When an extreme and aggressive anti-development measure landed on the ballot in Los Angeles early last year, the Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Association of REALTORS® took action. It requested a Land Use Initiative review through the REALTOR® Party. The association also secured an Issues Mobilization Grant for a strong opposition campaign. Then it joined forces with an unlikely ally: the LA Labor Federation. Together, Labor and the REALTORS® led a coalition to defeat the measure—one which sought to hold development in one of the nation’s largest cities to a standard established just after WWII.
Measure S, explains James Litz, Government Affairs Director of the BHGLAAR, would have had a disastrous impact on the city, and set a dangerous precedent for years to come. Proposed by a deep-pocketed organization seeking to protect its own view of an attractive landmark, the draconian measure would have stopped development completely for two years, and disallowed zone changes in perpetuity, effectively preserving an antiquated piecemeal code dating back to 1946. Beyond the obvious threat to the housing needs of contemporary Los Angeles, notes Litz, there were businesses to consider: “There’s a good chance we’ll be hosting the Olympics in 2024, and we’ve got to prepare. Imagine restaurants being denied sidewalk seating by our paralyzed zoning code!”
A counter-initiative called “Build a Better LA” was launched, and while not as restrictive as Measure S, it would have created further barriers to construction by raising labor costs on every development. BHGLAAR submitted the text of both Measure S and Build a Better LA to the REALTOR® Party to review Land Use ordinances. The report received back, says Litz, confirmed the REALTORS®‘ deepest concerns about the future of development in Los Angeles, and provided spot-on analysis in support of the opposition campaign that had already been mounted—by the Labor industry.
“Such an extreme proposition required an unconventional coalition,” says Rusty Hicks, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the LA Labor Federation. Acknowledging that Labor and Business historically don’t see eye-to-eye, he adds, “In this case, the REALTORS®, having a foot in both camps, so to speak, served as an important bridge, and helped us to form an especially strong and effective coalition. Their facilitation in bringing together other unlikely partners was key to our success.”
The resources the REALTORS® brought to the effort were also invaluable, he says. Beyond the legal analysis, they supported the campaign with major funding from the REALTOR® Party, and the active involvement of many BHGLAAR members. “Our membership was clearly concerned about the high profile ‘Yes on S’ campaign, which had the benefit of a huge inventory of billboards across the city,” reports Litz. “If they were at all skeptical of teaming up with Labor, they still threw themselves into the coalition’s campaign to defeat the measure. They participated in phone banks, and put signs outside their homes and offices. Above all, they engaged in an energetic grassroots social media campaign.” Television ads, an extensive door-knocking effort, and an educational website called GoesTooFar.com also boosted the opposition effort.
“We found that voter awareness was the key,” says Litz. “When we could reach people about the truth behind Measure S, their vote turned against it.” At the end of the day, the measure was defeated by 69% of the vote.
Says Hicks, “I’ve long argued that you don’t ever know someone until you’ve fought with him. As tried-and-true ‘battle buddies,’ Labor and the REALTORS® are now working together to establish policy that will create more housing and job opportunities in Los Angeles. Who’d have thought? In the end, it’s a positive outcome from a dire threat to both our industries.”
Litz adds, “Beyond eliminating the immediate threat, we’ve also been able to leverage our win, politically. We’ve just bailed the City Council out of a serious situation, and now it’s up to them to be responsive to the needs of the city. They’re on notice that they must establish a viable new Zoning Plan, and make progress on affordable housing and housing for the homeless. It’s still an uphill battle, but I think we’re already seeing a glimmer of progress.”
To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Beverly Hills and Greater Los Angeles are forging strong partnerships to protect and promote housing and business opportunities in their metropolis, contact Government Affairs Director James Litz at 310-704-2767.