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Anti-Development Initiative Headed for Ballot

By Jorge Casuso

May 20 -- A hotly contested battle is shaping up after a ballot measure to limit commercial development to 75,000 square feet a year over the next 15 years qualified for the November ballot Monday.

The measure known as Residents’ Initiative to Fight Traffic (RIFT) received more than the necessary 5,800 signatures from registered voters, according to a sampling by the Los Angeles County Clerk’s office of the more than 10,000 signatures submitted to the City Clerk last month.

“Residents are fed up with overwhelming traffic congestion and our city’s continuing failure to set limits on commercial growth, which is a major source of gridlock,” said Diana Gordon, co-chair of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City which authored the initiative.

“Finally, residents will get to vote on a real solution that will reduce the growth in cars coming into our city,” she said.

Opponents, who claim the measure is too generally worded and fails to draw a direct connection between commercial development and traffic, had already been gearing up for a battle at the polls.

Last month, they began forging a rare coalition that includes a key faction of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) and the Chamber of Commerce. The coalition also could include the Edward Thomas Company, a hotel owner that become a major player in local politics.

The group has hired political consultant Barbara Grover, who ran the mail campaign two years ago for Council member Kevin McKeown, the initiative's only supporter on the council, as well as the School District’s parcel tax, which won at the polls last year.

The ballot measure is expected to draw the attention of developers from across the Westside, who will be closely watching, if not pitching in.

Although the measure exempts residential development, as well as commercial development that is "neighborhood serving," opponents worry that it would undermine the City’s update of the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) of the general plan, which would dictate development in the beachside city for the next 20 years.

More than three years in the works, the proposed update calls for workforce housing that would likely require incentives for commercial developers that would likely need to go beyond neighborhood serving uses.

A hint of the heated debate the measure is expected to generate came earlier this month when the council, most of whose members vehemently oppose the initiative, voted to hire a consultant to study its impacts. Gordon, who said the coalition is wary the study will only help make the City's case, was grilled by a clearly angry council.

The coalition contends the measure -- which exempts schools, hospitals, religious buildings and other “community-serving development” -- will slow development, “allowing Santa Monica's public transportation system and infrastructure time to catch up with local growth.”

Opponent counter that it would halt the building of new hotels, which generate little or no new traffic and pump millions of dollars a year into the City’s coffers. It also would curb the development of medical facilities that serve the two major hospitals – Saint John’s Health Center and Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center.





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