Angelenos vote for density and transit

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Southern Californians yesterday voted to build, baby, build. They voted for mass transit, the building of affordable housing and housing for the homeless. And they rejected an effort to slow growth in Santa Monica.

Measure M will speed up transit projects. It needed two-thirds of the public's support, and it got it with almost 70 percent voting yes.

This adds a countywide half-cent increase to the sales tax, which will increase to one-cent when the existing Measure R tax expires in 2039, and makes it a permanent sales tax increase. It is projected to bring in $860 million annually for decades and pay for a major expansion of the county's public transit system, including a rail line to LAX, a subway under the Sepulveda Pass, and a Purple Line extension to Westwood.

Supporters included LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and other LA officials, and champions of alternative mobility, like biking and walking. It also funds sidewalk improvements, pothole repairs, cycling infrastructure, bike share expansion, and a network of greenways, including a bike path along the LA River.

Opponents of the measure included many South Bay leaders. They claimed the money is not evenly distributed among cities, and that it gives priority to the City of Los Angeles and the west side over working class communities in the south and southeast.

Meanwhile, homelessness has been on the rise here in Los Angeles, and another one of Garcetti's major initiatives, HHH, passed last night that would raise $1.2 billion for housing the homeless.

HHH received 76 percent of the vote. The initiative will raise property taxes by .01 percent to pay for permanent supportive housing and shelters for the city's homeless population.

The measure had the backing of much of Los Angeles' political leadership and civic groups. City officials say it will help fund 1,000 apartment units a year for 10 years. Opponents said the city should use existing revenue sources but did not form a campaign committee or raise funds.

A measure to require that developers build affordable housing in exchange for zoning variances, called Measure JJJ, passed in Los Angeles. That was backed by the LA County Federation of Labor, but it did not get Garcetti's endorsement.

JJJ will force apartment builders seeking zoning changes to build affordable housing (as well as pay their workers a certain wage standard). It passed with 64 percent of the vote.

Garcetti told DnA that while he liked some parts of JJJ, specifically that it required affordable housing in exchange for added height and density, he said it might also boost the cost of building, and in the end he did not come out for or against it.

Not everyone who supports affordable housing supported JJJ however, on the grounds of built-in mandates -- the requirement that these affordable units are realized through setting aside a certain percentage of units in new residential buildings; and the specifics regarding who gets to build the housing -- builders would have to be licensed, live within five miles of the project, and be paid the "prevailing wage" for the area. It would also incentivize development along transit lines and stations.

LA County's other initiative, Measure A, would raise money for parks, and that passed with 73 percent. Measure A would impose a county tax on improved property – about $22.50 a year for a 1,500-square-foot house – and bring in $94.5 million a year, without an end date.

Santa Monicans rejected the controversial Measure LV. That would have put all major developments to a voter referendum. LV was rejected by voters, only 44 percent of whom voted in favor of it.

It would have required that any project higher than 32 feet, which is two to three stories, would have to go to the voters to decide.

Its defeat suggests residents do want controlled growth, and that they trust the city's planners and elected officials to make the decisions.

It also suggests that the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, on the LA ballot in March, may also go down in defeat.

Finally, the tally of all these initiative results suggests that Angelenos want an economic balance in housing; they want more parks; and while they are frustrated by traffic they have chosen denser development combined with alternative forms of transit to trying to slow growth and privilege the car.

Photo: The Expo Line in Culver City. Voters approved Measure M, which would speed up transit construction in Los Angeles. (Rob LaFond)