The Danger of Half Right

Traffic is a problem. We agree on that. We also agree on the importance of controlling development in Santa Monica. I’ve voted against more Development Agreements than any other Councilmember in Santa Monica history.

I voted against the senior-displacing Village Trailer Park demolition project both times it came before the Council, and the oversized Hines project, also twice. I supported Measure T in 2008.

Two years ago, I was the one who suggested Ocean Avenue hotels should go to the voters, so I’m certainly not opposed to “letting the voters decide.” And I’ve never “sold out;” I’ve never taken any developer donations nor corporate contributions.

Given all that, I oppose Measure LV. Professional campaigns will argue all the way to Election Day, but I’m not on any “team” (although they seem to like to quote me a lot!).

What I’m about to say is straight and personal from me to you.

Measure LV is simply too extreme, and full of unintended consequences. Thirty-two feet, especially downtown, is the wrong height threshold to send projects to the ballot.

LV won’t accomplish what it promises. Signature gatherers said “sign here if you’re fed up with traffic,” but Measure LV won’t take a single car off the street. What it will do is lock in, for twenty long years, an absurdly low height limit.

I can’t support a simplistic one-size-fits-all limit of 32 feet.

Note that I said simplistic, not simple. Proponents claim LV is simple, but if you read the 23 pages it takes to explain it, you’ll see it’s anything but. Measure LV is full of exceptions and loopholes.

Ironically, one loophole would have let the Hines project that helped start this mess go forward by right, without a vote of residents! Another could require waiting up to two years for an election for the critically needed new fire station downtown, just because it’s over 32 feet.

One of LV’s co-authors said at a recent City Council hearing, “We don’t need additional housing.” And still, proponents of Measure LV claim their plan will protect renters.

Ask the renters: At its annual convention this summer, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights voted not to support Measure LV.

As a renter myself, I worry that keeping housing scarce will increase competition for existing units, risk increased tenant harassment from landlords looking to raise rent-controlled units to market rate, and limit my ability to relocate within my own hometown.

Measure LV removes reasonable zoning standards downtown and on boulevards, where existing residents wouldn’t be displaced by new housing. If developers instead begin replacing our neighborhood apartment buildings full of renters with new more profitable condos under 32 feet, to avoid going to a vote, our efforts to protect our established neighborhoods could be undone by LV and Ellis.

Measure LV exempts housing for seniors — which sounds good — but they forgot to include any language about affordability. Measure LV would therefore encourage luxury condos of greater height, as long as they were sold to seniors. Those seniors could be out-of-country billionaire investors; it wouldn’t matter. Under LV, those big luxury condos would be exempt.

Proponents claim Measure LV will empower voters, and take developers’ money and influence out of politics. It will do exactly the opposite. Developers will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on campaigns to get their projects approved, and residents will have to sort through multiple complicated land-use decisions at every election.

The League of Women Voters of Santa Monica looked at Measure LV and concluded that rather than empowering voters, it will likely overwhelm and confuse us. Do you really want more developers spending more money to cram more political flyers into your mailbox?

Measure LV plays to the frustration we all feel over traffic. We do need to do more to ease traffic. In that sense, LV may look half right.

The half that is seriously wrong is the extreme law that LV would freeze in place for twenty years. It creates problems we don’t have, without solving the ones we agree we need to address.

Traffic is a maddening daily hassle, but we can work together on real solutions without sacrificing our community values. How to do that? Measure LV provides a recklessly wrong answer to a very real question. Tomorrow, I’ll suggest what we can do instead.

I hope when you’ve heard me out you’ll decide to join me in voting against Measure LV.

By Kevin McKeown

Kevin McKeown is a Santa Monica Councilman