Fairmont Miramar Hotel (File photo)

Few, if any, projects are directly impacted by the passage of Measure SM this month but there’s consensus that the measure will give developers pause before submitting some projects.

Voters approved Measure SM on Nov. 6 with about 71 percent of the vote and it will be in effect for the next 10 years. The measure will require five out of seven City Council members to approve requests to amend the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) and Downtown Community Plan (DCP).

Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who co-sponsored the measure with Councilmember Himmelrich, said he thinks Santa Monica voters showed they are committed to limiting growth and protecting the existing character of the city’s neighborhoods.

“Yes on SM means developers need not come to Santa Monica with plan-busting projects unless they’re confident the benefits are so spectacular that five, not just four, Councilmembers will agree,” he said. “That won’t stop great projects, but it will avoid unnecessary battles over mediocre ones.”
Jing Yeo, Planning Manager, said no projects in the pipeline are trying to amend the LUCE or DCP, nor have any developers attempted to in the past.

There are three projects planned for Downtown Santa Monica that exceed the city’s typical height and density limits but the City provided specific exemptions for those sites in the DCP, which was approved last July.

The Fairmont Miramar hotel, a hotel designed by Frank Gehry and the Plaza at Santa Monica, all range between 119 and 130 feet tall and do not require amendments to either the LUCE or DCP.

Nor does SM apply to Development Agreements that allow projects to exceed zoning rules in exchange for specific guarantees from the developer.
Though it’s unlikely that the measure will affect many future developments, some believe it will deter developers from even trying to build in the city.

Michael Manville, an urban planning professor at UCLA, said he believes the campaigns for SM and 2016’s LV have also made residents more suspicious of new development.

In 2016, 44 percent of residents supported Measure LV, which would have put any plans to construct a building higher than two stories to a citywide vote. The measure failed, but it demonstrated that many Santa Monica voters are already wary of development.

“The message that gets sent is that new housing is a problem and a burden,” Manville said. “That’s not a healthy message to send in a region that desperately needs new housing. Measure SM and the rhetoric of (its supporters) undermine that reality.”

Santa Monica and many other cities allow developers to get around building limits if they contribute money to public services, hire local workers or use sustainable building materials, Manville said. He added he thinks residents lose trust in their local governments when they subvert their own rules.

“Cities like Santa Monica … understand that development provides them with a way to finance a lot of local goods that would otherwise be financed with taxes. But … to get those benefits, they have to let the developer “break the rules”,” he said. “One purpose of (Measure SM) is to say “hey, we hear you and we don’t take doing this lightly, and we will only do this if a lot of us agree it’s in the public interest to do so.”

McKeown maintained the Measure SM is not an anti-housing initiative.

“Measure SM applies only to proposed projects that would exceed adopted land use plans, which already accommodate generous housing production and make special allowances for 100 percent truly affordable housing,” he said. “Further, earning one additional Council vote remains an option for worthy projects.”