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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated that Council member Sue Himmelrich is an opponent of Measure LV. She neither supports nor opposes it.

September 20, 2016 -- A measure on the November 8 ballot requiring a public vote of most new developments taller than 32 feet won the formal endorsement Monday of one of Santa Monica’s largest and most outspoken grassroots organizations.

The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) voted to support Measure LV, bucking a city political establishment that strongly opposes the initiative -- and includes some elected officials who have been coalition allies.

SMCLC said the four-member steering committee also decided to endorse Measure SM, which is meant to strengthen provisions against kickbacks in the Oaks Initiative, the City’s anti-corruption law.

But Measure LV, and the races of the four City Council incumbents ardently against it, are the focal point Santa Monica's local election in the fall.

"Residents are fed up because there's no (City) planning discipline in sight," said Diana Gordon, one of SMCLC's four steering committee members.

"We have NO Downtown Plan after umpteen years of planning, all these downtown projects are skyrocketing, and Council is deciding these high-impact projects one-by-one, rewriting the rules each time at the request of favored developers. "

Measure LV "addresses the insider culture of City Hall -- it forces the culture to change to include residents for a change," she said.

The group is a long-time combatant in Santa Monica’s development wars, and is an ally of Residocracy, which created Measure LV, also called the Land Use Voter Empowerment (or LUVE) initiative.

SMCLC also will make endorsements in the upcoming City Council races. Ten candidates are vying for four seats, including all of the incumbents.

“As we have done in the past, we will set up meetings to interview council candidates based on their overall record, history, and statements,” Gordon said.

Most important, she said, will be “their views about SMCLC's core issues -- sustainable growth, residents' role in land-use policies and decisions, and greater government transparency and accountability.”

Seeking re-election are incumbents Tony Vazquez, Ted Winterer, Gleam Davis and Terry O’Day.

The most widely known challengers are Armen Melkonians, the founder of Residocracy and co-author of LUVE, and Oscar de la Torre, a school board member and activist in the Pico District.

Also in the mix are hopefuls Terence Later, Jon Mann, Mende Smith and James T. Watson.

With Election Day fast approaching, local endorsements have been made, mostly by groups connected with City Hall and by Santa Monica Forward, which includes many members of the city's political and business establishment.

In recent days, the union representing more than 1,600 non-public safety City employees endorsed all the council incumbents and recommended rejection of Measure LV ("Santa Monica City Employees Back Council Incumbents, Oppose LUVE," September 19, 2016).

Public safety employees, whose endorsements carry more political heft because they have a more campaign money, did the same ("Santa Monica Police and Firefighters Endorse Council Incumbents, No Vote on LUVE," September 16, 2016).

Also this month, Santa Monica Forward, one of two groups spearheading opposition to LV, endorsed the four incumbents ("Santa Monica Forward Endorses Council Incumbents, Tax Measures," September 13, 2016).

Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights -- a particularly strong political player -- voted July 31 to endorse incumbents Davis, Vazquez and Winterer, but not O'Day ("SMRR Endorses Three Santa Monica Council Incumbents, Won’t Back LUVE," August 1, 2016) .

Its action on LUVE was less straight forward. SMRR voted not to support the measure by a vote of 109 to 60, but also asked the Steering Committee, the community and City Council to work on a compromise after the election.

SMCLC and Residocracy, which is newer to Santa Monica, are the largest local groups in the slow-growth movement. But their influence at the voting booth is hard to gauge.

SMCLC supported De La Torre in his successful 2014 re-election to the School Board and backed incumbent Kevin McKeown and Planning Commissioner Sue Himmelrich, who won two of the three open council seats.

Today, McKeown is an opponent of Measure LV, while Himmelrich, who treid without success to win approval of a compromise to the initiative, neither supports nor opposes it ("Santa Monica Council Rejects Rival Measure to Counter LUVE," June 30, 2016).

In 2010, the group’s only endorsed council candidate to win was McKeown.

Two years earlier, SMCLC collected enough signatures to place Proposition T on the local ballot, a measure that sought an annual cap on most commercial development of 75,000 square feet for 15 years.

It lost by about 10 percentage points and even its strongest vote of support, in only three precincts, was razor thin.

Prop T and Measure LV share some similarities. Both faced big-money opponents. SMCLC blames Prop T’s defeat in large part on a developer war chest of more than $730,000 -- about seven times more than its supporters could muster.

As with LUVE, many of the City’s established political players opposed the proposition, including employee unions. The major neighborhood associations, who are among LUVE’s core of supporters, also backed Proposition T.

SMRR did not take a position on Prop. T, which some argue may have dampened voter turnout.

A big difference between the two measures is the rise to prominence since then of Residocracy.

In 2014, the group quickly collected more than 13,500 signatures calling for a halt to the controversial 765,000-square-foot Bergamot Transit Village development.

The City Council reversed their decision rather than send the issue to voters. That year, SMCLC also endorsed two of the eventual winners in the council race -- McKeown and Himmelrich.

Residocracy had a tougher time collecting signatures to get LUVE on the ballot, but Melkonians says the reason is that the measure is far more complex than the effort to stop Bergamot Transit’s development.

The group has not yet issued endorsements for the fall elections.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated that Council member Sue Himmelrich is an opponent of Measure LV. She neither supports nor opposes it.

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