EXPOSING THE LOOPHOLES, BACK DOORS, TRAP DOORS AND CROSSED FINGERS--In nearly every election in California, there's a ballot measure that uses the tricks of phrasing I have long dubbed “And Other Uses” to obtain riches for people who don't deserve them and haven't earned them.
When I was the news editor, and then managing editor, of LA Weekly for nine years, my favorite story that dug into the loopholes and scams lurking on our California ballots was “Reading the Fine Print: How to spot the Loopholes, Legal Doozies and Loose Phrasing in California's Ballot Initiatives.”
In the article, I explain how millions of dollars from the voter-approved “Housing and Emergency Shelter Trust Fund Act of 2006” got diverted away from the desperate and the poor, by Los Angeles elected leaders, into spending on glitzy sidewalk upgrades and other fixes to the posh Figueroa Corridor leading to Staples Center.
How on Earth did billionaire Phil Anschutz's fantastically profitable Staples Center, which former City Councilman Joel Wachs fought long and hard (and sucessfully) to deny public subsidies, end up benefitting from a crucial bond measure meant to help battered women and the homeless?
“And Other Uses.”
Every year, there's a ballot measure jammed with loopholes, back doors, trap doors and crossed fingers that can be mined later for somebody else's profit. Typically, the news media do not call out these loopholes. Journalists are busy, they don't notice, they don't get to page 38 in a ballot measure's endless jargon. Whatever.
This November 8, Measure JJJ is the whopper of the season, at least in Los Angeles County. A disaster. A canard. I could go on.
Let's call JJJ what it is: a Jargon-Jammed Joke. It pulls an inexcusable trick on voters by promising something LA needs, “affordable housing.”
I know a lot about Measure JJJ because it wasn't primarily written to build affordable housing — it was written by City Hall's most connected insiders, to hurt the ballot measure for which I am now the campaign director, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which will appear on the ballot in March of 2017.
We at the Coalition to Preserve LA, backers of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, got calls about JJJ's underlying purpose back in February. At that time it was dubbed “Build Better LA.” We knew it was coming. And we knew its final language was approved by the most connected people in town. We knew it wasn't primarily about “affordable housing.”
The crafters of JJJ were out to kill our City Hall reform effort — we want to reform the backroom wheeling and dealing at City Hall, a broken and rigged system in which the richest developers in the nation are being allowed to ignore local zoning rules, destroy our neighborhoods, gridlock our streets, and displace thousands of longtime L.A. residents. All in service to erecting luxury housing towers, luxury housing megadevelopments and other luxury glass boxes.
But the City Hall insiders who wrote JJJ failed to stop us. And now their tainted measure is on the November ballot, not an “affordable housing” measure, but a literary miracle of ways to reword and massage the long-proven “And Other Uses” loopholes and trap doors to achieve something other than “affordable housing.”
The Coalition to Preserve LA has published our position paper against JJJ on our website, 2PreserveLA.org.
Below, then, are the 5 Fatal Loopholes that void every promise made by Measure JJJ about “affordable housing” and “local-hire” jobs.
1) The “We don't think this developer is making enough profit” loophole
Under JJJ, developers can ignore your community's zoning to build hundreds of huge, and thus more profitable, luxury towers that aren't allowed under the rules — as long as they promise to add some affordable housing. This promise is false. The City Council can declare the developer is not making “a reasonable return on investment” and then undo the affordable housing promise. (JJJ Section 5, A, g)
2) The “Forget about building affordable housing — just pay City Hall a 'fee'” loophole
Under JJJ, no affordable units have to be built inside these new towers at all, as long as the developer pays an “in lieu” fee after refusing to build affordable housing units. This in-lieu amount is unknown to voters, it will be announced after the election — by the developer-cozy City Council. (JJJ Section 5, A, b3.)
3) The “Forget the affordable housing, forget the fee, just pay a 'surcharge'” loophole
Under JJJ, developers can refuse to pay even the modest in-lieu fee, and opt for a Deferral Surcharge — a price to be set later by the City! This Deferral fee amount, unknown to voters, does not have to be spent on affordable housing. The City Council can divert this cash to pay city employees for running L.A.'s rent-stabilization program — jobs the City must already pay for, by law. (JJJ Section 5, A, c2)
4) The “L.A.'s Affordable Housing Trust Fund is a piggy bank” loophole
Under JJJ, the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund does not have to be spent on affordable housing. The fund can go to whatever the politicians decide. City Hall's ability to raid our housing construction funds is set out in JJJ as “such other housing activities as that term shall be defined.” (JJJ Section 5, B, c)
5) The “We say we'll create local jobs, but not a single local hire is required” loophole
Under JJJ, contractors need only “make a good-faith effort” to hire residents of L.A. or people living within 5 miles of a proposed luxury skyscraper or a proposed massive luxury complex, a toothless and meaningless standard that will never be met. (JJJ Section 5, A, g).
Please enthusiastically vote No on JJJ on November 8. It wasn't meant to fix a problem. It was meant for other uses.
(Jill Stewart, a former journalist, is campaign director for the Coalition to Preserve LA, sponsor of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.)