The Los Angeles City Council recently approved the development plan for two residential high rises in Hollywood. The $324 million project, known as the Palladium Residences, will be constructed over existing parking lots near the Hollywood Palladium. The project will include:

  • 731 residential rental units, 37 of which will be reserved for low-income tenants with monthly rents ranging from $400 to $1,000;
  • ground-level retail and restaurant spaces; and
  • new parking accommodations for 1,900 vehicles and 820 bicycles.

In a promising precedent, the city council also approved changes to local zoning and height restrictions to allow for construction of the large apartment towers, expected to loom 28 stories tall. The high rises are scheduled for completion in 2018.

As if on cue, some local residents who adamantly oppose the construction have emerged from the fray. Spearheading the opposition are the Coalition to Preserve LA and the nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which recently filed a lawsuit against the city.

The project’s approval has fueled the groups’ efforts to gather signatures for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a March 2017 ballot measure proposing a two-year moratorium on “mega-development projects” that do not conform to existing zoning requirements.

Why the backlash?

Development in LA has been met with resistance from not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) residents who strongly oppose changes to LA’s urban landscape. Opponents frequently cite overpopulation, environmental impact, traffic congestion, developer greed, gentrification and the elusive preservation of LA’s cityscape as reasons to halt development (and stifle growth).

But are these concerns really justified? Motives driving anti-development efforts are not always easily discernable or beneficial to LA’s growing population — which needs controls, not elimination. More often than not, they tend to be self-serving, not public minded and not of a long-term visionary nature. In the case of the Palladium Residences, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation president is ironically launching NIMBY attacks from the 21st floor of the neighboring office building — a location that will no doubt suffer the loss of city views when the project is complete.

The threat of obstructed views and the Foundation’s fervent resistance begs the question: whose interests are being protected in the battle to prevent residential development in LA? Future residents, or the sacrosanct views of those already there?

Some concerns for controls are justified: long-term residents are often priced out of their neighborhoods through gentrification when new development increases desirability and wealthier renters move in. Luxury apartment complexes without some provisions for affordable housing will not voluntarily provide these residents with obtainable housing. Further, development will require LA to grapple with inevitable urban changes as it adapts to a higher density population. Homes with vacant bedrooms are renting up, and the homeless are not leaving to reduce the density.

However, exclusionary NIMBY advocates who resist city growth for the sake of preserving a restrictive urban fabric mainly benefit an elite, seemingly authoritarian minority. This comes at the expense of LA residents direly in need of centralized housing or large-scale housing projects near metro stations in the proximal suburbs.

Suppressing residential developments as desired by NIMBYs does nothing to prevent the exodus of low- to mid-income residents or ease housing costs. In fact, it counter-intuitively pushes rents and prices up since the housing supply stagnates while housing demand continues to grow, further gentrifying urban neighborhoods. Economics in the behavior of humans knows no county or city borders — people will always be drawn to take in the thriving cultures of LA.

Development is positive for LA

The truth: urban revitalization and development are good for economic growth and LA residents — both those who are there now, and those who will be in the coming years.

Rather than preventing construction, LA needs to promote residential development which accommodates the city’s growing working population — even when this requires building up and altering LA’s cityscape, an ever evolving human-made design. Adjusting local zoning regulations near desirable or up-and-coming areas allows for more multi-family housing to be built. This increased housing:

  • organically keeps rents from escalating beyond the reach of long-term neighborhood residents who may want to remain and continue to contribute positively to the local economy; and
  • promotes business and cultural growth.

Additionally, providing centralized urban housing encourages LA workers to live closer to their jobs. This reduces the amount of traffic crowding the city’s streets which contributes to LA’s notoriously bad air pollution. Note that the approved project progressively facilitates the occupants’ use of some 800 bicycles.

LA can no longer ignore that its lure of the conveniences of work and play in urban living are increasingly drawing in renters and quickly outweighing fears of a changing city. As demonstrated time and time again, Generation Y (Gen Y) is drifting away from the outlying suburbs in favor of the city center, where job opportunities, amenities, entertainment and community are all abundant (and will only be enhanced with high-density zoning for housing the entire spectrum of local inhabitants).

It is now up to city officials and current residents to accept that demand for urban living is here to stay. Adapting requires increased development for a growing working population ready to live in the urban core and contribute to LA’s economic growth. LA was once nothing more than a very small community, but it became a city built entirely on growth and innovation. LA’s zoning needs to facilitate this.