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Santa Monica Council Edges Closer to November Ballot Measure Requiring Super-Majority for Oversized Developments
By Niki Cervantes
May 17, 2018 -- Santa Monica’s City Council is edging closer to approving a November ballot measure that would require developers to win a super-majority council vote for projects that are bigger or taller than zoning allows.
City staff is now exploring an option to require at least five (of seven) council votes to amend land-use or “specific” area plans for proposed developments which increase the maximum height limit or size currently allowed.
Staff had initially rebuffed the idea, saying there were enough zoning safeguards in place ("Staff Recommends Santa Monica Council Scrap Idea of Development Ballot Measure," May 7, 2018).
The proposed ballot measure is authored by Council Member Kevin McKeown and similar to one unsuccessfully floated by Council Member Sue Himmerich in 2016 ("Development Combatants in Santa Monica Consider Post-Election Compromise," November 14, 2016).
The proposals have been part of an effort to quell the slow-growth uprising over development that inspired height-limiting Measure LV that year.
Although the LV campaign failed -- heavily outspent by developers and opposed by the City’s political establishment -– the war over development is far from over.
At least one leader of the slow-growth movement, Armen Melkonians, who heads Residocracy.org, is threatening a fight including special-election ballot measures to stop two proposed projects Downtown ("Santa Monica Slow-Growth Leader Vows Referendums on Major Downtown Projects," September 26, 2017).
The projects -- the 357,000 square-foot “Plaza at Santa Monica” on City-owned land and a 502,157 square-foot renovation of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel -- require Development Agreements (DAs), which are reached between the council and developers.
McKeown said his proposed super-majority ballot measure would “give residents in November a chance to affirm our community intent to stick to our plan, which came out of an intense ten-year public process."
It also would "send an unequivocal message to developers -- who might have hoped for us to consider bigger projects, despite the community’s decade of hard work -- that ‘Stick to Our Plan’ means ‘stop.’"
The City’s Land Use Circulation Element (LUCE) limits size, density, height and other matters of development, as do “specific plans” engineered for various neighborhoods, including downtown.
Himmelrich -- who like McKeown is up for re-election in November -- has already voiced her support for second stab at a super-majority ballot measure.
Others on the council have said the ballot measure could re-start development wars.
“The recommended first option is to not place a measure on the ballot and continue to rely on the existing General Plan, the Downtown Community Plan and Zoning Ordinance which sets out clear rules for maximum height and floor-area ratios (FAR) for the vast majority of the City based on plans,” staff said.
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