Emboldened by an overwhelming victory on a landmark growth-control initiative, supporters of the measure Wednesday declared Los Angeles is at the "dawn of a new era" that will force City Hall to be more responsive to citizen concerns as it plans and approves new development.
"It's a mandate for reform," Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who co-authored the initiative with Councilman Marvin Braude, told reporters at a post-election news conference. "It's a mandate for the City Council and the mayor and the Planning Commission to change course."
"This is the dawn of a new era in Los Angeles politics and Los Angeles land-use planning," Braude told the news conference. "We look upon this as a very significant turn in the citizen participation movement. . . . The people of the city have spoken out loud and firmly . . . to create a better city."
Unofficial returns from Tuesday's balloting showed that the measure, Proposition U, carried by more than a 2-to-1 margin.
While there was no organized campaign against it, most minority members of the City Council were critical of the initiative, claiming that it could cost jobs and needed economic development in their areas. Nonetheless, the measure won easily in South-Central and East Los Angeles.
It will likely be some months before the full effect of Proposition U, which cuts in half the size of new commercial buildings that can be built in most of the city, can be gauged.
While the initiative is the largest one-shot effort to limit development in the city's history, its short-term impact may be limited by a variety of factors, including an already soft market for new office space and tax law changes that may discourage office construction. Also, the measure allows for continued high-rise development in areas like downtown and the Wilshire District, and the City Council can grant exceptions to the building limits in other areas.
Possibly soon feeling the bite of the initiative will be dozens of already approved projects not yet under construction that could lose their permits in the next few weeks. They range from a $27-million, 12-story office building in Woodland Hills' Warner Center to a three-story apartment building in South-Central Los Angeles.
But the most immediate and perhaps more significant effect of the vote, both critics and supporters of the measure agreed, is its admonition to City Hall that citizens are unhappy and will be demanding a larger role in planning decisions.
"It's the most promising thing we've seen happen in a long time," said Brian Moore, a leader of the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Assns., a coalition of Westside and Valley homeowner groups. "So much of this (development approval) process has been kept secret and done in back rooms. We want to bring it out in the open where people have a chance to comment on their own destiny and property values."
One of the concepts being discussed by proponents and critics is creation of a series of permanent community planning boards that would advise or help decide on development issues in their areas. How those would be structured, how much real power would be shared and who would be represented are likely to be major issues.
Council President Pat Russell, a leading critic of the initiative, denied that ordinary citizens have been shut out of the planning process. But she agreed that the voters are concerned and want a major re-evaluation of the planning process. "It expresses a worry about the future. . . . There's no question it's a criticism. . . . We need from time to time to evaluate what we've done and where we are headed," she said.
Also on the ballot Tuesday, Los Angeles County Bond Proposition J, earmarking $96 million in bonds for overcrowded adult and juvenile detention facilities, barely gained the required two-thirds majority for approval.
Reacting to passage of the measure, an elated Sheriff Sherman Block said, "I'm pleased that the people saw the need and supported us."
On other ballots around the county, two more fiscal measures passed with the needed two-thirds majority, but seven others failed.
Pasadena voters approved a $17-million bond issue for a new police building and jail. San Marino voters continued a tax to fund police, fire and paramedic services.
Voted down were a utility users tax in Alhambra, library bonds for El Segundo and five school measures in the Newhall, Saugus, Sulphur Springs and Castaic areas.