REPORT — Los Angeles: The Dysfunctional Metropolis

June 27, 2023

June 27, 2023 — The process that the City of Los Angeles uses to approve multi-family housing proposals within its jurisdiction is a recipe for political corruption and high housing costs, and should be reformed to achieve broad housing affordability, according to a new report out today from the California YIMBY Education Fund.

The report, “The Dysfunctional Metropolis: Reforming Los Angeles’s Land Use Planning and Entitlement,” was written by Emily Jacobson to fulfill the requirements of her Master’s in Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley’s Goldman School; she is the inaugural research fellow for the California YIMBY Education Fund, which is publishing the study, and advised on its editorial content.

“With a growing number of Los Angeles elected officials getting caught in legal scandals related to land use and housing approvals, we need better research on how to reduce zoning-related moral hazards – and expand the supply and affordability of housing,” said Nolan Gray, Research Director at California YIMBY. “Jacobson’s work in this area is a perfect contribution. We hope it starts a deeper conversation about the urgent need for land use reform in the City and County of Los Angeles.” 

DOWNLOAD AND READ “Dysfunctional Metropolis”  

While “Dysfunctional Metropolis” details the layers of subjective and often contradictory processes that stand in the way of multi-family housing production in Los Angeles, the report calls out one specific element: The “discretionary” nature of how new housing gets approved in the city and county. By leaving the end result up to the whims and political pressures of elected officials, these discretionary processes have created an opaque, inconsistent, and unfair landscape for housing – and invite corruption.

“I wanted to understand the mechanism that has resulted in Los Angeles having the highest rate of homelessness and some of the least affordable housing in the United States,” said Jacobson. “My research finds that the same legal framework that has resulted in elected officials facing severe jeopardy for possible criminal activity is also a major cause of homelessness, rent burden, and housing that is simply out of reach to middle-class workers.” 

“The good news,” Jacobson said, “is that with smart reforms, Los Angeles can find a path back to both affordability, and good governance.”

The report offers a series of recommendations on technical reforms that could lead to faster housing approvals, less uncertainty, lower costs, and more transparent and democratic processes. They include proposals that would expand the number of projects eligible for “ministerial” approval, and improve the process for discretionary review, including:

  • Reform or eliminate the site plan review requirement for residential projects; and
  • Increase allowable density across the city by updating the general plan and community plans.
  • Standardize the entitlement process for common land use application types and introduce and enforce deadlines for all stages of review;
  • Devolve some of the Council’s decision-making authority to the CPC or Director of Planning, when allowed by state law; and
  • Propose a ballot measure to eliminate Section 245e of the City Charter to revoke the Council’s ability to overrule the actions of the CPC and APCs. 

Along with its recommendations for reform, “Dysfunctional Metropolis” provides a detailed review of what’s known as the “entitlement process” – the set of procedures, including applications, public hearings, commissions, and other reviews – that most new multi-family housing proposals must follow before they are permitted and built. (Single-unit homes typically do not have to go through this process unless they are in a new subdivision.)

The report’s recommendations include alternatives based on criteria such as impact/effectiveness, likelihood of success, and political viability. It also provides guidance for state lawmakers on reforms at the state level that could help cities like Los Angeles reduce the cost of and accelerate multi-family housing, including CEQA reform and related issues. 

DOWNLOAD AND READ “Dysfunctional Metropolis”