Opinion: SM.a.r.t has been watching closely both sides of Measure LV, which is on the November ballot in Santa Monica. The majority of “vested interests” in Santa Monica have uniformly decided to oppose the measure, including an organization entitled Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE.) They recently declared opposition to the Land Use Voter Empowerment Measure (LV), holding a public forum Thursday Sept. 15, citing concerns that the measure would unduly burden low-income people.
Having examined the group’s fact sheet, SM.ar.t. believes it reflects more fiction than fact. We suggest the following as a more responsible and “just” description of what the initiative will, and will not do:
1. It will not add vehicles to our roads. It is certain that large commercial developments would add thousands of additional cars to our already packed city streets. Our downtown traffic is a testament to this. The measure may curtail these commercial magnets and the cars they attract. More development creates more, not less, traffic.
2. It will not complicate every election with land-use proposals. Similar initiatives in three other cities have resulted in only one special election. Most developers will simply adjust their expectations to the lowered zoning code. Speculative developers will not risk their money on uncertain elections. Our existing code allows 32-foot-tall commercial buildings and a bonus of 36 feet for mixed-use projects, if a minimum of 20 percent of the units are affordable. This will not change. This will reduce the speculative increase in land values. The lowered cost of construction will help keep rents affordable.
3. We cannot rely on developer money to finance our affordable housing stock. In our city of primarily 1- and 2-story buildings, there is ample opportunity for more affordable housing – both new and repurposed from existing building stock. We cannot and should not rely on developer money for our affordable housing stock. The Affordable Housing Initiative (Measures GS and GSH) on the November ballot offers a better alternative for the preservation of affordable housing stock.
4. It will decrease outside special-interest money in local elections. The presence of special interest money will be reduced. Developers that exceed the existing zoning standards will be required to obtain voter approval for their projects. Currently, City Council has this authority which can result in donations from developers swaying their vote.
5. It will slow gentrification. Currently, developers are purchasing existing, low-cost housing and proposing that they be replaced with large-scale, mixed-use projects. This process disrupts neighborhoods, and accelerates gentrification. Both State statutes and our local zoning ordinances provide bonuses for affordable housing. If anything, it will slow gentrification.
6. It recognizes exemptions for schools and public buildings. Public schools, community colleges, UCLA Hospital, and most essential services buildings are processed thru the Division of the State Architect and are exempt from local zoning codes and the initiative. They can still process new building requests without a popular vote.
7. It does not alter existing reconstruction. California Government Code 65850-65863.13 65852.25. states in part: “(a) No local agency shall enact or enforce any ordinance, regulation, or resolution that would prohibit the reconstruction, restoration, or rebuilding of a multifamily dwelling that is involuntarily damaged or destroyed by fire, other catastrophic event…” Rebuilding after a disaster is not restricted. Upon passage, most buildings taller than 32 feet will become “existing, non-conforming.” Santa Monica Municipal Code Section 9.27.040 states “An existing nonconforming structure that is damaged or destroyed by a non-voluntary… disaster may be restored or replaced to its density (including square footage and number of rooms or dwelling units, as applicable), parking, building footprint and envelope, and height that existed prior to the destruction …”
8. It encourages affordable housing. Mixed-use commercial and housing projects are required to provide a minimum of 20 percent affordable units and not exceed 3 stories or 36 ft. Projects with less than 50 affordable units are exempt from these restrictions.
9. It avoids government conflicts-of-interest. Currently every large project in Santa Monica that exceeds current codes requires a Development Agreement (D.A.) Obtaining a D.A. can result in millions of dollars in profits for the developer. D.A.’s currently require approval by only four individuals – the majority of the City Council. This concentration of power in the hands of a few elected officials is a formula for abuse. This has been borne out as large donations from developers have seemingly eroded the democratic process.
10. It enables neighborhoods to decide their future. The City states that it “relies on resident’s involvement in planning decisions.” Yet the wishes of our neighborhoods often appear to be ignored by the Planning Commission and the City Council. The initiative only requires large projects that exceed current codes be approved by residents. Most housing projects without a commercial component are exempt.
11. It takes money out of public planning. Our community vision should be reflected in our community plans. Instead, they often favor special interests who benefit from a denser, overbuilt city. Santa Monica is in need of effective coordinated action that also represents residents. When an existing system fails residents, there is no choice but to right the ship. The proposed measure initiative appears to restore the checks and balances that are inherent in our governmental system.
CLUE suggests the initiative is “confusing, complicated and unpredictable.” SM.ar.t suggests that you read the ballot measure in its entirety. It is only 2 1/2 pages long. It’s clean and simple. Make your decision based on fact, not supposition.
SM.a.r.t (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)
Thane Roberts AIA, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, Daniel Jansenson Architect, Samuel Tolkin AIA, Phil Brock, Santa Monica Arts Commission.