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Council 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 impacts.

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 process.

“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 anti-traffic measure.

“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 unbearable traffic.”

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 housing.”

“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 follow suit.

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 before voters.


“You’ve done no assessment. You just put an initiative on.” Herb Katz


“You’re the City government. We’re not the City government.” Diana Gordon


“It’s kind of a hoot that this council is asking the residents if they did a massive economic study." Kevin McKeown


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