Urban or suburban? L.A.'s very identity is at stake in the March election

The protests and marches over the ascendancy of Donald Trump are still underway, but it’s already time, Los Angeles voters, to focus on another election — one that will not generate one-zillionth of the attention, but which will directly affect daily life in and around the city. Of course every election is important, but the local balloting on March 7 is especially significant as the very future of Los Angeles is up for a vote.

Over the next three weeks, The Times editorial board will endorse candidates for city offices, the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education and the Los Angeles Community College District, and will take positions on the four measures on the city ballot and Measure H on the Los Angeles County ballot. Before making our picks, we interview all the candidates, attend numerous debates and talk with residents, interest groups and other officials.

If there’s a theme to the March election, it is the anxiety many voters feel over the increasing urbanization of once-suburban Los Angeles, and the clashing opinions on whether development and gentrification are fueling the city’s homelessness and affordable housing crises — or whether more development is, in fact, the solution to those problems.

Measure S, also known as the Neighborhood Integrity Act, is the most obvious sign of the tension over growth. Its proponents rail against the Manhattanization of L.A., and argue that developers, aided by the city officials whose campaigns they fund, are building housing that serves only high-end customers, worsens traffic and helps push out low-income renters. Their solution is to ask voters to impose a two-year moratorium on any and all developments that require exemptions from existing (and badly outdated) land-use laws, as well as a permanent restriction on changing land-use laws to accommodate individual projects, no matter whether they are luxury or affordable, commercial or residential. Opponents argue that slowing housing development would only worsen the shortage of homes, drive up prices and force more people onto the streets. Fundamental questions of L.A.’s future and identity — how to add housing without displacing residents, whether mass transit will become part of the city’s DNA —  aren’t directly addressed in Measure S, but they are implicit in the fight over it.

Also on the ballot is Measure H, a proposed quarter-cent countywide sales tax to provide services for homeless people. This is the companion to Measure HHH, the $1.2 billion bond measure city voters passed in November to build 10,000 units of housing for homeless and low-income Angelenos. The two measures are designed to help homeless men and women get off the streets and into apartments, supported by the social services they need to help them cope with the challenges that contributed to them becoming homeless in the first place. But this strategy can become a reality only by building lots and lots of apartments for the homeless and those on the verge of homelessness, which brings us back to the fight over development.

The tension is also present in the mayoral and City Council races. Candidates running against Mayor Eric Garcetti have criticized him for being too slow in addressing homelessness and too timid in promoting affordable housing. Several council incumbents are facing serious challenges from community activists who believe that denser, taller developments are ruining neighborhoods, worsening traffic and increasing economic inequality. The one open seat, Council District 7 in the northeast San Fernando Valley, has drawn 20 candidates. The big issues in that race are how to address homelessness and prevent the planned high speed rail route from devastating their communities.

As if the stakes weren’t already high, this election is significant for another reason: City and LAUSD board members elected this term will hold office for 5 ½ years instead of the usual four-year terms. Voters decided in 2015 to move local elections to even numbered years to coincide with gubernatorial and presidential elections. The officials elected in March or the May runoff will hold their seats until 2022.

Local elections matter. Don’t miss an opportunity to be heard and to share the future of Los Angeles. We invite you to express your views on the issues, the candidates and our endorsements over the coming weeks when they're posted online at latimes.com/endorsements.

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Chris Alexakispolicy, L.A. River