L.A. City Council Approves Controversial Affordable Housing Fee

December 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles City Council Wednesday unanimously approved the creation of an affordable housing linkage fee — one of the most hotly debated proposals to come through City Hall in recent times.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, who championed such an ordinance two years ago, immediately signed the ordinance following the City Council’s approval.

“Ending the housing affordability crisis is essential to securing Los Angeles as a place where every Angeleno — no matter their income — has an opportunity to build a life in our community,” Garcetti said. “Everyone in L.A. deserves a place to come home to, and the affordable housing linkage fee is a critical investment in making that future possible for all of our families.”

Although some council members and key business leaders expressed hesitation while the proposal was dissected at four Planning Committee meetings, the council ultimately came together in unison to approve the fee as a way to help fight the housing crisis and rising rents in the city.

“This is an important moment. I’m thrilled to be a part of it,” Councilman Bob Blumenfield said.

Councilman Jose Huizar, who chairs the Planning Committee, told City News Service, “It’s a long process, but again it reminds us of how much work we still have to do. I think this council has paid so much more attention to affordable housing issues in these last couple of years, and it’s an issue that
has been long neglected, to speak quite frankly.”

Under the ordinance, commercial and residential developers will have to pay a fee for every square foot of new construction, generating an estimated $100 million per year to be used to provide affordable housing units.

Skeptics fretted that the fee could discourage development overall or that poor tenants would suffer as landlords passed the cost of the fee onto them.

Groups that argued that the fee will slow down housing include the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, which said the “business community strongly supports affordable and workforce housing, but this proposal will make low- and middle-class housing more expensive to build and more expensive to rent or own.”

The L.A. Chamber acknowledged the city has a “housing supply crisis at all levels,” but said solutions that increase housing overall is what’s needed.

Huizar said before the vote that the fee is lower than what some studies had shown developers could absorb, which helped reduce the level of opposition in the business community.

Councilman Jose Huizar (center) and affordable housing advocates at City Hall Wednesday morning called for support for a linkage fee on developers to fund the building of affordable housing. (Photo courtesy Office of Councilman Jose Huizar)

Councilman Jose Huizar (center) and affordable housing advocates at City Hall Wednesday morning called for support for a linkage fee on developers to fund the building of affordable housing. (Photo courtesy Office of Councilman Jose Huizar)

“We could have charged more in this fee, but we chose not to, and we did that purposefully so that we have a large buffer there that will not discourage any development,” he said.

A report by the Department of City Planning and Housing and Community Investment Department estimates the fee could raise between $93.7 million and $114.3 million per year, with a tiered structure ranging from $8 to $15 per square foot for residential projects and $3 to $5 for commercial ones, depending on the market value of the neighborhood.

Council members Mike Bonin and David Ryu introduced an amendment to the motion that directs city staff to present an analysis within 60 days of the market impacts of increasing the residential fee in high market areas to $18. The amendment was seconded by Councilman Paul Koretz.

The three council members represent some of the pricier neighborhoods in L.A., including Bel-Air, Brentwood, Toluca Lake and the Hollywood Hills, indicating that there likely will not be opposition on the council to the increased fee because the trio collectively represents most of the high-market areas.

Huizar said he was supportive of looking at raising the high market fee.

“This is bringing it up a little bit more in those high demand areas, where they could probably absorb more of a fee than other areas,” he said.

“Because you want to encourage more development in low-income areas and those areas that don’t have much development, but where there’s such a huge demand and people’s portfolios are working out, they could absorb this a lot easier.”

Huizar pointed out that the city’s affordable housing trust fund contained around $100 million in 2010, but has nearly dried up as state and federal contributions plummeted.

“… We are one of the last large cities in the country that doesn’t have (a) consistent revenue stream to build affordable housing,” Huizar said.

Councilman Mitchell Englander expressed some criticism of the fee at one meeting, but later said he had always supported a linkage fee, and that it had just been a question of finding the “sweet spot” that doesn’t slow development.

The ordinance does include some exemptions for the fee, including for schools, grocery stores, hospitals and developments that include a certain level of affordable units, including where at least 40 percent of the total units are for affordable to moderate-income households making between 80 percent and 120 percent of the area median income.

There are also exemptions where at least 20 percent of the total units or guest rooms are dedicated for low income households, at least 11 percent is for very low income households, or at least 8 percent are for extremely low income households.

The Planning Committee considered for a time exempting nonprofits but ultimately decided against the move out of concern that developers would abuse the option.

Councilman Gil Cedillo over the summer suggested he wasn’t necessarily against the fee, but cast some doubt on how effective it could be.

“If we think this is the whole solution, we are really making a mistake,” Cedillo told City News Service in June.

But last week, Cedillo waived consideration of the linkage fee from his Housing Committee, which cleared the path for it to be voted on before the end of the year. The council also approved a motion by Cedillo that looks to amend the ordinance by creating a linkage fee exemption for middle-income households making between 120 percent and 150 percent of the AMI.

“Today’s council action is a historic move for the permanent development and preservation of affordable housing in Los Angeles,” Cedillo said following Wednesday’s vote. “As the chair of Housing, I will support any measure that gets us closer to our goal of building 100,000 units of housing by 2021.”

He added, “When creating a linkage fee, some cities have made certain exemption to the linkage fee, including exemptions for nonprofits and 100 percent affordable housing developments. Today, the City Council also approved my motion that asks for a similar exemption to extend homeownership opportunities for middle-income households, given the increasing price and shortage of housing. We have to attack the housing crisis at every level.”

The proposed amendment, however, must still be vetted through the City Council review process before it can be finalized, which will likely begin in January and take two months to complete, Cedillo’s Communications Director, Fredy Cejas, told EGP Wednesday.

The L.A. Chamber has expressed support for Cedillo’s motion, saying in an editorial Tuesday that it “could lessen the detrimental impact of a linkage fee on middle-income housing.

“This exemption would incentivize the construction of housing designed for middle-income Angelenos who are finding our city more and more unaffordable as a place to live and raise families,” Toebben said. “Without this exemption, the linkage fee would add $12,000 to $24,000 per unit to the cost of building middle-class housing.

Other California cities such as Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco have a linkage fee, as do other cities around the country.

Garcetti set a goal in 2014 of constructing more than 100,000 units in Los Angeles by 2021 as a way to combat a housing shortage that has contributed to rising rents and an increase in homelessness in the city.

EGP Managing Editor Gloria Alvarez contributed to this story.

 

June 29, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Members of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s most powerful union will see a significant bump in pay, with the City Council’s approval Wednesday of a new contract for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18.

The deal was approved 11-3 despite three council members’ objections to the speed with which it came to the council for a vote, having skipped a committee hearing after the Board of Water and Power Commissioners approved the contract last week.

Councilmen Mitch O’Farrell, David Ryu and Mike Bonin, who cast the dissenting votes, said they felt the process lacked transparency.
“The approval of this plan without greater discussion, public outreach or deeper analysis undermines the public’s trust in their local government,” Ryu said.

Bonin said he learned the details of the deal and that it was coming to a vote though the media.

“I’m disturbed, as are a few others, by this process, and there is still information I feel I don’t have,” Bonin said.

Councilman Joe Buscaino, who ultimately voted for the deal, also said he learned of the contract details through the media.

“This process stunk. One cannot assume approval of a contract without proper vetting. We heard about this contract through a number of media reports.

In the five years I’ve been here through city contracts, my office and myself were at least briefed on what to expect,” Buscaino said.
The deal, which has the support of Mayor Eric Garcetti, continues the practice of union workers not contributing toward their health care costs — a benefit not enjoyed by all city workers.

The new contract has been criticized by some as being too generous — to the point that it could cause other city unions to ask for raises — as well as for being fast-tracked to a vote.

The contract gives six raises over five years for the IBEW Local 18’s 9,000 members at a total rate of about 13 percent to 22 percent, depending on the consumer price index. It also ends the union’s $4 million controversial annual contribution to two nonprofits, the Joint Training Institute and the Joint Safety Institute, which have been heavily criticized due to a lack of transparency as to how they were spending and tracking the money.

The contract will cost an estimated $56 million annually, but will not impact the city’s general fund as it will be funded via adjustments to the LADWP’s budget, according to an LADWP commission memo.

Fred Pickle, executive director of the LADWP’s Office of Public Accountability, said because the department routinely comes in under budget each year, the raises would not likely result in higher rates for customers.

When Garcetti ran for mayor in 2013, one of his chief issues was a promise to bring sweeping changes to the LADWP. That pledge made him an enemy of the IBEW, which spent $2 million supporting his opponent, then-City Controller Wendy Greuel. Once elected, Garcetti blocked the approval of a four-year contract with the IBEW so he could renegotiate a new deal that resulted in no raises for the union.

“Public unions are major donors to City Hall political campaigns, so perhaps it should be no surprise if elected officials are reluctant to drive a hard bargain. But this contract could sure use more analysis and public debate,” the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board wrote while also criticizing Garcetti for not driving a harder bargain this time around after his landslide re-election in March.

Interim Chief Administrative Officer Rich Llewellyn said the deal was not a template for future deals with other unions and contended the raises are needed to keep LADWP workers from leaving to work for other cities.

An audit of the LADWP released earlier this year by City Controller Ron Galperin found that the utility spends about $40 million a year on apprenticeship programs that only graduate about 51 percent or fewer of their enrollees, and that many of the graduates go to other utilities to get better salaries.

“This contract moves us in the direction of much-needed reforms, specifically ending ratepayer funding of the two nonprofit training institutes that I audited in 2015, and offering a retention incentive for certain workers who are expensive to train and frequently lured away by private utilities,” Galperin said. “At the same time, I’m not convinced that all of the across-the-board increases were justified by the need to attract and retain employees at the DWP. We must be watchful stewards of ratepayer money.”

Llewellyn said the elimination of the payment to the two institutes was a big win for the city.

When pressed by some council members as to why the city didn’t push harder on healthcare contributions, Llewellyn said, “We pushed on everything … We pushed on everyone, and they pushed back on everyone. And we ended up in the middle with what I believe is a reasonable deal.”

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