What people write about when they write about Measure S

Attention conservation notice: People emphasize different aspects to Measure S in their discussions, and those differences reveal important things about what people think about development and politics in Los Angeles–and those differences should be really interesting to the YIMBY folks.

Yesterday I stirred folks up by telling them to stop lecturing me on the supply effects of Measure S, for God’s sakes, because a) I already understand their argument and b) I think they are probably right but c) I think the supply-side framing misses much of the critique that at least some members of the Measure S coalition are making about development in LA.

Of course, since I mentioned Measure S, it immediately meant I had to sit through 1,001 grumpy Twitter comments about MOAR SUPPLY and HOW DARE I act like that doesn’t explain everything and I MUST BE A ROTTEN, ROTTEN person and support Measure S, and I’m a sexist because I made a snotty crack about the legion of smartest boy urbanists who inevitably come out to yell and scream.  After, don’t men get to have OPINIONS, you mean, mean lady? WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ?

Crimony, you pipo.

First of all,  if I invent the Mean Nasty Lady Feminist Gun today that, when aimed and fired at various and sundry Male Urbanists With Opinions, silences them and immediately transports them into exile forever to the Inland Empire, there will still be one thing that urbanism and urban politics will not run short of, and that one thing will be male opinions about cities. Or anything else.  Fret not.

Second of all….I do enjoy it when people debate the issues with me. The ad hominem is childish and pointless; my mother is already here to point out my many personal flaws, and the ones she misses get covered variously by undergrad evaluations and senior faculty.  When I post what I am thinking, I inevitably have smart people respond along with the ACTUALLEH, THE FACTZ ARE…. and I get to learn from both the smart people and sometimes the arrogant loudmouths because even they can be right at times.

So what do I really think about Measure S?

Both sides claim that they care about affordability, and both sides claim the other side is corrupt and disingenuous. On the pro side, it’s the development process that is corrupt. On the anti side, it’s people yelling and screaming about Michael Weinstein and how he’s a bad guy and misusing AIDS Foundation funds. Whether Weinstein is a good guy or a bad guy means diddly about whether Measure S is good or bad policy. Honestly, if Pharma Bro came out against Measure S, would it suddenly magically become good policy just because a lousy person advocates a position? No. It wouldn’t.

To be clear, I do think Measure S is bad policy.  All my friends on the pro side will be sad to read this, but from my standpoint, for all the posturing and claims about What Measure S Will Do Both Good and Bad…I don’t think we know what it would do, and what we can pin down with some confidence is not good. Specific components, like the moratorium and the parking provisions, obviously there as a sot to specific project opponents, are both bad ideas.  The unintended consequences for small businesses of the parking provisions loom large.  I am one of Don Shoup’s students, after all.

Measure S may be bad policy, but  I am not sure that it is bad politics. Yes, we have a ballot box initiative that we have to vote on in a couple weeks, that’s one thing.  Another simply is that the various interests on display with Measure S are worth paying attention to because they might be incorporated into a pro-development coalition if they see enough of what they want alongside what the YIMBY folks want in future initiatives.

Of all the writing about Measure S, Christopher Hawthorne has penned some important pieces in the Times. I found this one, on the decades of anti-growth politics, to be particularly intriguing.  If Hawthorne is right, and I think he is (with a few quibbles that don’t really matter), then Measure S is simply a new incarnation of anti-development interests that have dominated LA for a long time.  If he is right, then Measure S could stand a good shot at passing,  and even if it doesn’t, Measure S is simply a contemporary skirmish in a much longer conflict about what LA is, how it should invest in itself, and how people here should live.

In examining the pro side of Measure S, there seem to me to be threads of the “pro” narrative that reflect interests which are not necessarily entrenched with strict anti-growth interests. That is, they could be split from the existing pro-Measure S coalition if they see their interests reflected in future proposals. That strikes me as worth knowing for governing land in LA.

Enough blather. Let’s look at some word clouds. These aren’t the best, but I have some more work to do before I can get you really good, analytical visualizations, and I do have a day job, ya know.

Nonetheless, they do show some variations in emphasis around the issues that I think are useful to discuss.

These are the top 50 words from the various print media I’ve been able to collect. I do not have the videos transcribed yet, and there is a lot of material there.


This is the  corpus of writing from the LA  Times. Now, the Times has taken a no position on S, and it has run multiple op-eds from opponents like Shane Phillips. However, since I analyze what Shane has written separately, his op-eds for the Times are in his text corpus, not here.   Some words to note here: development, plans, housing, community.



Pro MEASURE S Comments from around the Web 

I’ve sorted the “pro” and “con” comments from ALL the media sources I’ve scraped for the study.  This also includes CityWatch articles and blog posts from around the web, as well as what I could scrape from the Times and the Sentinel.


Quite a bit of overlap, right? But different emphasis on things like community, plan, planning, and some phrases that don’t really appear in journalistic accounts or blog posts: Garcetti, traffic, fake, Caruso, developers (not development).  Lots of the commenters direct their anger about development at the mayor and specific developers–not necessarily growth. Nonetheless, traffic is a hot-button word, and it’s a cover word for anti-growth (defines growth via its potential negative externalities and nothing else, thereby trading on stigma). Interestingly, however, this corpus is the only one where the idea about “labor” pops up. I don’t know what that means, if anything. Going to have to go dig through.


This word cloud is the smallest corpus–just the materials from the LA Tenants Union Statement in favor of S, and the comments I have been able to scrape in response to the Statement.   Please note: unlike the “pro” commenters above, these folks do not mention the mayor, specific developers, traffic…etc. These are groups with ostensibly “pro” positions on Measure S, but they emphasize different aspects of Measure S. And, btw, like Shane Phillips, an opponent of the measure, the statement emphasized affordability.



Now, in looking at the “pro” comments above, and the “pro” comments here from Tenants Union Statement and various comments…are these folks saying the same things?

We need to do more analysis, but I think this preliminary evidence is that they are not, in general, supporting the measure because they have the same interests against development.  And that strikes me as important not necessarily for Measure S, but for the long-term governance of land development in LA.

Let’s look at a couple more.


In the interests of full disclosure, Shane is one of my former students so I think everything he says is awesome. I scraped his essays from his brilliant blog, which of course everybody should read, and I included his LA Times Op-Eds in here, too.  I have not been stalkerish enough to scrape his one-off comments here and about the web, so those are not in. Here goes:


There is a lot here that overlaps with the Times and with…of all things…the Tenants Union.  See where I am going with this?

Cool things about Shane’s writing: he emphasizes households and homes in ways that none of the writers do.

Finally, let’s look at:

DICK PLATKIN (Pro Measure S) 


Lots of overlap with Shane, despite their occasional snarks at each other, and two words emphasized here and nowhere else: zoning and land.

What does any of this prove? I honestly don’t know yet.  I need to go through and *really*  analyze the material–it’s possible that the discussions highlight similar terms but do so with entirely different value-framings.

But I do think it’s suggestive of something important: that is, Measure S, with all its moving parts, is both ambiguous enough and ambitious enough that people look into it and see what they want they want to see, pulling out and emphasizing various things while downplaying others.

In that, however, I do think these little explorations show that the “pro” side is hardly one-note and hardly just self-interested, no-growthers.  They are certainly in the coalition–the comments scraped from the web seem to show that. It looks to me, however, that their concerns do not really align all that well with Platkin’s or the Tenant’s Union, even if they have formed an campaign coalition here.

Which is my point. The most likely way to sustain victories from things like JJJ and counter straight-up NIMBY-related anti-growth is to build bridges with folks like the Tenants Union who are, for the moment, advocating for Measure S because they want things to change and are worried about the *effects* of development, but whose language and interests do not necessarily center *specifcally* on stopping development entirely.

And as important as MOAR SUPPLY is…it is only one argument, and I’m not sure how well it has really worked to build bridges between the YIMBY folks and the I’m-Worried-I’m-Going-To-Get-Displaced folks.

And I shall post this, and the BUT LISA MOAR SUPPLY comments will begin in 3….2….1…

Stop supply-side ‘splaining Measure S to me and get busy with better answers

Sweetie, darlings, SWEETIES–

I  know how housing markets work, and I know how how zoning and development restrictions put upward pressure on housing and land prices.  I have been a planner for 30 years. I have lived in LA for nearly 20. I have been a professor of urban planning for nearly 12 years. I don’t need this splained to me. 

So it is really irritating to me that EVERY SINGLE TIME I mention Measure S, some smartest boy urbanist comes out of the woodwork to SPLAIN HOW THINGS ARE. THE MARKET LISA THE MARKET MOAR DEVELOPMENT IS ALWAYS THE ANSWER NO MATTER WHAT THE QUESTION IS. 

I know we need more units. I know that. But we are very long on supply side rationales and very short on acknowledging that the status quo in LA SUCKS for poor people. I have been analyzing the media materials from both camps–I might show you a mosaic map later this week if I get to it. 

  Here are three things from the pro Measure S side that the BUH BUH BUH MOAR DEVELOPMENT party line does diddly to explain. 
1. Bad design.  The pro Measure S side has some pretty strong visuals of GIANT projects–the developers’ own renderings–plopped on top of places.  I suspect that those do EXACTLY what the pro camp wants them to do: scare tha crap outta most homeowners who, unlike most of us, don’t spend all their time  about urban form remedies for everything. There is a LOT wrong with these projects from a sustainability perspective: they are drive-in, drive-out projects. The projects have NO integration with the surrounding neighborhoods. The edges are hard–really hard. These projects are not about the neighborhood. They are about themselves. And we wonder why people in the nabe lose their shit and oppose them. Oh, it’s just those selfish, selfish  homeowners!


No, it’s possible to have good design and new units. One would grease the wheels of the other.  Measure S does not advance design. But the status quo is not doing much good either. 

2. Process and corruption concerns.  Before I started going through the materials, I had thought this was a minor part of the pro-Measure S narrative. No. It’s a BIG part of the corpus I have collected–nearly 20 percent, with the strongest sentiment attached. The concern here tends to be a toting up of big developpers and what they have paid to various city council campaigns. Now folks, I don’t expect politicians to be saints, but still. Again, the BUT THE MARKET THE MARKET THE MARKET THE MARKET LISA does not answer this problem. 

If it REALLY is about supplying  more units,  and not about specific developers hitting the jackpot with  getting their projects built in a shortage environment, then why isn’t  the city council focussed more on broad-based upzoning?  Yes, it’s possible that Measure S will slow development. It is also possible that the city could set housing targets and use the general plan process to  get communities to figure out where their fair share is going to go. Lots of possibilities. But the status quo development regime in LA has some very clear winners, and they are not opening the field for anybody else. 


 But market segments are real, and in global markets with no real local wage growth, it is entirely possible that even expanded supply will not result in sufficient housing at the lowest ability to pay.  From the pro Measure S side, many housing affordability advocates note…sure, you are creating more units, but they are $1000 a month at least (usually more; I am appalled at what some opponents are claiming about rental prices.) At some point, it’s like having nothing but Lamboghinis manufactured in the car market. (Only that would probably be good for us.) Ever notice that those Lambos don’t EVER filter down to the guy on the street. Supply is *already* so restricted that nobody but the top of the market gets to get in, and plopping huge projects on poor communities just spells an influx of newcomers that are going to raise prices the even more. 

It would be one thing if I were hearing the anti Measure S side grapple with this at all–like, hey, what we need is more Henry George and community land trusts, and etc. Or, hey, what we need is some Singapore style public housing, baby! Or, hey, Measure S is a crock of phooey, but I have this fabulous idea about a regional Section 8 voucher program! No. Instead,  whenever I have asked about hard market segments and the delay on delivering housing to the most deeply impoverished in a system predicated on supply side answers,  I have to sit through OOOOOOOOOOO BUT LISAAAAAAAAA THE MARKET THE MARKET THE MARKET WILL SUPPLY IF ONLY WE LET IT. 

I agree, Measure S could very well make supply harder, but for people wo are currently utterly out of the market, the abstract idea that their turn will come if we just ease supply constraints…it’s like telling people to eat cake. The market segments above them might see a benefit. But planners have been schilling this “density delivers benefits to us all!” Line for a good long long time now, and I think it’s fair for people to ask when, exactly, it is their turn ? So fine, splain how the infil project tht is going to clog my street and put more kids in my kid’s already crowded school benefits me….in 10 years? 20 years? When does my rent stop going through the roof? Oh, when the one little line crosses the other little line on the graph? Gotcha, chief. 

By not engaging with these narratives, the supply side argument sounds like straight governmentality in the Foucauldian sense.  We have a hammer, thus all your issues must be about nails, and since we on the anti-side all agree that density and urbanism are the answers, we don’t hold ourselves responsible for variations within those themes. 

Planning academics need to wake the hell up about media and media literacy

Every.Single.Time. I submit a manuscript about media and planning to a planning journal, I get some communicative theory person who makes snide comments the entire way through that hint hard and heavy that the topic under discussion is trivial compared to their wonderful small-group deliberations.

On the Woodrow Wilson Bridge piece, I had some damn know-all who clearly was not an expert in ANY aspect of the work, derided the work at EVERY point, and then whiiiiiiiiiiined when I argued back. URRRRGGGGGGG. If you are going to write snotty comments, expect somebody to come back at you. Anything else is an abuse of the power of anonymity. One of their best shots was making a snot comment about how I pointed out that the WWB PR team had gotten the project featured on the Discovery Channel. People who understand media know that there is television, and there is everything else, and nothing gets the eyeballs that television does. Was it a significant moment in television? No. Was it really, really good for the careers of the PR and project staff? Yes, undoubtedly. These are arguments I shouldn’t have to have.

Planning departments in Stumpjumper City,USA may not have local planning offices worried with what the media say, but I doubt it. Even if that is true, the rest of us live in major media markets where the legitimacy of public agencies to undertake planning activities is highly mediated. Planning takes place on a stage in these markets, and I’m sick of having to defend my interest in the subject. It’s Baby Boom scholar preciousness to pound your fist on the table about its triviality because everybody else–literally everybody else–knows that media are changing politics and politics are changing media, and planning as a political act is right there in it.

With Lots of Love, Robert Nozick

I was in the Last Bookstore the other day with a group of friends, and I found in the philosophy section a first printing of Robert Nozick’s The Nature of Rationality. Certainly not his best, but it’s still a worthy book, and this particular book I shall prize because when you turn it over, you get the full force of Nozick’s 1970s hunkiness:

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Turtleneck. Yah.

And when you open the cover, you get to see this:

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Another delight, upon opening the pages, was the dedication to the memory of Gregory Vlastos.

The Nature of Rationality Robert Nozick 9780691020969 Amazon com Books

Cicero on his happy labors, and the differences in translation

Reading away on On Moral Ends this week, which is a good deal more charming than I thought it would be, and I came upon this happy statement, in response to the anticipated question: should serious men be spending their time on philosophy?

Well, Cicero has an answer:

Sive enim ad sapientiam perveniri potest, non paranda nobis solum ea sed fruenda etiam est; sive hoc difficile est, tamen nec modus est ullus investigandi veri nisi inveneris, et quaerendi defetigatio turpis est cum id quod quaeritur sit pulcherrimum.

Here’s Rackham:

If Wisdom be attainable, let us not only win but enjoy it; or if attainment be difficult, still there is no end to the search for truth, other than its discovery. It were base to flag in the pursuit, when the object pursued is so supremely lovely.

By contrast, Raphael Woolf:

And if its attainment is hard, there is none the less no end to the search for truth except discovery. To tire of the search is disgraceful given that is object is so beautiful.

I have to admit, I do like the “supremely lovely” phrasing from Rackham. I am always one for adverbs despite all the prohibitions that good writers don’t use them. How else do you really translate that in a way that captures Cicero’s “pulcherrimum?”

Latin is a pithy language; English is often not. Translators have a tough time with Cicero simply because his Latin is, by consensus, excellent, but also laden with clauses that without all the guideposts that cases in Latin provide, become English gobbledygook. I very much appreciate Woolf’s willingness to simply come back with another sentence, even if it is a bit out of order, on the hope of not leaving a single clause out. Here, he allows the reader the point about Chremes about wanting not merely to save labor but menial labor (long story), and then Woolf loops back to capture an idea that is hard to get into prior sentences:

But those who take offense at a pursuit, such as mine, which gives me nothing but joy, are simply prying.

You tell ’em, Cicero.

Despite its faults, I love Mozart in the Jungle for its cosmopolitanism at a time when anti-urban isolationism rules

People seem to feel a need to caveat their willingness to watch Mozart in the Jungle with phrases like ‘oh, it’s not a great show, but it’s entertaining’ and “it’s pseudo-intellectual, but it’s fun.” Ok, for one, pseudo-intellectual is one of my least favorite words. It’s a pretentious word that seeks to shame somebody for wanting to be an intellectual, and in the world we live in, very few people want to be an intellectual so why should we go around shaming somebody who tries but doesn’t quite there? Is it REALLY all that much better to be an authentic dumbass than it is to be somebody who looks smart, but perhaps isn’t quite there? And yes, I suppose you could use to call out poseurs, but as with all forms of purity, who the hell died and left you the arbiter of “real deals” versus poseurs? There are good arguments and weak ones, and even very smart people make weak arguments.

And in this instance, what do you actually expect from television shows? Particularly ones with half-hour episodes?

Mozart has its problems because of lots of things. The Eurocentrism of classical music is well-known even if we are trying to figure what to do with it, and the show itself, even if it does have a Latino lead (an excellent one, too often snidely referred to as a “manic pixie dream boy” by critics–again, what do you expect of television? Is all this exalting of television a means to justify never picking up a book or playing an instrument yourself? What? It’s television. It is the medium it is, both for good and ill.) The show is pretty international, though still not as international as classical music is itself today. The premier practitioners in the field are global talent.

They went daaaaangerously close, and potentially all the way into, the “let’s do classical music for prisoners and watch all the black guys get uplifted by our culture” theme–dangerously close–but though a weak, weak episode, it didn’t press the idea too badly, becoming mostly a half-hour exploration of the music of Faure. Faure. On television. But let’s get real here: some of the best classical singers, both in the history of opera and today, are black men–Eric Owens being one stellar baritone who is on this week at the Met with one of my favorite operas, Rusalka).

Wired told readers to watch the show *despite* the music, not because of it. Wired writers tend to kill themselves with their ever-so-cleverness. The show cares about the music, and the music is at times, remarkable. The first season revolved around an important Sibelius piece. Now if you don’t like Sibelius, to hell with you. But getting Faure on television? Um?

I love the damn show and its music. This season features Ana Maria Martinez singing for the (apparently) ageless Monica Bellucci as La Flamma, a clear attempt to do for Maria Callas what Callas could not do for herself–return to the stage after she lost faith in her voice. We are first introduced to La Flamma via Martinez’s sublime Ave Maria, which was also featured in the move John Q (Denzel Washington.) There’s Placido Domingo! In and amidst some of the stock stuff of operatic soprano like the Ave, there is a new composition that was *supposed* to be a joke. It’s an aria for Amy Fisher, the Long Island Lolita. It’s no joke. In the hands of composer Nico Muly and Martinez, the aria was both interesting and enjoyable. I was planning to hate it. Instead, I loved it.

This show takes the arts seriously at a time when DT and cronies seek to stamp out our already minimal funding for them.

The music is one thing. The other is simply the way the show has of being unashamedly cosmopolitan.

Gabriel Bernal character’s, Rodrigo, loosely based on Josh Dudamel, rides a bike. Thank you!

Unlike the isolationism that seems to be dominating America, Mozart goes to cities internationally and turns a loving eye to them. Instead of showing Mexico like it’s a desert hellhole full of narcos and goats, some of the series’ most beautiful cinematography covers Mexico City, a city that can well support beautiful imaging. New York is easy to shoot well, as is Venice. But Venice. La Flamma’s house. The wall textiles. “No Internet” La Flamma says to the series’ “dumb kid” character.

No Internet.

More than just the arts and the cities, the characters speak languages fluently. Rodrigo speaks Spanish one minute and then Italian the next, then English. The first season we see Saffron Burrows set foot on Cuba to go get epic drama queen Sir Thomas Bembridge (played brilliantly by Malcolm McDowell and featured crabbily here: welcome to earth, motherfckers“) where we see Burrows speaking Spanish. Well! It’s like knowing more than one language is a…good thing?
Yes, it’s about elites. But it is about something elite other than sports.

And Dermot Mulroney can *really* play the cello. Who knew? I didn’t. Well. He can play it well.

And Bernadette Peters can do no wrong. So there.

Did I mention Placido Domingo? He’s my boyfriend. (And Idris Elba. They just don’t know it.)