the measure), met with Mayor Eric Garcetti. The group had a number of demands for the mayor, including that he make spot-zoning the "rare exception to the rule, rather than routine," and that he ban communications between developers and city officials, something that's been proposed for the California Coastal Commission

"We want the mayor to lead on this," Stewart said before the meeting. "We're saying he has one week to take care of these key issues or we go forward."

The group emerged from the meeting about an hour later.

"The mayor was very sweet and nice," Stewart said. "He was charming and conciliatory. But that doesn't mean he's gonna back our measure."

Koreatown activist Grace Yoo, who was also in the meeting, was less charitable: "He was his usual charming self — full of nothing." Another activist who was present called the meeting "more useless than tits on a bull."

Garcetti spokeswoman Connie Llanos said the mayor was "reviewing the request."

"Mayor Garcetti is already leading one of the city's most ambitious efforts to reform the development process in L.A.," said Llanos in a written statement. "Almost six months ago, the city announced its most aggressive schedule to update community plans and the General Plan, and new efforts to increase transparency with the [Environmental Impact Review] process. We will continue to advance this reform agenda and look forward to working with all stakeholders."

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The mayor has not taken a position on the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.

Stewart says her coalition plans to submit well over 62,000 signatures by Aug. 24, in order to qualify the ballot measure for the March 2017 citywide election, where Angelenos also will be deciding whether or not to give the mayor another 5½-year term. 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is funded almost entirely by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (or AHF), which has contributed more than a million dollars to the campaign's war chest (small donors have given the campaign another $35,000 or so). Its headquarters in Hollywood is across the street from the Palladium, which developers plan to turn into two 28-story apartment buildings. AHF head Michael Weinstein has said that mega-developments such as the Palladium project drive gentrification and displacement, which affect poor people, which puts the initiative squarely in his organization's purview. 

The developer behind the Palladium project is the main financial backer of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative opposition campaign, having given more than $400,000 to defeat the measure. Other developers also have given money, including Westfield and Eli Broad. 

Opponents say the initiative will further exacerbate the housing crisis, and raise rents by making it even harder to build new apartment complexes. They also argue that it will restrict the city's ability to build permanent supportive housing for the homeless, since those facilities often need General Plan amendments. 

"I think it would be better for the city overall if their vendetta against the Palladium wasn’t filed," said No campaign manager Mike Shimpock. He said the initiative, if passed, would be like "Doomsday for housing in the city of Los Angeles. It will restrict supply when prices are sky-high."

The No campaign also boasts a broad coalition and includes the Chamber of Commerce, unions, affordable-housing activists and a smattering of environmentalists, transit boosters and urban planners — but no celebs. 

"I don’t know why they’re supporting it," said Shimpock, when asked about his opponents' new star power. "They either don’t understand or don’t care that it will negatively impact some of the neediest people in Los Angeles."


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