Votes to Study RIFT
By Jorge Casuso
May 2 -- Indicating they strongly oppose a proposed ballot
initiative to cap commercial development in Santa Monica, City Council
members on Tuesday voted to hire a consultant to study the measure’s
The move came one week after the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City
submitted more than 10,000 signatures to place the Residents Initiative to Fight
Traffic (RIFT) on the November ballot. The measure would limit new commercial
development to 75,000 square feet of floor area a year over the next 15 years.
Council members said it was important to inform voters about the impacts of
an initiative they fear would eliminate incentives to create housing in the
industrial areas as part of mixed-use developments, a key component of the Land
Use and Circulation Element update the City is wrapping up after a three-year
“It’s important that we know what the ramifications are, if any,”
said Mayor Herb Katz, who placed the item on the agenda. “I consider parts
of their RIFT initiative as anti-housing.”
“This removes significant incentives for building housing in industrial
areas,” said Council member Ken Genser. “My sense is that this,
to some degree, tends to direct housing toward residential districts, which
puts low-income tenants at risk” of being displaced.
Opponents of the measure supported the study, saying it would clear up misleading
information surrounding an initiative that has been sold to residents as an
“It doesn’t have a lot to do with traffic, it has to do with limiting
commercial development,” said Bruce Cameron, an opponent of the initiative.
“The more information voters can get on this, the better. A lot of it
has been misleading to date.”
But given the confrontational stance of the majority of the council members,
proponents worried the study they commissioned may not be balanced and would
only serve to boost the opponents’ augments.
The coalition, said the group’s spokesperson, Diana Gordon, has expressed
“serious concerns about having any assessment be complete, be fair and
be conducted by detached and independent consultants.”
Until now, Gordon said, City staff has only focused on how the loss of development
would reduce the City’s revenues, a myopic view of the issue.
“What needs to happen here is an analysis of what the costs are of continuing
commercial development, including the traffic congestion costs,” Gordon
said. “Determine what the costs of development are. You can and must”
conduct the study.
Council members shot back, asking Gordon if the coalition itself had conducted
an analysis before launching the initiative drive.
“You haven’t done this, and yet you’ve put an initiative
on without any backing or doing any assessments of this,” Katz said.
“You’re the City government. We’re not the City government,”
Gordon responded. “We’re the residents, and what the residents have
said is that we’re tired of so much commercial development that has caused
Katz interrupted. “You’ve done no assessment,” he said. “You
just put an initiative on.”
Council member Kevin McKeown was the only one of the five elected officials
on the dais who backed the coalition’s position.
“It’s kind of a hoot that this council is asking the residents
if they did a massive economic study," McKeown said. “I
hope you will soberly see the desire of the residents of the City
to get some answers.”
McKeown noted that the City’s planning staff had repeatedly said that
commercial development “generates about three times as much traffic as
“I’m hearing what I think is frankly prejudice on the issue before
you get an analysis,” McKeown told his colleagues.
He suggested that the study look into the 12 questions the coalition suggested
in a memo to the City. The other council members agreed to include those, as
well as other questions, such the the initiative’s effect on services,
on business expansion and relocation and on the regional economy if other cities
Genser -- who called the initiative “well intentioned” but “wrong”
-- said it would be a mistake to prescribe the questions the study should address.
“It’s such as list of precise things, that we might miss the big
picture,” Genser said.
Council member Pam O’Connor said she hopes the study will make voters
think logically about an emotional issue that garnered more than 10,000 signatures.
“I was not there to hear what people were asked to sign or how it was
framed to them,” O’Connor said.
On Wednesday last week, proponents handed in 10,295 signatures to the City
Clerk, saying they are confident they will have far more than the
5,957 signatures of qualified voters needed to place the measure