As we navigate an unfamiliar political landscape in the wake of the 2016 elections, a few bright spots stand out, especially the decisive stand Los Angeles County voters took to support land use policies and investments that will make LA a healthier, safer, and more equitable place to live.
In 2016, LA County voters approved ballot measures to fund parks and open space (Measure A), expand public transit options and invest in active transportation infrastructure (Measure M), and create new affordable housing (Measure JJJ). The city of Los Angeles also updated its Quimby ordinance and developer impact fee mechanism to fund parks and recreation areas, especially in communities that have experienced disinvestment and lack of access to parks and open spaces.
Now, it’s time to ensure these new policies meet their full potential to boost health, safety, and equity in the Los Angeles area:
Measure A – The Los Angeles County Safe, Clean Neighborhood Parks and Beaches Measure of 2016 replaces two expiring assessment fees and will support local parks, beaches, open space, and water resources. Measure A includes built in provisions to increase access to these critical health-promoting resources in ‘park poor’ communities. Revenue will come from an annual parcel tax of 1.5 cents per square foot of development. Measure A passed with 75% of the vote—an impressive affirmation of public support—and is now set to generate approximately $95 million annually with no sunset, with 13% of all funds set aside exclusively for “high need” and “very high need” communities. A number of Healthy, Equitable, Active Land Use (HEALU) Network core partners—including the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Pacoima Beautiful, Prevention Institute, and The Nature Conservancy—played active roles in the groundbreaking Countywide Park Needs Assessment that laid the groundwork for Measure A and created a strong model for public investment to be directed towards areas of need.
Work has already begun on developing an effective implementation plan for Measure A, including a framework and guidelines for the revenue allocation process and competitive grant programs, under the direction of the LA County Regional Park and Open Space district. Key priorities include meaningfully engaging LA County residents in the guideline development process and ensuring that funds designated for the “high need” and “very high need” areas meet the actual needs of these communities. The County will be establishing a steering committee for the implementation plan process and the County Board of Supervisors will approve the final implementation plan and its multiple components.
Measure M – The Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan has the potential to transform the way that Los Angeles residents and visitors travel around the county. Funded by a half-cent sales tax, Measure M is expected to generate $680 million each year to fund public transportation and mobility options across LA County. Seventy percent of LA County voters supported Measure M in 2016, demonstrating a groundswell of public support for a safe, efficient, and accessible transportation system.
As implementation of Measure M progresses, advocates will focus on keeping health and equity issues front and center. HEALU Network core partners at Investing in Place and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition are galvanizing support to:
- Embed health and equity into Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan to guide future expenditures;
- Ensure that health and equity considerations inform how projects are funded at the local level;
- Set aside 10% of the money that local cities have discretion over to fund walking and biking infrastructure; and
- Adopt anti-displacement policies and implement joint development projects to protect existing residents and business owners from involuntary relocation.
Measure JJJ – also known as Build Better LA, will produce and preserve affordable housing and good jobs in what has become one of the least affordable housing markets in the nation. A diverse coalition of partners—led by ACT-LA and including HEALU Network core partners East LA Community Corporation, LA THRIVES, Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, NRDC, and Pacoima Beautiful—championed the campaign to support health, equity, and economic security, and 64% of Los Angeles city voters supported the measure. Measure JJJ requires all housing developments with ten or more units to designate between 11-25% of the units to affordable housing or pay into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Affordable housing will be a key component of LA’s Community Plan updates, which guide future development at the neighborhood level. In a city where displacement too often undermines the health, safety, and stability of low-income communities and communities of color, Measure JJJ will provide safeguards for families at risk of displacement by preserving affordable housing and rent-stabilized units. By requiring housing development projects to hire local Angelenos, and include incentives to build near public transit, Measure JJJ supports multiple determinants of health—living wages, local wealth generation, stable and affordable housing, reliable transportation, and community stability.
As we’ve seen before with LA’s complex land use system, in order to realize the full potential of Measure JJJ, advocates and residents will need to keep their attention on the implementation process. Since the measure allows developers to request a waiver of the affordable housing requirement under certain circumstances, community members and allied organizations need to stay mobilized to attend City Council meetings and speak out for affordable housing. Advocates will also need to remain vigilant about the hiring requirements for construction projects to ensure that transitional workers from economically disadvantaged areas are getting the promised proportion of these jobs. Measure JJJ is a testament to the power of coalition-building and multi-sector collaboration, and it will take strong partnerships and active community engagement to realize the benefits envisioned by the measure.
Quimby – The State of California adopted the “Quimby Act”—named for its author, Assembly Member John P. Quimby—in 1965. The Quimby Act allows cities and counties to enact local policies that place requirements on developers of certain kinds of residential housing projects to build new parks and recreation facilities, or pay into a special fund so that the city can provide these critical amenities to the future residents. Unfortunately, the Quimby Act has had the negative consequence of exacerbating existing inequities in access to parks and recreational areas: communities with high levels of investment generate high Quimby fees, funding new parks and recreational facilities or upgrades to existing infrastructure, while communities that have experienced persistent disinvestment and a lack of parks and open spaces do not benefit. For over a decade, parks advocates have been working to update LA’s Quimby policy to expand the geographic radius where Quimby fees can be applied to be inclusive of park- and investment-poor neighborhoods and reform other components that would increase the flexibility of funding, especially in park-poor areas of the city. The Parks for All coalition, led by HEALU Network core partner Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, worked with over 1,500 community residents and 68 allied organizations to successfully update LA’s Quimby policy. The changes to Quimby were enacted by the LA City Council in a historic 14-0 vote in September 2016 in front of a packed Council Chamber of over 200 park advocates. The revised Quimby policy will also generate higher fees on new “market-rate” developments, yielding $33 million or more each year to sustain LA’s park systems and bring new park facilities to high-need communities (fee requirements do not apply to affordable housing units, helping to facilitate affordable housing production). The vote was the most substantial revision to the policy in three decades. Further, the policy change created a new Mitigation Fee that would be applied to the development of all new market-rate rental units—a first for the city.
Quimby reform highlighted the need—and set the stage—for cooperation and coordination between advocates working on parks and affordable housing. In addition to ensuring that Quimby Fee and Mitigation Fee dollars make a positive difference in park-poor communities, the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and the Parks for All Coalition will continue to connect people and organizations representing diverse interests to advance land use policies and new funding that positively impact parks and open space, with a focus on communities with the least access to green space. While new funding is in place for parks and open space in LA County, there remains an unmet $21.5 billion need to bridge the park equity gap. On April 13, 2017, the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust will host a Park Equity Summit to build the movement for parks and open space in LA.
Moving toward healthy communities by design
As the nation’s most populous county—with strong networks of community-based groups, nimble policy advocacy coalitions, and progressive elected officials—Los Angeles can serve as a standard bearer for innovative policy change. Last November, LA residents and policymakers unequivocally affirmed their commitment to a more just and healthy future for all Los Angeles communities. Now, we need to act on that mandate and show communities across the country how land use policies and cross-sector partnerships can stimulate opportunity and address inequities.
We are proud to be part of the transformation already underway in LA as a multi-sector movement to craft land use strategies, policies, and programs, focused on achieving equitable outcomes and improving community health and safety. On March 7, 2017, voters will return to the polls and one of the measures they will be asked to vote on, Measure S, speaks directly to the land use system in the City of LA. Proponents of Measure S say that the city’s planning system is broken and opponents assert that Measure S doesn’t create the right fixes to land use planning in LA’s neighborhoods. Prevention Institute, along with many of our allies working for health and equity, opposes Measure S. As our partners at the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote in a recent blog, Measure S would undo incentives to create more affordable housing near transit and undermine the City’s efforts to build permanent supportive housing for our homeless residents, rolling back the progress we’ve made. Additionally, to bolster funding for supportive housing and services for LA’s homeless population, Prevention Institute joins many of our partners in supporting Measure H.
What the victories described above make absolutely clear is the growing consensus that our public infrastructure—our streets, our parks, our trains, our schools, our sidewalks, and our neighborhoods—fundamentally shape our health and safety. The November policy victories demonstrate that LA voters are willing to invest in this infrastructure. Now it’s up to residents, advocates, and our elected and appointed leaders to make sure these policies and resources are deployed in ways that will generate health and quality of life for all LA residents, including people of color, low-income people, people renting and owning in low-income neighborhoods, immigrants, and all the diverse communities that make LA special.
As California Senate President Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon so eloquently stated, “California was not a part of this nation when its history began, but we are clearly now the keeper of its future.” In this fashion, we want to elevate LA’s local policy victories, led by many of our Healthy, Equitable, Active Land Use Network partners, and we stand ready to support strong and effective implementation that will lead to greater sustainability, resilience, and prosperity in years ahead.
Since 2014, Prevention Institute has convened the Healthy Equitable Active Land Use (HEALU) Network, a multi-disciplinary group that works together to promote policies and practices in Los Angeles’ land use system that support health, safety, and social equity. The Network represents broad topical expertise—active transportation, parks and open space, affordable housing, environmental law, public health, and more—and varying approaches, from grassroots organizing to non-profit community development to strategic policy advocacy, across Los Angeles’ diverse landscape. We are joined by a shared belief that healthy, equitable land use can be intentionally produced through strategic multi-sector action. Together, we are committed to building a healthier, more equitable land use system in Los Angeles, and developing a model to share with cities and regions across the nation.