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Santa Monica Council to Consider LUVE Alternative for Ballot
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Roque & Mark Real Estate
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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

June 27, 2016 -- Countering a November ballot initiative that generally requires voter approval for building projects taller than 32 feet, the City Council on Tuesday will discuss placing a competing measure before voters this fall.

Mayor Tony Vazquez and Council Member Sue Himmelrich are asking City staff to return with proposals for a November 8 ballot measure that would be an alternative to the LUVE initiative, created by grass-roots activists to combat proposals for big developments in Santa Monica.

The measure could require voter approval under a charter amendment that "would protect and be acceptable to the broadest base of our residents," according to the item.

“A lot of people are saying it’s too extreme,” Himmelrich said on Sunday of LUVE, or the Land Use Voter Empowerment initiative. “People have expressed an interest in an alternative.”

LUVE qualified for the November 8 ballot in late May after organizers submitted some 10,000 signatures, meeting the 6,500 valid signatures needed.

The measure is not supported by the City Council, including Vazquez, Himmelrich and the two other members considered slow-growth proponents, Kevin McKeown and Ted Winterer.

The agenda item before the Council on Tuesday would ask City staff to return with proposals that amend the City Charter to supersede the council's authority and – like LUVE -- require voters to make the final decision on bigger developments.

Unlike LUVE, what constitutes bigger development is not defined in the agenda item, which says only that the proposed charter amendment should apply to “large-scale development.”

Armen Melkonians, the founder of Residocracy, the slow-growth group behind LUVE, said the initiative's backers would not support an alternative Council measure and see no reason for such a move.

“LUVE’s support is strong,” Melkonians said. “We had 10,000 signatures. LUVE will win.”

If approved, LUVE gives voters final say on most developments taller than 32 feet and any project involving a development agreement. There are some exemptions for senior citizen units and for “100 percent affordable housing projects of 50 units or less.”

Also requiring voter approval would be changes to City planning policies such as zoning laws, district maps and neighborhood plans.

Residocracy says the Council has allowed too much growth and congestion in the beach city, with more on the way if its initiative isn’t enacted. LUVE’s base of support includes neighborhood organizations and local watchdog groups.

Critics contend that LUVE is too stringent and could hamper efforts to increase affordable housing. It is being fought by much of Santa Monica’s political establishment.

Developers so far have stayed under the radar, although deep-pocketed campaigns against LUVE are being predicted by both sides of the battle.

The item Tuesday comes two weeks after the Council ordered a 28-day study of LUVE and its potential impacts, turning down calls by some LUVE supporters for the Council to adopt it without an election vote.

Himmelrich, who won office in 2014 on a strong slow-growth platform, suggested at the time that an alternative measure be discussed, but gained little traction.

She said she wants an alternative measure to be considered nonetheless because LUVE and the issue of development has become an overwhelming concern in the city. She said she did not know if the Council votes are there now.

Council Member Kevin McKeown, typically an ally of Himmelrich, did not support her motion this time.

McKeown said he will be traveling and will miss Tuesday’s meeting, but recalled that City staff had warned the Council at its last meeting that “there’s no way on such short notice to craft a thoughtful counter to the extreme Residocracy initiative.”

“Offering a hasty alternative would be a huge mistake,” McKeown said. “I don’t understand this request just two weeks later, and only two weeks before we get fully researched information on what the real impacts of the Residocracy initiative will be.”

Vazquez did not return a call for comment.

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