As we wrote in a previous column, there is currently a drive to gather signatures to put the so-called Land Use Voter Empowerment (LUVE) initiative on the ballot in November.
LUVE is an extreme measure that would effectively make it impossible to build any new buildings over two or three stories. The initiative, should it pass, would require that any proposal for a project over 32 feet be approved by the voters. It would also require voter approval of any major changes to Santa Monica’s General Plan or Zoning Code – even those that pertain to affordable housing projects.
LUVE supporters claim that the initiative would protect our neighborhoods. In fact, the opposite is true.
Santa Monica Forward opposes the LUVE Initiative because it poses a real threat to residents of rent-controlled apartment buildings and to the diversity and scale of the neighborhoods in which they are located, among other reasons.
LUVE would result in the loss of rental housing in our medium density residential areas and its replacement with condominiums. Tenants in rent-controlled units would be evicted using the Ellis Act and likely would not find comparable affordable housing in Santa Monica. They would be forced to leave our city; further reducing what economic diversity we have left.
The exemption for 100 percent affordable housing projects of less than 50 units is meaningless since there is currently no way to pay for them, an issue we addressed in our column last week; the City is without a sustainable revenue source for subsidizing these developments.
So what type of development would we be seeing if LUVE passes? Clearly, very few mixed-use and mixed income projects would be happening in our commercial areas. By contrast, the 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), took a much more progressive approach to housing, encouraging development along our commercial boulevards and downtown as a way to divert developer investment away from our residential neighborhoods, thereby protecting them.
SMF believes that our medium density residential areas – R2 districts – are endangered by LUVE in a very serious way. These areas are where the majority of the City’s rent controlled housing and many of its most vulnerable residents are located. This is the housing located in the Wilshire/Montana, Mid-Cities, and Pico neighborhoods and portions of Sunset Park. Specifically, 62 percent, or 17,210, of the City’s rent controlled units are located in these neighborhoods, not including the medium density housing in Ocean Park. (Source: 2015 Annual Report of the Rent Control Board)
Why is this a likely outcome of LUVE? It is a given that the demand for housing in Santa Monica is not going to go away. In fact, given regional population growth and the many reasons people – including our own children – want to live here, it is going to increase.
Development pressure responds to the market, so it will not just go away if we stop building housing. The R2 neighborhoods, with their older rental housing supply, are the most likely areas to be targeted since smaller condominium projects could be built without voter approval under the LUVE initiative. In fact, this trend is already occurring with demolition permits in R2 districts on the rise and replacement condominium projects being proposed. Tenants are being displaced using the Ellis Act and rental housing is disappearing. The LUVE initiative would no doubt accelerate this troubling trend.
The height limit in R2 districts is 30 feet and most parcels are too small to accommodate large replacement projects. So we would be seeing a surge in small condo projects that do not exceed 10,000 square feet of floor area or the 32 foot height limit, which would result in a devastating loss of affordable, rent-controlled homes.
In addition to the displacement of people who live in R2 neighborhoods, one very sad outcome would be the likely loss of many of the city’s courtyard apartments, housing that the City is committed to protecting. The majority of this housing is in R2 districts.
There is an awful irony to this situation. In 1979, the voters of Santa Monica enacted one of the strictest rent control laws in the country. This renters’ movement arose in response to the increasing loss of rental housing and its replacement with condominiums. The hardest hit group of tenants was seniors, and they were the driving force behind the rent control movement.
Today, renters are being asked by LUVE supporters to vote for an initiative that would re-create the crisis that was addressed by the Rent Control Charter Amendment in 1979. Yogi Berra said it best: Sounds like déjà vu all over again.
It’s for this reason – and many others – that Santa Monica Forward urges tenants, and others who are concerned about preserving diversity in our city, to oppose the LUVE initiative.
Judy Abdo, Leslie Lambert, Cynthia Rose, Scott Schonfeld, Tim Harter, Jeremy Stutes, and Jason Islas for Santa Monica Forward. For more, visit santamonicaforward.org.