Santa Monica residents will be voting on the Land Use Voter Empowerment (LUVE) initiative in the next election that would place severe restrictions on new development projects.
Santa Monica is well known for its opposition to tall, dense buildings and rapid growth. SaMo councilmembers have a strong reign on development in the area – commercial, residential, and otherwise. But a new ballot measure proposed by the extreme no-growth group Residocracy has even the most conservative councilmembers concerned.
The Land Use Voter Empowerment (LUVE) initiative proposed by Residocracy would require almost all projects taller than 32 feet to be approved by popular vote. Even by the standards of famously growth-wary Santa Monica, this seems a tad severe.
Supporters of the initiative managed to gather at least the minimum number of signatures required (about 6,500, or 10% of all registered voters), qualifying the initiative for the November ballot. But just because it will go up for a vote, doesn’t mean it will pass. Voters denied Residocracy’s measure in 2008, which would have capped commercial development to 75,000 square feet a year. In fact, since 2000, there have been eight initiatives that have qualified for the ballot through the signature gathering process, and only two were approved by voters.
SaMo councilmembers are concerned that an immense imbalance would result from developers having to campaign for projects, favoring those with the deepest pockets. A vote on every proposed project over 32 feet (roughly 4 stories and over) would mean tons of additional campaigns each year, a pricey process that would be cost-prohibitive to all but the wealthiest developers.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who supported Residocracy in the 2008 initiative related to commercial development, is not feeling the LUVE. He spoke out against the initiative saying it “appears to give developers the ability to initiate special elections, where they can pour unlimited corporate financing into local low-turnout balloting. We need housing, and we don’t need more developer influence on our politics.” McKeown also voiced his concern that the measure would “increase the cost of housing services, increase city red tape and costs, thwart neighborhood improvements and impede environmental sustainability efforts.”
On the bright side, the LUVE initiative does exempt housing projects that are 100% affordable housing units, so long as the project has 50 units or fewer.
While I understand the desire to maintain a neighborhood’s integrity, overly severe legislation can suffocate a community. Without growth there is only stagnation. It’s difficult to find a balance – if there really is one – but I don’t think they have found it with this initiative.