The contentious anti-development ballot initiative Measure S has been roundly rejected by voters. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, the measure got only 31 percent of the vote.
Placed on the ballot by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Measure S would have limited large-scale development by placing a two-year moratorium on all projects seeking exemptions from the city's planning laws.
“Tonight Los Angeles can breathe a great sigh of relief,” Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Gary Toebben said in a press release.. “And tomorrow, the coalition that formed to defeat this dangerous initiative will continue advocating to make Los Angeles better — pushing for updated community plans, transparency in government and the creation of the housing at all levels that Los Angeles needs to truly thrive.”
Shortly after midnight, the Measure S campaign — the Coalition to Preserve L.A. — conceded defeat, claiming as a small victory the fact that their campaign forced the City Council to pass a law updating its planning documents, and that it spurred a citywide debate about the value of density.
“The Coalition to Preserve L.A. made history in this campaign," AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein said in a statement. "We not only exposed corruption but we began a process of reform; we built a citywide movement and we planted the seeds of change. Los Angeles will be a better place to live as a result of the Yes on S campaign.”
He added: “This campaign will go down in the record books as one of the most successful campaigns that did not actually win the vote. Everyone is now in agreement that developers should not write their own environmental impact reports and not have private communications with city planning commissioners; that we should have updated plans for the city; and that exemptions from zoning rules should be the exception, not the rule.”
The countywide Measure H, which would add a quarter-cent sales tax to fund services for the homeless, is leading in the polls, with 67 percent of the vote – just barely clearing the two-thirds threshold it needs to pass, although there are still late absentee and provisional ballots left to be counted, meaning the result may not be known for weeks.
With the mayor's race something of a dead rubber, Measure S was seen as this election's marquee issue, claiming national attention and having cluttered the city's skyline with more than 100 "Yes on S" billboards. It also has been seen as a referendum on Los Angeles' recent attempt to become a more urbanized, transit-oriented city. As author D.J. Waldie recently told the Los Angeles Times, "Longtime residents of Los Angeles have in their collective imagination an image of what the city should look like and how they should live in it ... and it’s that image that is being interfered with as the city becomes more dense. What kind of city will they see in five, 10 or 15 years?”
Backers of Measure S argued that large-scale development causes traffic and drives up rental prices by destroying older, less expensive homes. Opponents said that sprawl causes traffic, and the only way to stop the seemingly inexorable rise in rents is to build more housing units.
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Both sides spent prodigiously on the election. Two separate No on S campaigns, one organized by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and one headed by developers, raised roughly $10 million. About a quarter of that total came from a single developer, the Miami-based Crescent Heights, which is building a pair of apartment towers on top of the Hollywood Palladium – across the street from the headquarters of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. AHF, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has contributed more than $5 million to promote Yes on S and has filed a lawsuit to stop the Palladium project.
AHF sponsored two initiatives on the November 2016 ballot, Propositions 60 and 61, both of which were rejected by voters. Measure S' loss makes it three in a row, at a total cost of more than $28 million.
Measure S lost by a greater than 2-to-1 margin. Measure N, an initiative that had no campaign and was abandoned by its own sponsors, lost by a smaller margin than did Measure S.
Note: This post has been updated.