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Tue, Feb

Ode to the Los Angeles Times: On its last legs, it still shills for real estate speculators

PLANNING WATCH LA

PLANNING WATCH -  For years the Los Angeles Times has increased prices and trimmed columns, sections, pages, and reporters.  Nevertheless, circulation numbers are still in free fall.  

Is it just a matter-of-time until on-line publications, like CityWatchLA, LA Progressive, and Capital and Main, become LA’s major news sources? 

Regardless of your answer, under the Chandler family, then Sam Zell, and now Patrick Soon-Shiong, the Times has openly shilled for real estate speculators.  This editorial bias was on full display in a recent opinion piece by Rand economist, Jason Ward: “Why is L.A. still letting single-family homeowners block solutions to the housing crisis.”  For those who don’t know, Rand is a Santa Monica based think-tank whose origins are immediate post-WWII efforts by the U.S. War Department, now misnamed the Department of Defense, “to connect military planning with research and development decisions”. 

Ward’s column is based on a tall tale fabricated by developers and their followers that homelessness results from a lack of apartments in single-family neighborhoods.  Their self-serving solution to this claim is the repeal of zoning and environmental laws.  Once these pesky regulations are whisked away, real estate developers can replace the houses they bulldoze with lucrative, over-priced, under-parked apartments. 

Why this approach makes the housing crisis worse: 

First, California neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes no longer exist because the State Legislature adopted housing laws that: 

  • Allow three accessory dwelling units (ADU’s) on lots zoned for single-family homes.  This 2016 law permits a 1,200 square feet backyard house, a 500 square foot portion of the main house with a separate entrance, and a small house on wheels. 
  • Permit homeowners or investors to subdivide a single-family lot into two separate parcels.  Senate Bill 9, adopted in 2021, allows them to then build a duplex (and add three ADUs) on each half. 

Second, few homeowners are willing to move, demolish their own house, subdivide the underlying lot, and then build and manage replacement duplexes and ADU’s.  Instead, homeowners quietly sell their house to real estate speculators, who build and sell McMansions.  Homeowners can pocket $500,000 by selling their house to a mansionizer, a transaction that has happened 40,000 times in Los Angeles.

Furthermore, according to the City Hall, a studio ADU rents for $1,369/month and a one-bedroom ADU costs $1,765/month.  Since few homeless people can afford these prices, this further explains why building more market housing does not reduce homelessness.

Third, this developer solution to homelessness – rescinding zoning laws – ignores the underlying causes of the housing crisis: evictions, termination of public housing programs, economic inequality, and rising housing prices.  Furthermore, revoking zoning laws increases the market value of up-zoned parcels and, therefore, increases the cost of housing.  This explains why these “reforms” price even more people out of housing. 

This developer solution to the housing crisis, repeatedly championed by the LA Times, invariably boomerangs.  When elected officials pare back zoning and environmental laws, more Angelenos are priced out of housing.  Although these changes make the housing crisis worse, they also provide “evidence” that elected officials have not yet repealed enough land use laws to spark a housing boom that filters down to reduce homelessness. 

As for the LA Times, these contrary outcomes from the up-zoning policies they support are not reported.  This is why readers turn to alternative media, like CityWatchLA, to understand why the housing crisis is getting steadily worse. 

(Dick Platkin is a retired Los Angeles city planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatchLA.  He is a board member of United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles (UN4LA).  Previous columns are available at the CityWatchLA archives.  Please send questions to [email protected].)