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Online Residents' Organization Submits Ballot Measure Tying Development to Electorate

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Hector Gonzalez
Special to The Lookout

February 19, 2016 -- Residocracy, a relatively new player in Santa Monica's decades-old development wars, on Thursday submitted a ballot measure that would give voters the ultimate say on future large-scale construction projects in the City.

Residocracy filed with the Santa Monica City Clerk's Office a notice of intent to circulate the group's “Land Use Voter Empowerment,” or LUVE, initiative, said Tricia Crane, a resident and member of the group's advisory board.

“Residents are ready and waiting for the LUVE Initiative. LUVE will give us a voice in the process, which has been manipulated by developers to serve their interests and ruin our quality of life,” said Crane in a news release.

Emerging last year as an online organizing platform, Residocracy gathered more than 13,500 signatures to halt a 765,000-square-foot mixed-used development project in Santa Monica’s industrial corridor.

The group's LUVE intiative would create “major development review permits” for most projects that exceed the City's Tier 1 base height limit of 32 feet, as specified in the Land Use and Circulation Element, or LUCE.

“After going through the City approval process, these major development review permit projects will then be required to be placed on the ballot for voter approval,” the initiative's language says.

If approved by voters, the initiative will give voters the power to approve or reject high-rise development in the City for the next 20 years.

The initiative criticizes elected officials for adopting a revised Zoning Ordinance last year, “against strong resident objections” and also blames the LUCE for opening “the flood gates to developers by allowing larger projects with a three-tiered system.”

Projects above the Tier 1 base height of 32 feet are allowed under the LUCE in exchange for “community benefits.”

But Santa Monica voters “currently have no say, other than at public hearings, as to what 'community benefits' would justify the impacts of taller and larger buildings on our quality of life,” the LUVE initiative says.

“The voters of Santa Monica wish to have the final word on whether 'community benefits' exchanged for increased height above the Tier 1 base will outweigh the impacts on our quality of life,” according the proposed ballot measure.

LUVE isn't the first attempt to control high-density, high-rise building in Santa Monica. In 2008, the more-established Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City placed the “Residents’ Initiative to Fight Traffic, or RIFT, initiative on the ballot, but it was soundly defeated, winning in only three of 54 precincts (RIFT Soundly Defeated Across City, Voter Analysis Shows,” November 19, 2008).

But Residocracy already has flexed its political muscle, collecting 13,500 signatures in three weeks for a proposed ballot referendum against the massive Hines development at the site of the former PaperMate pen plant, “a project that would have generated 7,000 additional car trips each day,” the group said Thursday.

The City Council reversed its vote on the Hines project after the necessary number of signatures had been verified.

On Residocracy's target list, according to the group's website, are several developments up for City approval, including the proposed redevelopment of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard and Ocean Avenue to include more than 20 floors (“New Year in Santa Monica Likely to Bring New Round of Development Wars,” January 6, 2015).

With Thursday's filing of intent, Santa Monica City Clerk’s Office now has 15 days to provide Residocracy organizers with a ballot title and summary. Once the ballot title and summary are published, organizers can begin circulating the petition to gather signatures.

Santa Monica residents “have been ignored far too long” by City Hall, said Residocracy founder Armen Melkonians.

“The Land Use Voter Empowerment Initiative (LUVE Initiative) will ensure that resident voices cannot be ignored. LUVE will empower voters by giving us the final say in the process that determines how much development is right for Santa Monica,” he said in the news release.

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