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SMRR “Non-Support” on Slow-Growth Ballot Measure Prompts Anger Among Backers
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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

August 2, 2016 -- Denny Zane, who co-chairs Santa Monica's most politically influential organization, says the episode boiled down to an attempt at compromise over a fractious slow-growth measure on the November ballot.

But the grassroots residents' group meant to be appeased is as angry as ever.

On Sunday, Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR) voted not to support the Land Use Voter Empowerment (LUVE) initiative, which requires voter approval of most development projects taller than 32 feet.

Instead, it asks the group's Steering Committee, the community and the City Council to work on a measure for 2018 after the November election that requires voter approval of projects that go beyond the standards of a City Council-approved zoning code.

The motion, which was presented by SMRR's steering committee, was approved by the group's members attending the convention 109-to-60.

The vote of non-support, Zane told the Lookout Monday, means the group will not address the issue this election season.

“We’re not really going to get involved in LUVE,” said Zane. “We want to lay the groundwork for a real solution."

Zane said it was best to wait before addressing the hotly debated development issue because the community and City Council are still working to develop a final community plan for downtown, where much of the proposed building LUVE opposes is to take place.

The City Council originally planned to vote this summer but action was delayed until next spring ("Vote on Santa Monica Downtown Plan Delayed Yet Again," March 31, 2016).

The steering committee's motion, Zane said, was an attempt to bridge the gap between opponents of LUVE, who include many names from Santa Monica’s political establishment, and backers of the initiative by Residocracy, a slow-growth group with increasing muscle.

It was “an attempt to reconcile divergent opinions on LUVE,” Zane said.

Sunday's vote, however, didn't feel like much of a compromise to the leaders of Residocracy.

Tricia Crane, a co-author of LUVE, said she didn't know what to expect in terms of a motion on the measure.

"I never thought the steering committee would allow it (an endorsement of the measure)," said Crane, who is not a SMRR member. "I had no idea how they would stop it, but I thought they had to address it."

Residocracy leaders, who said they learned last minute that a motion on LUVE would be considered, were far outnumbered by opponents, who included members of UNITE HERE Local 11, which represents hotel and restaurant workers.

"There were only 193 people there, many of whom were union workers who are in support of the construction of 20-plus story hotels that will never get built when LUVE is passed,” said Armen Melkonians, the founder of Residocracy and co-author of LUVE.

“We feel that the 10,000 residents who signed the petition for the LUVE Initiative shows the real support for giving residents a voice," he said.

LUVE, Crane said, “didn’t concentrate on getting people there. But the union sure did, providing their members with lunch and cold beverages throughout the hot afternoon to keep them there and voting."

By Monday morning, LUVE supporters had taken to the internet to voice their displeasure.

“The substitute motion to come up with another initiative in 2018 was laughable,” one Residocracy member said on the group’s website. “We won't recognize our city in 2018 if LUVE doesn't pass. The SMRR tactics are getting old, real old.”

"SMRR Endorses Status Quo,” another wrote.

If adopted, LUVE would require a public vote on most projects that exceeded 32 feet in height, with exemptions for housing projects that are 100 percent affordable and have 50 or fewer units, 100 percent senior citizen housing and single-unit dwellings.

Voter approval also would be required for all projects with development agreements and any changes to City land-use policies, including amendments to the General Plan and the creation of community plans.

LUVE takes direct aim at nearly all of the 35 major projects in the City’s development pipeline. Many replace single-story buildings with mixed-use projects of five and six stories, but the list also includes some proposed high rises, one of them 24 floors ("Three Proposed High-Rises Among Major Santa Monica Projects Awaiting Fate of LUVE," July 19, 2016).

Its backers, which include neighborhood groups and activists, say only intervention as restrictive as LUVE can stop the City Council -- including the four council members who pride themselves on being slow-growth oriented -- from being too agreeable with developers.

LUVE opponents feature a long list of well-known elected officials and civic leaders who feel the initiative is too strict and would be a huge impediment to dealing with the City's housing shortage, including the construction of affordable units ("Proponents and Opponents Offer Widely Differing Views of Santa Monica Slow-Growth Initiative," July 28, 2016.

SMRR’s proposal is the second time a LUVE compromise has been formally brought to the table ("Santa Monica Council Rejects Rival Measure to Counter LUVE," June 30, 2016.

A last-ditch motion that City Council member Sue Himmelrich made in late June with Mayor Tony Vazquez sought to amend the City Charter to supersede the council's authority and -- like LUVE -- require voters to make the final decision on bigger developments.

That motion lacked specifics, saying the charter change would apply to “large-scale development.” Himmelrich did not get a second to the motion -- not even from Vazquez.

Jonathan Friedman and Jorge Casuso contributed to this report

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