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  • Jason Tuvia

After Measure S, some L.A. developers say they'll step more softly with new projects

As the city debated slow-growth Measure S, developer Century West Partners refused to buy land that would need special exemptions to build, fearful the two-year moratorium on such projects would pass.

This week, the Los Angeles initiative went down to a resounding defeat at the polls, losing by more than a 2-to-1 margin. Now if a broker called with such a deal, Century West may bite.

“We are going to answer the phone,” said Kevin Farrell, the chief operating officer of Century West, which has built about 1,000 housing units in Los Angeles over the last four years.

But Farrell and other developers said they aren’t taking the vote as a mandate to go on an acquisition and building spree. Instead, they said voters simply rejected an “extreme” measure amid a housing shortage — but one that exposed deep resentment among Los Angeles residents.

“It reminds us to step carefully,” Farrell said.

Going forward, he and others said they’d more carefully scrutinize potential deals to ensure the community and the local City Council member is on board, especially for developments that need council approval.

Proponents of the measure said the City Council too often approved such exemptions for deep-pocketed campaign contributors who wanted to build out-of-scale luxury developments. Opponents countered the moratorium and amendment ban would slash housing construction of all types, jacking up home prices and rents in the process.

But the moratorium was also designed to push the city to update its outdated community plans, 35 documents that govern what can be built and where. Most are more than 15 years old and developers say that’s why they often need exemptions for projects that are economically viable today.

Real estate broker Mark Tarczynski of Collliers International, who helps developers get city approval for projects, said Measure S was too far-reaching, “like taking a sledge hammer to kill a fly.”

It did, however, illuminate how important it is that the city update its zoning codes “so developers wouldn’t have to go into a council person’s office on bended knee and pray for his support.”

Shortly before the election, the City Council raced to start updating the plans, aiming to have each done by 2024. Both proponents of Measure S and developers say they want the council to follow through on that goal, though many who rallied around the measure probably would disagree with the community plans sought by business groups.

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