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Council agenda 6/24/08, item 8-D: RIFT:

Mayor Katz and Honorable Councilmembers,

Think back to the beginning of the LUCE process, several years ago when residents were still involved in large numbers in the dialogue over the future of our city. What did they ask for? Retaining the existing scale of our town, alleviating traffic congestion and promoting sustainability. Does a LUCE which offers building heights of 78 feet, more commercial growth yielding more car trips and a short term build out which leaves no room for future growth (i.e. the antithesis of sustainable growth) meet those community goals?

Instead, the answer to the community’s vision is RIFT. I urge you to implement it tomorrow night.

RIFT has been swift boated by City Hall as Willie Horton disguised as an initiative. I offer to you a more realistic depiction of how we arrived at RIFT and how it will work:

SMCLC mined City data to determine the rate of commercial growth over the last decade or so: not an easy task, as City staff does not report annual increases in square footage to you and since 1992 no report has been delivered to you on the annual increase in cars on our streets. SMCLC determined that commercial growth has averaged 160,000 square feet per year.

SMCLC then proposed via RIFT an annual cap of 75,000 square feet per year. People have railed about how draconian it is, but is cutting the rapid rate of growth of the last decade roughly in half so extreme?

Furthermore, RIFT’s exemption for projects which don’t require discretionary review means small businesses under 7500 square feet will be exempt from the cap and will flourish. This exemption, along with the initiative’s credit for existing traffic conditions in adaptive reuses and exemption for affordable housing, schools, hospitals and other socially desirable projects means that in all likelihood RIFT would allow almost as much commercial development per annum as the average of 160,000 square feet over the last decade.

And RIFT is flexible: if in one year there are reasons to build more than 75,000 square feet of nonexempt commercial projects, RIFT allows for borrowing against future caps provided the 5 year total cap is not exceeded.

And RIFT promotes smart planning: it allows the City to selectively approve only those projects with the greatest public benefits and the highest revenue to service cost yield and to disallow those projects which increase public costs and grow government without returning significant net revenues to City coffers. Ask yourselves this: are City services to residents that much better than they were 20 years ago or are we spending much of our new revenues from commercial development to service the swelling daytime population brought into our city by new jobs, tourism and retail? Has our formula for commercial growth in the past measurably improved our lives or has it just strained our limited infrastructure with new cars trips and other demands?

Finally, large commercial projects which exceed the cap can be placed on the ballot for approval by voters. If the Fairmont hotel is to significantly expand or the Papermate site is to become a large office or film production facility, don’t the voters of Santa Monica deserve the chance to weigh in on that decision?

If enacted, RIFT would ease the pace of commercial development in our city and consequently slow the worsening of traffic; empower residents to decide about larger projects; buy us time to figure out how to cut the city’s greenhouse gas emissions as required by AB 32; and allow for mass transit improvements and the proposed and as yet unfunded Circulation Element mitigations to increase mobility in Santa Monica over the next 15 years. And it would not, I repeat, it would not undermine the LUCE revisions. Instead, it would somewhat slow those changes contingent on commercial growth while in no way impacting mobility measures such as Transportation Management Districts, the creation of new exempt affordable housing with a commercial component or the preservation of existing affordable housing via conservation districts and infill housing standards.

So unless you feel there should be more commercial growth in Santa Monica than there has been in the last decade and we should forsake our beach town ambiance; unless you believe voters shouldn’t decide the fate of large scale commercial developments; unless you believe sustainable growth means leaving no room for growth in future generations; and unless you believe a city of Santa Monica’s affluence should continue to inefficiently raise revenues through commercial growth, then please vote tomorrow night to implement RIFT. It’s vital to the future of our city.


Ted Winterer

writing solely to express my own views and not on behalf of any organization

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