Daily Press Staff Writer
The City Council has asked staff to look into drafting a ballot measure for the 2018 election that would protect against development exceeding the size guidelines in the Downtown Community Plan (DCP), which was adopted after intense debate earlier this year.
The request of Mayor Ted Winterer and Councilmember Kevin McKeown narrowly passed with four votes, relying on the caveat that most Councilmembers would not support any solutions that would require large developments go directly to the ballot box.
“I don’t think we should be putting zoning and land use issues before the voters,” Councilmember Tony Vazquez said before supporting the motion. “That’s why we get elected.”
As Santa Monica’s elected leaders look ahead to 2018, the development debate during the last election is anything but a distant memory. Activists drafted Measure LV in 2016, which would have required voters to approve all developments over two stories in Santa Monica.
Opponents criticized the lack of public process involved in the drafting of LV, arguing the citizen-drafted measure would have had unintended legal consequence for the city if it had passed. The measure failed with 56 percent of residents voting “no.”
Instead of sending large developments to voters, staff members will consider requiring a super-majority vote of council to approve developments that exceed zoning code limits on height or floor area ratio.
The City Manager’s office will come back to council with several options after consulting with the planning department, City Attorney’s office and other cities to determine best practices.
Mayor Winterer said the ballot initiative would “reassure the public that now we have these land use standards in place that we plan to abide by them.
” McKeown optimistically suggested it would assuage local fears of overdevelopment.
“I think it is time to create space and a period of development peace by affirming to the community that we have a plan and plan to stick to it,” McKeown said.
DCP guidelines allow streamlined approval for housing projects up to 75,000 square feet, with larger projects needing a development review permit or development agreement from the Planning Commission. The development process for larger housing projects up to 90,000 square feet is streamlined along Colorado Avenue to encourage density along the Expo Line.
“I think the best way to plan the city is have pretty clear rules and stick to them,” City Manager Rick Cole said.
The DCP allows three large sites to build up to 130 feet, or about twelve stories, including the city-owned property at 4th and Arizona, the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, and the proposed Frank Gehry designed hotel at 101 Santa Monica Boulevard.
Those projects will have to survive an established public process that includes a development agreement.
Mayor Pro-Tempore Gleam Davis and Councilmember Terry O’Day voted against the idea of exploring more restrictions on the Council when it comes to large projects downtown. O’Day won the greatest percentage of votes in the 2016 election (17 percent and 16 percent).
“This is not buying ‘development peace,’” Davis said. “It will just make for an incredibly contentious election in 2018. I think it will stir up more bad feelings than it will solve.”
“What I’m seeing is a relatively nice period of calm,” O’Day said. “It feels like a solution search of a problem in my mind.”
Councilmember Pam O’Connor was absent for the vote. She will be up for reelection next year if she decides to run again, along with McKeown and Councilmember Sue Himmelrich.