Tuesday the City Council will consider placing a measure on the Nov. 6 ballot to require a super-majority Council vote to increase density in the city’s building guidelines: the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) and Downtown Community Plan (DCP). The two documents set maximum height and density throughout the city.
If passed by Council, the measure would make development a key campaign issue two years after the grassroots initiative Measure LV failed to get enough votes. LV would have required a city-wide vote on all new development over two stories in Santa Monica. Instead of requiring citizen votes, the newly proposed measure would restrict the Council’s ability to tweak the rules that govern all new projects.
Mayor Ted Winterer is the crucial swing vote on the measure, as the rest of the Council remains divided over the necessity of a super-majority vote. In past discussions, Councilmember Kevin McKeown has characterized the ballot measure as a path to “development peace” in Santa Monica. Both Councilmembers Sue Himmelrich and Tony Vazquez voted to direct staff to draft the measure.
On the other side, Mayor Pro-Tempore Gleam Davis and Councilmembers Pam O’Connor and Terry O’Day have argued the measure would unnecessarily inject development into the 2018 election cycle.
Himmelrich and McKeown are both running for reelection this year. O’Connor’s term is expiring but she has not said yet whether she is running.
The current Council approved the DCP less than a year ago, allowing three projects to negotiate development agreements to exceed nearby height requirements. The proposed measure would not require a super-majority vote for those contracts.
The measure currently includes an exemption for amendments to increase height and density for 100 percent affordable housing projects. If passed, the super-majority vote requirement would expire after ten years.
“A ten-year sunset of this charter amendment would give future Councils and voters the opportunity to revisit the issue as a new citywide planning framework is developed,” said a report by Planning Director David Martin.
The debate comes after decades of controversy surrounding large projects in the city. Before the DCP, all large-scale buildings required development agreements approved by the City Council. The process laid the groundwork for controversy since large projects that would increase traffic, alter the skyline or develop the beachfront routinely went to a vote.
City Manager Rick Cole told the City Council, however, that the DCP’s clear rules have changed the game. Cole recommends the Council move onto other issues during its last discussion of the measure in May.
The City Council will meet Tuesday, June 26 inside Council Chambers at 1685 Main Street, and will discuss public items no earlier than 6:30 p.m.