Some months ago, persistent severe nerve discomfort led me to a diagnosis of a herniated disc in my neck. More than one doctor (even my acupuncturist) recommended a steroidal epidural injection. The path seemed clear: to stop the nerve damage, I had to take extreme measures.

Or did I? Friends warned me that steroidal injections don’t always work, require repetition, and, over time, lose their efficacy. Another urged me to start with physical therapy. So I cleared my calendar, and, after a few weeks of PT, the worst had subsided. And we discovered that the herniation wasn’t actually the underlying cause of my pain, but something else entirely.

In retrospect, I realize how tempting – and how wrong – it would have been just to get the epidural injection. In fact, without actually getting to the real origins of my condition, I’d only have made things worse.

The same comes to mind about Measure LV. It seems clear that the initiative’s sponsors are in pain, except that for them it is civic pain. To treat their pain, they want to prescribe an epidural injection of sorts: to require all but a handful of projects to go before Santa Monica voters for approval. The measure would require the same treatment of general and specific plans and plan amendments.

But is the problem really all about who gets to vote? The temptation to shoot up with a dose of “voter empowerment” on steroids is tough to resist. Anyone who has suffered from persistent pain or a chronic illness will know the treatment dilemmas, including the risk of mistaking symptoms for causes. In Santa Monica, when it comes to housing, traffic congestion, or resident services, for example, Measure LV may not actually address the underlying causes of what ails us – and it could make things much worse.

First, we all can agree that we have a statewide housing crisis, both provoked by and contributing to persistent socioeconomic inequality. LV wouldn’t change that, and it could accelerate the conversion of rent-controlled units to condos, displacing Santa Monica’s most vulnerable residents.

Second, traffic congestion is in large part a function of the fact that very few of the people who live here also work here, while virtually all of the people who work or study here don’t live here. Not only wouldn’t LV change that, but by incentivizing the development of very-low-rise office buildings, it even could end up adding new commuter and customer car trips.

Third, Santa Monica’s commitment to high-quality resident services for people of all needs, backgrounds, and ages does not come without its own price tag, one made far steeper with the loss of redevelopment funds (the real culprit in the delay of the civic center sports field, for example). LV could cost our city millions of dollars of community benefits from projects that are well within our zoning code, funds which otherwise could be spent on better bus service, more parks, and low-income housing—including help for people concerned about aging in place without risk of displacement.

What, then, is the alternative? Rather than pursue a risky and uncertain intervention, we would be better off with a more disciplined approach to the challenges we face.
There are many possible steps to consider: patience, for one, as the arrival of Breeze Bike Share and Expo accelerates the mobility revolution already under way, and as SB32 – the California Global Warming Solutions Act – and Santa Monica’s pending water neutrality ordinance set the framework for a community-wide conversation about equitable resource allocation. We can implement—and hold ourselves to—the recently approved Land Use Circulation Element (LUCE), whose contours reflect real community concern about the pace of commercial growth. We can have meaningful debates over the highest and best public uses for public land. And perhaps most important, we can engage in long-overdue conversations about how to welcome and support working families, how to encourage a higher proportion of our population both to live and work here, and how to ensure our city’s continuing resilience.
To be sure, there are no easy solutions. We must contend with the reality of Santa Monica’s demography: on the one hand an aging population facing cost-of-living increases amidst ongoing economic volatility, and on the other, a population of younger working families, struggling to sustain themselves against the same economic tides. We cannot provide the support our most vulnerable residents need—whether aged 72, 27, or 7—without ensuring our city’s continued social and financial vitality. We must not be divided by fear when we ought to be united by a shared commitment to the best progressive values of our city.
And we must always remember that “miracle cures” usually aren’t. No matter what, it will take dedication and sustained effort to mitigate the local impact of regional, even global, change in a way that affirms Santa Monica’s values and protects our heritage.
As for my herniated disc, the nerve discomfort has mostly subsided. I have to stay vigilant, though, and there are the occasional reminders that all is not as it was. But I was right to reject the temptation of a steroid. I’m on the right track, as I believe our city could be, too, if we make the right choices for our present and our future.

By Shawn Landres

Sunset Park resident Shawn Landres has enjoyed nearly three decades of living in Santa Monica. He has served on a number of local boards but his opinions are his own.