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Slow Growth Advocates Could Seek to Scrap Santa Monica’s Planning Policies

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By Daniel Larios
Staff Writer

November 24, 2014 -- More than 200 Santa Monica residents attended a town hall meeting last week to discuss future development, with the slow-growth group Residocracy announcing it could launch a referendum drive to scrap the City’s current planning policies.

The meeting, hosted by the Santa Monica Planning Commission, was held to receive community feedback regarding changes to the Zoning Ordinance update, a document that codifies the Land Use Circulation Element (LUCE) that will dictate future development in Santa Monica for the next quarter of a century.

“This document here is the compilation of public correspondence received while we go through the process,” said Planning Commission Chair Jason Parry at the beginning of the meeting. “Everything that is going on at this point will be a part of the process.”

While the new Zoning Ordinance will have little effect on major projects, which would have to go through the Development Agreement process for approval, slow-growth advocates would like the City to revisit the LUCE.

Approved the the City Council in 2010, the document, among other things, paves the way for major hotel and mixed-use developments Downtown and near future rail stops.

During the public comment portion of the meeting Wednesday, Armen Melkonians, founder of Residocracy, called for a revamping of the entire process, starting with a new Environmental Impact Report for the LUCE.

“I did an analysis on why the LUCE was faulty from day one,” said Melkonians, amid a standing ovation by the largely slow-growth crowd. “It’s not really a reconsideration of what we’ve heard, it’s revisiting the EIR of the LUCE that’s required.

“The LUCE… is based on an EIR which had forecasted growth based on SCAG [Southern California Association of Government] projections and Department of Finance Projections. It did not consider the growth producing impacts of the LUCE itself,” Melkonians said.

“Residocracy will be putting an e-petition on our website in the next few weeks, that if an EIR is not revisited and redone for the Zoning Ordinance Update, then Residocracy will pull a referendum,” he concluded.

Residocracy successfully gathered more than 13,500 signatures to halt a 765,000 square-foot mixed-used development project earlier this year.

Melkonians was among the more than 50 Santa Monica stakeholders who requested to speak during the meeting, most of whom were slow growth advocates who shared similar beliefs.

Topics discussed by residents included parking, a proposed activity center for 14th and Wilshire, land use density and height restrictions, adaptive reuse and housing.

“We can never build enough housing to satisfy the demand that will always exist,” said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Phil Brock, who finished fourth in the November 4 race for three City Council seats. “We must carefully add low rise housing that does not diminish our natural resources, does not destroy our garden style apartments and encourages adaptive reuse.

“We must not use our planning documents as a catalyst to destroy our city but instead to preserve the city we have while adding enhancements that do not change our fundamental character,” he said.

“The new zoning document must be used as a template to glue our neighborhoods together...not to further attack our neighborhoods so that developers can substantially profit from our future misery,” he added.

Only a few smart-growth advocates, who support large transit-oriented development, spoke during the meeting to support the update.

“We need to work together,” said peace activist and smart growth supporter Jerry Rubin, who was interrupted by hecklers in the crowd at the beginning of his speech. “A lot of residents have different points of view all the time, and we agree a lot.

“A lot of development in this city benefits kids, people with disabilities, the homeless and all of us in many, many ways,” said Rubin, who ran for Council for the sixth time this year. “I’m against overdevelopment. But a few taller buildings that will bring in union jobs and benefits can be good for the city.”

The public can continue to offer input throughout the Planning Commission and City Council’s review of the redline draft of the Update, which the commission has reviewed, often page by page at two dozen meetings since December.

The Interim Zoning Ordinance was passed in 2011 as a way to enable the City to enforce new standards outlined in the 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) update.

The LUCE will dictate development in Santa Monica for the next quarter century, when the City will once again have to update its general plan.

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