Residocracy has filed a ballot initiative to limit growth in Santa Monica.
Tricia Crane and Armen Melkonians, both members of the Residocracy Advisory Board, filed a Notice of Intent with the City Clerk on Feb. 18 to begin circulation of the Land Use Voter Empowerment (LUVE) Initiative. If successful, the measure would require voter approval for development decisions throughout the City.
According to Residocracy’s website, LUVE will require voter approval for all development agreements, any development above Tier 1 and any major amendment/update to significant zoning documents.
Development agreements are contracts between a developer and the city. They are used when standard zoning rules are out of date or when the developer seeks to exceed the allowed zoning codes. In exchange for approval of the project, the developer is required to provide community benefits that can include financial payments, alterations to the project or donations of land/space for other uses. City officials have said the agreements can extract more concessions from developers that would be available otherwise but critics have said the city does not demand enough in the negotiation process and is unwilling to veto an agreement if the terms are lacking.
City Manager Rick Cole has previously said he wants the city to eliminate the use of Development Agreements in favor of more robust zoning documents that specify what can be built such as the newly released Downtown Specific Plan.
Development within Santa Monica is organized into Tiers based on density. Tier 1 would allow up to three story buildings throughout most of the city and up to four stories downtown. LUVE supporters say the limit is necessary to undo parts of the recently approved Zoning Ordinance update.
“It will eliminate the incentives given to developers in the new Zoning Ordinance to demolish existing buildings and replace them with larger, taller, and denser developments that increase traffic across our city,” said the website.
Development citywide is governed by several plans and documents. LUVE will require voter approval of significant changes to those documents.
“It will require voter approval for such things as increasing allowable building heights and densities, changes of zoning designations from residential to commercial, and intensification of use types in residential neighborhoods,” said the website.
Ballot initiatives are filed by individuals. Once filed with the Clerk, the City has 15 days to return a ballot summary and title. At that time, the filers have 180 days to gather signatures to qualify the measure for the November election. To qualify for the ballot, the quantity of signatures must meet or exceed 10 percent of the total number of registered voters or about 6,430 signatures for Santa Monica.
Residocracy is a non-profit organization that utilizes a website to solicit input on community issues. The organization has been strongly opposed to development and in 2014 was responsible for mounting a voter referendum against what was then known as the Hines Project at the former PaperMate plant. While enough signatures were gathered to qualify the 2014 referendum for the ballot, City Council chose to revoke authorization for the project rather than put it before voters.
Armen Melkonians, a proponent of the LUVE Initiative and founder of Residocracy said the group is run by an advisory board but its strength comes from its ability to rally citizens around a cause. He said large numbers of individual volunteers would gather signatures from their personal contacts culminating in more than enough to qualify for the ballot.
“The biggest strategy that Residocracy has and the strength of Residocracy, is that it’s done through neighbors and friends as they approach their family, friends and neighbors. It’s word of mouth and a purely grass roots effort,” he said. “It develops a sense of community when a neighbor is talking to a neighbor or a friend or a family member. They have a very personal attachment to something that will affect the quality of life of residents. This process that Residocracy has developed is a big strength going into an election.”
California law requires initiatives be filed by individuals, in this case Melkonians and Crane. Melkonians said Residocracy as an organization has worked on LUVE and has created a Political Action Committee to provide financial support for the campaign.