Local 11 President’s Hypocrisy on Hotels and Housing

UNITE HERE Local 11’s latest controversy is its so-called “Responsible Hotel Ordinance,” which would re-purpose Los Angeles hotels into homeless shelters. The much criticized ordinance could wreak havoc on hotels, endanger hotel staff, and even cause some hotels to close.

Local 11 argues the ordinance is a “common-sense solution” to the city’s homeless crisis. The many employees and hotel operators at the hearing who testified against it would disagree. But as per usual, Local 11’s claims not only fail to stand up to scrutiny, but are underlined by some truly poetic hypocrisy.

Meet Kurt Petersen, a longtime union activist who currently serves as co-president of UNITE HERE Local 11. Peterson bought his now-estimated $1.1 million dollar home in historic West Adams, Los Angeles in 1996. The area where Petersen now owns his home has seen big changes thanks to gentrification.

For example, nearby Jefferson Park saw its median home prices almost triple between 2010 and 2019. Home prices in West Adams are now increasing among the fastest rates in Los Angeles. A 2019 study from UCLA found these areas of Los Angeles, including West Adams and Jefferson Park, have recently seen their black populations decrease.

One contributor to increased home prices in the areas are Historic Preservation Overlay Zone ordinances, which Los Angeles city council adopted for West Adams in 2003 and Jefferson Park in 2011. Such ordinances make it much harder to build, for example by requiring review not only of new development projects, but even of “simple maintenance” and “repair.” These uses of “historic preservation” to fight new development is so notorious in LA that one publication now labels it camouflage NIMBYism.

In other words, a contributor to the exact housing crisis that Local 11 claims is behind its “Responsible Hotel Ordinance” is a product of neighborhoods like Petersen’s – ‘historic’ areas zoned to prevent multi-family housing. Petersen’s neighborhood is zoned as R1-1, or “one-family residential,” meaning only one residence is allowed per lot and those residences are restricted even further by the legally allowed height. Zoning regulations like these, which prevent any meaningful density, have been blamed by experts across the ideological spectrum for America’s current housing crisis.

Local 11’s sudden concern for Los Angeles’ homeless population is doubly ironic because Petersen’s “common-sense” solution is just to make them someone else’s problem. According to the local government, Los Angeles has nearly 200 organizations that provide shelter for the homeless; unsurprisingly, a map of these shelters shows extremely few within miles of Petersen’s home and neighborhood.

If Local 11 is truly so interested in “common-sense” solutions to the housing crisis in LA, the answer should probably start within its leaders’ own neighborhoods.