Kate Cagle

Following the defeat of Measure LV in November, the City Council is continuing to look into ways to abate large development projects in Santa Monica, either by requiring voter approval or a City Council super-majority vote for projects that exceed the general plan or zoning code.

“I’ve been at this a long time and development has always been a contentious issue in Santa Monica,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown said, who introduced a motion Tuesday for staff to look into the two options. “Some people think that they won the battle but I want to end the war.

Measure LV would have required voter approval for development projects taller than 32 feet with an exception for affordable housing. Supporters of the measure promised to “stop the transformation of our beach town into a high-rise, high-rent concrete urban jungle.” The anti-growth measure gained support of six of the seven neighborhood groups in Santa Monica.

However, when it came to the actual voters, Santa Monicans struck down the measure by 11 percent while reelecting four city councilmembers. No councilmembers supported Measure LV.

At Tuesday’s city council meeting, McKeown elaborated on his intent, saying he wants a better dialogue between the Council and the community about large development projects moving forward.
“The way that we’ve dealt with those proposals (in the past) has caused, at times, great consternation in the community,” McKeown said.

Opponents who helped defeat Measure LV in the fall urged the council to focus on tactics to curb traffic congestion and increase the stock of affordable housing, instead of revisiting the failed ballot measure.

“It was a very contentious election. It failed. It failed handily. I think 11 points is a definitive victory,” said Jason Islas, leader of the “No on Measure LV campaign. “People do like the direction the city is going in.”

Other councilmembers supported McKeown’s motion but also expressed doubt whether the ballot box is the right way to decide on future development. Councilmember Terry O’Day called the process “unwise” and “inherently argumentative.” He hopes city staff will recommend innovative ways to involve the public in city planning, without bringing projects to a citywide vote.

Both Councilmember Sue Himmelrich and Mayor Pro Tempore Ted Winterer hinted they may support requiring a super-majority of council votes for large development projects. Right now, those projects require just a 4-3 majority of the seven votes. Councilmember Gleam Davis, who introduced the motion with McKeown, took an open-ended position on requiring either voter approval or a super-majority of the council. She says she looks forward to learning more about the options.

“I think if we are intent on trying to reestablish trust with this community about development issues, now is the time to have the conversation and not in 2018 when there’s probably going to be another ballot measure,” Davis said.

Councilmember Pam O’Conner abstained from voting on the motion and expressed doubt any further restrictions on projects would appease anti-development groups.

“Ballot box measures tie the hands of future generations,” O’Conner said. “We would be making it more difficult for future generations when times are different and needs are different.”

Early next year, city staff will unveil the final draft of the “Downtown Community Plan” which will create guidelines for developing the downtown core and maintain the “our town” character of Santa Monica.