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Saturday, Sep 23, 2023

Voting Is What Counts

Opinions run strong on Facebook and Twitter as friends share, post and debate the politics of the day. Especially since the November election, it seems that just about everyone wants to get involved and shape the state and country in which we live. Except that all that energy hasn’t quite translated into votes. Los Angeles just held an election which is going to determine the lives of residents for decades. And at one point during the counting process, it looked like Los Angeles was about to set a new record on turnout – the lowest turnout on record. In the end, we didn’t quite set that unfortunate record. Turnout across the whole county clocked in at 17 percent, while in the city of Los Angeles it hit 20 percent. Not the worst, but dismal compared to recent federal elections. For the business community, this election was important, and it threw up some welcome results. I was relieved but not surprised by the vehemence with which Measure S was rejected. Measure S was the Nimby measure which would have banned almost every development project in the city for at least two years. It would have driven young people away from the San Fernando Valley by making housing even more expensive, exacerbated the homelessness crisis and damaged our economy by billions of dollars. In L.A., and especially in the San Fernando Valley, it often feels like the majority of people are in the anti-development camp. The Nimbys are the loudest group, dominating many community organizations and other stakeholder groups. Attend any neighborhood council meeting and hear the long line of residents speak in opposition to every project that comes through, whether it’s a large multi-use complex or senior housing. But at the end of the day, votes are what matter. The lesson from the repudiation of Measure S is clear – residents want smart growth. No one wants ugly monstrosities that dominate the neighborhood and don’t fit into the character of the area, and that is why the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti are working to overhaul zoning and the General Plan. We should hold them accountable to their promise of smart growth. Los Angeles has one of the lowest homeownership rates in the country – over half of all units are occupied by renters, not owners. Rents are some of the highest in the country, and vacancy rates are low. Homeowners may be the ones with the luxury of time and resources to join community organizations and actively defend the status quo. But as we know from the Measure S results, they are far from the majority. It’s a shame that with all the energy on social media, at protests, town halls, and rallies, turnout for local elections is consistently so low. As a California resident, your vote has its greatest impact at a local level. No matter what ballot items bring you to the polls, local issues matter. Big ideas start at a local level in California. Things which may be dismissed as provincial may impact people’s lives more than the big ideological debates. Anyone who’s ever sat on the 405 freeway for an hour, or been distressed by the plight of a homeless family, or been worried about plastic bags littering our beaches, should vote in local elections. Many of the big issues dominating presidential races and national news start at the local level. The $15 minimum wage started as ordinances in various cities and is now state law. Bad ideas such as AB 5, making it much more difficult to employ part-time workers, originated as an ordinance in San Francisco and San Jose. It is now being considered by the state legislature. Other big issues, such as the concept of sanctuary cities, also start at the local level. Voting matters. The business community knows that the silent majority of residents want our city to grow and innovate and succeed. We must work together to make sure those voices are heard at the ballot box. Stuart Waldman is president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a business advocacy organization based in Van Nuys that represents employers in the San Fernando Valley at the local, state and federal levels of government.

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