Does Limiting Development in L.A. Also Limit Its Job Prospects?

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A new study says booming construction in the coming years could create thousands of much-needed jobs in Greater Los Angeles — but, according to other sources, there's a catch. The report, by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation's Institute for Applied Economics, paints an absolutely upbeat picture of our employment prospects, including 95,000 job openings in five years, 30,000 of them for "skilled trade workers" who can pull down genuine middle-class earnings.

A March ballot initiative, however, might slow that job growth. Measure S would place a two-year moratorium on case-by-case zoning, effectively pausing most development. Opponents of the initiative say the LAEDC report indirectly points to one of the perils of the measure. "Passage of Measure S would result in the loss of thousands of construction jobs, which would in turn threaten the economic recovery," according to a statement from the Coalition to Protect L.A. Neighborhoods and Jobs, which is backed, in part, by developers.

This week the folks behind Measure S, the Coalition to Preserve L.A., fired back, saying voter approval last month of two other ballot initiatives — which are unrelated to Measure S — will fuel construction and job growth in the metro area. Measure M, a half-cent sales tax hike to continue expanding light rail in the region, will create thousands of jobs, as will Measure HHH, a city initiative to raise property taxes to pay for the construction of housing and shelters for the homeless, according to the coalition.

"As voters already know, Los Angeles will be awash in jobs thanks to voter passage in November of billions of dollars in new construction spending on homeless housing and transit, and employers will resort to importing workers into L.A. from adjoining regions and cities to handle the crush," Measure S campaign director (and former L.A. Weekly managing editor) Jill Stewart said via email.

Stewart argued that the Coalition to Protect L.A. Neighborhoods and Jobs is a movement that favors "billionaire developers" who like the city's zoning and building process, where green-lit projects can correlate to campaign contributions, as is.

"Voters understand that while the status quo handsomely rewards these billionaire developers and their vast platoons of City Hall lobbyists, the rest of us are stuck in their overdevelopment-created traffic," Stewart said. "Voters understand that we're being priced out of the city we love by their overdevelopment and their rule-breaking that destroys our neighborhoods."

It's up for debate, however, whether such development is the cause of inflated rents or the solution to it. The State of the Nation’s Housing report from Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies concluded in June that Los Angeles is short 382,000 units for extremely low-income renters. Some experts note that a sharp rise in homeless encampments happened about the same time L.A.'s housing situation hit crisis levels. The city has some of the nation's least affordable rents, which is attributed to a severe housing shortage.

The question is whether those cranes along the skyline are there to help everyday Angelenos or fat-cat developers and city officials. Measure S supporters have argued that much if not all the "market rate" housing development in L.A. is aimed at wealthy renters and only serves to increase rents and tear down older apartment buildings. But experts, including those at Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies, say the development of housing at any price point can help relieve the housing shortage, thereby driving down rents overall. They say that building high-end units will take higher-income renters out of the competition for older, cheaper units.

"Passing the [Measure S] building moratorium would be like unplugging life support just as the patient’s about to make a recovery,” Ron Miller, executive secretary at Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building & Construction Trades Council, said in a statement. "The results would be felt in thousands of construction workers losing their jobs and hundreds of thousands of renters feeling an even worse crunch than they do today — to say nothing of those who would wind up homeless."

The LAEDC report, which says 81 percent of local residential construction permits are now for multifamily units, acknowledges the competing perspectives on the issue of housing development in L.A. "While regulation may be a contributing factor in the state’s housing shortage," the report states, "popular resistance to increasing density in desirable areas likely plays as large a role in limiting residential construction as regulation."


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