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Protestors rally against LA’s most 'Trump-like' developer

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Supporters of a pro-development ballot measure say Geoff Palmer is hurting LA’s supply of affordable housing

Dozens of demonstrators gathered outside of the Medici apartments Tuesday morning to show support for the pro-development affordable housing ballot measure now known as Proposition JJJ.

As residents of the apartment complex watched from balconies and sky bridges, marchers addressed the project’s notorious developer with their chants. "Palmer, Palmer, you can’t hide; we can see your greedy side," went one refrain.

The apartments are part of Geoffrey Palmer’s Fauxtalian Renaissance Collection—luxury units that have drawn the ire of affordable housing advocates and labor groups for their high rents and low wages paid to workers during construction.

As LA Weekly points out, it’s a bit surprising to see backers of Proposition JJJ, also known as the Build Better LA Initiative, overtly taking on a major developer since the measure came about largely in response to the stringently anti-development Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that’s now scheduled to appear on ballots in March.

But Proposition JJJ supporter Laura Raymond tells Curbed that Palmer’s fortress-like luxury projects aren’t the kind of development projects that LA needs. Raymond, who is campaign manager for the Alliance for Community Transit-Los Angeles, says that Palmer’s 2009 lawsuit that overturned the city’s inclusionary zoning requirements has had a devastating impact on the city’s stock of affordable housing. The ruling in that suit crippled the city’s ability to mandate that developers offer a percentage of units in new developments at below-market rates.

If approved by voters, Proposition JJJ would tie a new affordable housing requirement to projects that require special exemptions to density and height restrictions laid out in the city’s 35 community plans. It would also require that 30 percent of construction workers on these projects be hired locally, and that 10 percent be from areas where the median income is under $40,000.

At a press conference after the demonstration, Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary Ron Miller was more blunt. "He’s not a good guy," he said about Palmer, before arguing that part of the ballot measure’s goal was to "help clean up the development market."

Several speakers compared Palmer to Republican presidential nominee and fellow developer Donald Trump. Palmer is one of Trump’s biggest supporters and has donated at least $2 million to support his candidacy.

Cliff Smith, Business Manager for Roofers and Waterproofers Local 36, told the crowd to loud cheers that both Trump and Palmer had made fortunes "robbing working people."

Meanwhile, South LA resident Josefina Castillo said that she had come to support the ballot measure because "we cannot allow luxury developers like Palmer to continue pushing people out of our city, force us to move due to rising rents, or lack of housing options and quality jobs."

Castillo tells Curbed she became involved with the initiative after years of activism with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. A renter for 25 years, she joined the group after she said her landlord illegally tried to raise her rent far beyond what the city’s rent control laws allowed, then served her family with eviction notice when they complained.

Castillo says that, though she is now a homeowner, many of her neighbors continue to struggle to struggle with rising rents—a product of the city’s severe housing shortage. It’s a problem she doesn’t believe luxury developments like Palmer’s do enough to address. "I’m not against development in Los Angeles," she says. "But I am against leaving working people behind."