Some Santa Monica residents are so fed up with the City’s traffic congestion that they are gathering signatures on a petition for a November ballot measure that would reduce future traffic growth by cutting future commercial development in half.
The initiative is called RIFT, Residents’ Initiative to Fight Traffic, and it is being sponsored by the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC). If passed by voters, the measure would, according to the City of Santa Monica ballot summary, limit commercial development to “75,000 square feet of floor area per calendar year.” This limit “would not apply to the following uses: residential, parking, schools, child and senior day care facilities, hospitals and other specified care facilities, places of worship, and government facilities.” Also excluded would be “neighborhood-serving goods, services, and retail uses located on the ground floor of a housing development if 100 percent of the dwelling units in the development are designated affordable by the City.”
Ten percent of the registered voters (approximately 5,800 residents) in the City will have to sign the petition in order for it to qualify for the November election. Diana Gordon, co-chair of SMCLC, told the Mirror that volunteers collected 750 signatures on the first day the petition was circulated.
Gordon stated that a ballot measure would be a more effective way to obtain a consensus on the residents’ view on traffic because the City’s ongoing workshops for the update of the Land Use and Circulation Elements (LUCE) of the City’s General Plan are “drawing just a few hundred people, and a general election would draw every concerned resident.” She also noted that the “LUCE isn’t the final word because the City Council can change it whenever they want. Take the 1984 General Plan – the Council didn’t follow it. That’s why our City is awash in traffic now. If we don’t limit commercial traffic, things are going to get unimaginably worse, and we’re going to lose Santa Monica as we know it.”
Santa Monica Planning Director Eileen Fogerty, who is leading the City’s LUCE effort, had a different view. For Fogerty, the LUCE workshops are obtaining the views of the residents because a “broad range of representatives” of the different stakeholders in the City are participating. She also explained that the 1984 General Plan update was geared towards the “growth of Santa Monica and that is what we got.”
Fogerty also stressed that managing and reducing traffic congestion within the City’s boundaries on a long-term basis is a much more complex issue than just placing a cap on commercial development. According to Fogerty, it requires “the integration of a land use strategy with an aggressive transportation strategy.” This strategy includes protecting residential neighborhoods, locating neighborhood-serving businesses near residential development, traffic management plans for new development, and monitoring traffic trends so adjustments can be made. In this way, the City will “see an improvement in traffic congestion rather than slowing down the deterioration” of the quality of life due to increased traffic congestion.
In an interview with the Mirror, City Manager Lamont Ewell stated that if the ballot measure passes, it could be “deleterious to the City’s economy, could cause the City to lose significant project development…[and] tie elected public officials’ hands. It also blows away the LUCE effort.”