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LUVE Could “Undermine Community’s Vision for Santa Monica’s Future,” Government Staff Report Says
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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

July 8, 2016 -- Santa Monica elections featuring dozens of of development items on the ballot, reduction in affordable housing construction, people unable to rebuild quickly following an earthquake and even increased traffic were some of the scenarios City staff said are possible in a report issued Wednesday on the LUVE initiative.

City Council members will review the report at their meeting on Tuesday and then determine whether to approve LUVE, which requires voter approval of various development projects and planning policy changes, or place the measure on the November ballot.

Since no council member has spoken in favor of LUVE and most have a negative opinion of it, it is highly unlikely they will vote to approve the initiative on Tuesday. A heated election campaign is coming ("Proposed LUVE Initiative Getting Little Support from Santa Monica Council Members," March 9, 2016).

The report is based on staff research as well as the work of a consultant. It also cites various studies on similar measures in other communities along with research on development policy.

Although the report does not give a recommendation on how council should act, it does include a strong statement near the beginning.

Staff wrote that LUVE’s "untested new provisions" could "undermine the community’s vision for Santa Monica’s future outlined in the Land Use and Circulation Element of the General Plan.”

This vision includes maintaining the City’s character, protecting neighborhoods, managing transportation systems and encouraging additional housing “in a sustainable manner.”

The report says LUVE would lead to several possibilities—regular elections and special elections featuring dozens of items on the ballot, developers choosing to produce smaller projects that would not trigger the voter approval requirement, more adaptive reuse projects or some developers choosing not to build at all.

These scenarios, the report says, could lead to other situations such as a reduced amount of affordable housing being built.

The construction of most affordable housing in recent years is due to developers building larger projects that require them to add to the City's affordable housing stock through building the units or by paying into the municipal program.

The report also envisions traffic worsening because with reduced construction in Santa Monica, there would be greater demand for development in surrounding areas.

Development "in neighboring Westside communities with less stringent [traffic reduction] requirements would occur, resulting in more subregional trips that would use Santa Monica’s streets,” the report states.

Residocracy, the slow-growth activist group behind LUVE, will likely object to this theory (as well as much of the report) since it lists reducing traffic as one of the objectives of the initiative.

Slow growth activists also oppose the City's new Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), which they contend ignores the wishes of residents who believe it will generate too much development and worsen traffic congestion ("Slow Growth Advocates Could Seek to Scrap Planning Policies," November 24, 2016).

The report also sees long delays on projects and programs that many people would want to see finished. This includes rebuilding after earthquake damage, municipal buildings such as fire stations and neighborhood plans that are supposed to help a community.

Also, there are questions about when a project could be finalized, the report said.

While permits are granted by the Planning Commission or City Council, many projects are adjusted afterward by the Architectural Review Board (ARB) and sometimes the California Coastal Commission.

“It is not clear whether new voter approval would be required if [the Architectural Review Board or Coastal Commission] modified a project,” the report states.

“The initiative does not state whether new voter approval would be required—leading to a potentially confusing and elongated review process.”

Regardless of what the council members take from the report, they have no power to prevent LUVE from going on the ballot.

Residocracy, which wrote LUVE as a response to what it sees as a City government unwilling to curb significant development, collected enough signatures to put the item before the voters.

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