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Santa Monica Council Orders Study of LUVE Initiative
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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

June 16, 2016 -- Faced with a November 8 ballot measure that places most new development in Santa Monica in the hands of voters, the City Council on Tuesday rejected calls to adopt the LUVE initiative and instead ordered a 28-day study of the measure.

The Council voted 6-to-0 (with Council Member Terry O’Day absent) for a City-conducted report on the provisions in the complex measure, which is formally titled the Land Use Voter Empowerment initiative.

Most City Council members -- including its slow-growth majority –- has rebuked the measure as too extreme, so it came as no surprise when the Council declined to adopt LUVE Tuesday, although that option is available ("Proposed LUVE Initiative Getting Little Support from Santa Monica Council Members," March 9, 2016).

“I thought the whole point was to let voters have a say,” said Council Member Kevin McKeown in response to speakers Tuesday urging the Council to adopt the measure. “I obviously feel a study is the thing to do.”

The study is due back to the Council July 12.

If adopted, the measure requires most new developments higher than 32 feet to go to voters for approval, instead of giving the City Council the final word. Major changes to City planning policies and “development agreements” would also require voter approval.

LUVE exempts affordable and moderate-income housing developments, as well as projects that are 100 percent senior citizen housing and single-unit dwellings.

The measure is a reaction to what backers say is too much building and too many high-rises on the horizon, threatening what is left of Santa Monica's beach-town charm and worsening traffic.

Tuesday's meeting attracted only a handful of speakers –- unusual for any public airing of the LUVE issue.

Carl Hansen of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce asked for the City to study LUVE and noted that the Chamber’s board had voted against the measure.

Armen Melkonians, the founder of Residocracy, the slow-growth group behind the measure, said he did not push for Council adoption since the initiative itself asks for the voters to decide its fate. But he questioned the fairness of a study commissioned by Council members who have been so openly opposed to it.

One City official had already been discovered speaking “angrily” against LUVE, he said. “The system is rigged,” Melkonians said.

Cole acknowledged the employee incident and said that the employee’s words were “inappropriate.”

LUVE was qualified by Los Angeles County voting officials late last month after verifying the nearly 6,500 valid signatures needed to make the ballot. More than 10,000 signatures were submitted. The Council formally accepted the county’s tally Tuesday.

Three options were open to the Council Tuesday -- to adopt the measure, direct staff to return on June 28 with a resolution placing LUVE on the November 8 ballot or order a study on the initiative’s possible impacts, due back within 30 days.

City Manager Rick Cole promised the study will be an impartial analysis of the initiative and its potential impacts on issues such as traffic and gentrification (especially in the Pico Neighborhood).

It also will analyze whether LUVE would allow major rebuilding in the event of an earthquake and whether pending statewide legislation could override LUVE’s restrictions.

Staff, which can hire outside help if needed, will also look at other localities where similar measures have been proposed. The report will also clarify the initiative’s exemptions for housing for residents with moderate and low incomes and for seniors.

But Cole said he will be careful about predicting the future under LUVE. He noted that building in general is dictated by the overall economy and its booms and busts.

Slow-growth measures often arise after a flurry of building during good financial times, Cole said, but construction often has already started slowing, along with the economy.

The report “will steer clear of creating doomsday scenarios,” he said, cautioning that predictions for LUVE’s future would be hard to nail down accurately.

“How that will play out is unknown,” Cole said.

There was little discussion by the Council about pulling together a measure to compete with LUVE on the November ballot -– although there has been talk about opponents, including big developers, pursing such an option.

Placing an alternative measure on the ballot might “get to an easy answer, but also the wrong answer,” said Council Member Gleam Davis.

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