The Land Use Voter Empowerment (LUVE) initiative has qualified for the November ballot.
The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s Office verified the required signatures this week and has notified the Santa Monica City Clerk that the measure had enough qualified signatures for the ballot.
The initiative must now be put before City Council who can adopt the ordinance, schedule it for the next municipal election or request staff prepare a study on the topic. That study can take up to 30 days and then return to Council a second time to be adopted or placed on the ballot. If council chooses to send the item to voters, the County Board of Supervisors must then approve the ballot measure to be placed on the next County election.
The petition would apply a new permitting process known as a Major Development Review Permit to projects taller than 32 feet (about two stories) that would require voter approval of the project. The new standard would also apply to any development agreement approved by City Council. Voter approval would also be required for significant changes to zoning rules.
According to the ballot summary, “Exemptions from the Major Development Review Permit requirements would apply to single unit dwellings, 100% affordable housing projects of 50 units or less, Tier 1 projects including on site affordable housing in compliance with the City’s Affordable Housing Production Program, and projects exceeding Tier 1 standards due only to state-mandated height/density bonuses for affordable housing. Exemptions from the voter approval requirement would apply to 100% affordable and moderate income housing projects, 100% senior housing projects, projects in the coastal zone complying with height and density limitations in the certified Local Coastal Program, and projects on sites listed in the City’s Housing Element with specified maximum floor area ratios and minimum residential percentages.”
Residocracy, a local political organization that gained prominence during the debate over the former Hines project, paid for the initiative. Residocracy organized a referendum on the Hines project but council ultimately rescinded approval for the development before the decision went to voters.
Residocracy founder Armen Melkonians said he is looking forward to a vigorous campaign.
“We pretty much start our fundraising campaign to get some money to fight the overwhelming money that s going to be thrown against us from the development community,” he said.
Opposition groups include the recently formed Housing & Opportunity for a Modern Economy (HOME) and Santa Monica Forward.
HOME said they represent home builders.
“Land prices are very expensive in our City. Housing affordability and availability of housing is near and dear to Santa Monicans,” said Jay Trisler, spokesman for the Committee. “We believe that the LUVE initiative is detrimental to the building of housing that is affordable and will decrease availability of all housing in Santa Monica.”
Santa Monica Forward formed last year with the self described goal of advancing progressive values. Former mayor Judy Abdo and Juan Matute, the Program Director for the UCLA Local Climate Change Initiative are co-chairs of the group. Last week. Forward filed paperwork to formally oppose LUVE.
Councilman Kevin McKeown said he thinks support for LUVE will decrease with additional information.
“The Council can now get expert analysis of the measure’s impacts, which I expect will include increased developer money skewing local politics, as well as suppressed housing production,” he said by email. “We’re all frustrated by traffic, but once the public is better informed about the Residocracy initiative, I expect support for such an extreme measure to wane. I look forward to a robust discussion about the inclusive community we aspire to be, and how we can deal with traffic and quality of life issues without sacrificing our egalitarian and democratic values.”
Melkonians said LUVE allows for growth without voter approval and said where developers want to exchange community benefits for height/density bonuses, the public should be able to decide on the outcome.
“We know that residents will make the correct choices,” he said. “If it’s a good project, it will get built. If it’s a bad project like some of the ones we’ve seen, it won’t get passed.”
He said reasonable projects with good community benefits should go before voters because residents can’t trust the city council to make development decisions.
“(LUVE) will remove the influence that developers have over our council, will remove the backroom deals because at the end of the day the deal will have to go before the voters.”
He said cities that have similar kinds of rules in place haven’t seen an influx of developer funded elections advocating for large projects, but rather, the rules have guided development toward a lower threshold.