The wheels of government continued their slow grind Tuesday night as the Land Use Voter Empowerment (LUVE) initiative took yet another step toward the now-inevitable November vote.

City Council formally accepted a study on the issue and placed LUVE to the municipal ballot during its July 12 meeting.

LUVE will require voter approval for development over 32 feet, all development agreements and major revisions to zoning codes. It provides some exemptions for affordable housing and exempts some specific parcels of land.

The initiative has already qualified for the November election after gathering signatures earlier this year, but City Council must take a formal vote for it to  reach the ballot officially. Council had an opportunity to schedule the vote last month but instead asked for a study of the measure.

The 65-page report was presented Tuesday night and outlined a litany of potential LUVE impacts, including problems rebuilding earthquake-damaged buildings, inconsistencies in the resulting zoning codes and broad implications for housing construction.

City Manager Rick Cole said the study will serve as the foundation for public debate. He said traditional ordinances go through extensive public debate prior to their final draft but the initiative process presents a final ordinance to the public without prior discussion.

“[The report] substitutes for that public vetting, in the absence of that it’s just one group of people making claims and another group of people making claims in the political arena,” he said. “So this is an effort, which includes the public testimony we’re about to here to have an official record on which people who have an interest can analyze what of the facts are going to bear on their individual votes.”

LUVE author Armen Melkonians was critical of the report.

“The City of Santa Monica’s 28-day study of the Land Use Voter Empowerment (LUVE) Initiative is a weak and inaccurate analysis,” he said. “We are disappointed that our City resources were not used to provide voters with a genuine evaluation of the LUVE Initiative, which the petition signatures show to have a broad and diverse base. The residents of Santa Monica deserve better.”

Councilwoman Sue Himmelrich has previously said she would favor some kind of public vote on development issues and while she questioned some of the report’s conclusions, she also reiterated her opposition to the specifics of LUVE.

“I’ve already made it clear that I believe in a vote but I believe 32 feet is the wrong number,” she said, referring to LUVE’s requirement that projects above 32 feet go to a public vote.

She said the right kind of public involvement could create better projects citywide.

“While I don’t think this is the ideal metric for it, this initiative, I do think that having a voter approval in place at some level, and maybe that’s the general plan level, makes projects better,” she said.

Council had only two choices Tuesday night: adopt LUVE as written or schedule it for a vote.

Councilwoman Gleam Davis said there was little use for discussion given the binary choice before council and she made a motion to advance the measure to the November ballot.

Mayor Tony Vazquez seconded the motion and said he remains opposed to LUVE due to the need for voter approval on projects higher than 32 feet.

“I live in a [residential] zone and my house is 28 feet and my neighbor’s house is 35 and I look at that and to say that that’s the max in a commercial zone just goes against what most of us up here feel is progress and renovation of our city,” he said.

The initiative now goes before the county Board of Supervisors, which will provide the final administrative approval necessary to place LUVE on the ballot.

The complete report is available as part of the July 12 agenda at http://www.smgov.net/departments/clerk/agendas.aspx.

editor@smdp.com

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