Despite his private-jet-using ways, Leonardo DiCaprio fancies himself a major environmentalist, and he enjoys lecturing the world on how important the issue is to human survival. During his Academy Award acceptance speech this year, the L.A. native took his time in the spotlight to decry the perils of climate change.
So it struck some as strange that he was listed as an endorser of Los Angeles' contentious Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a measure that would halt much large-scale development (thereby stifling construction of much-needed housing in the midst of a shortage that has led to the least affordable rents in the nation) and that would also curb density (meaning people would be less likely to use public transit). Of course, the argument can be made that density itself can damage the environment by unleashing diesel-spewing construction vehicles and using natural materials. But that argument has been challenged by those who say density near transit stops will take cars off the road. The measure, which will be on the March 7 ballot, is seen by some as an attempt to make L.A. Mayberry again — to keep a lid on the city's growth and preserve the single-family nature of certain communities.
In recently decrying DiCaprio's alleged endorsement, the publication Curbed L.A. wrote, "Quite literally, the single best thing that a city can do for the planet is locate destinations — houses, jobs, grocery stores, schools — closer together so its residents expend less time, less money and fewer fossil fuels traveling among them."
Well, it turns out DiCaprio has not endorsed the initiative. Curbed L.A. got the scoop this week, reporting that DiCaprio's folks say he never officially backed the measure, which was organized by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation–funded Coalition to Preserve LA. Neighborhood Integrity's organizers listed him among a group of celebrity and high-profile endorsements in August.
"We at the Coalition to Preserve L.A. deeply admire Leo DiCaprio as an artist and an activist," says coalition campaign director Jill Stewart (who is L.A. Weekly's former managing editor). "I exchanged a number of emails with his publicists in August, and I thought we had received final word, in this exchange, confirming his support for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. I apparently misunderstood. We apologize to Mr. DiCaprio for this misunderstanding."
It's interesting to note that the coalition also is putting some cash, $10,000, behind opposition to Measure M, a Metro-backed initiative that would raise the county's sales tax by a half-cent to raise $3.4 billion a year in revenue to continue to expand light rail in the region.
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Meanwhile, the coalition recently announced that it has secured the backing of the L.A. Tenants Union, one of a number of pro-renter groups that believe development in L.A. just increases rents here because there's no profit incentive to create low-income housing.
The coalition says 22,000 rent-control apartments have been lost to demolition or condo conversion since 2000. Echo Park resident Uver Santa Cruz of the Tenants Union says his community is "being overtaken by development."
"We've been overrun, and nobody has had the strength or the ability to get political control over this bad land use and extreme overdevelopment," he says.
The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, besides capping certain developments, would largely undo the Build Better L.A. initiative, aka Measure JJJ, which seeks to make it easier to develop dense, vertical housing in the city but which opponents say is a giveaway to rich developers.