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Measure S campaigns heat up ahead of March 7 election

A ballot proposal to restrict new construction in Los Angeles is generating millions of dollars in spending and unlikely alliances.

The campaign for Measure S, led by the Hollywood-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said it has bought space on dozens of billboards around Los Angeles, touting a proposed two-year ban on construction projects that are taller or bigger than what zoning rules currently allow.

Supporters of S say it would prevent developers from building oversized luxury housing developments, which have strained the city's aging infrastructure. Supporters also say many smaller rent-controlled apartment buildings in L.A. have been demolished in recent years to make way for these newer, sky-high developments.

But opponents to S say curbing construction will keep the available housing supply low, and drive up rents. Concerns about S have brought together groups that are typically adversaries - labor unions and the L.A. Chamber of Commerce.  

Rusty Hicks of the L.A. County Federation of Labor said they're focusing on voters who are more apt to turn out in a mid-term election: older, home-owning and leaning conservative.

In the meantime, opponents of Measure S are getting support from city officials, like Mayor Eric Garcetti, who last week spoke out against the proposal. Garcetti has a stated goal of getting 100,000 new housing units built over seven years. 

Measure S was originally slated to go on last November's ballot, but organizers decided to move it to March, after opponents responded with their own ballot initiative, Measure JJJ. That measure, which passed in November, targets building projects that need a zone change — just like the ones targeted by Measure S. But instead of banning these projects from breaking ground, JJJ requires that their developers set aside below-market rate units in those buildings to house lower-income Angelinos.  

Because they delayed their ballot initiative until the spring, Measure S supporters have been working on their campaign for months and holding town hall-style meetings. Endorsements have come from groups like the L.A. Tenants Union and Los Angeles Audubon Society.

Jill Stewart, director of Yes on S, has been making her case that a small but influential number of developers are making LA unlivable by forcing their projects in already-congested areas of the city.

"They can make more money if they put the buildings right in the middle of some hotspot that’s already packed," Stewart said.

The "No on S" side has been ramping up their efforts since January. 

On Thursday, workers in the construction trades gathered at a training center in South L.A. to rally against Measure S, because, they said, it would kill thousands of construction jobs. Charles Slay is a former convict who’s been training to be an electrician for h the last 2-and-a-half years. 

"Like I say, all my eggs are in this basket," Slay said. "There’s no other option for me right now but to fight Measure S."

Charles Slay, a second-year electrician's apprentice, predicts the passage of Measure S would destroy the livelihood for thousands of construction workers.
Josie Huang/KPCC
Charles Slay, a second-year electrician's apprentice, predicts the passage of Measure S would destroy the livelihood for thousands of construction workers.