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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

January 6, 2015 -- Battled scarred as it is from development wars of the past, Santa Monica is likely to see a new round of fighting over the issue soon, with an increasingly active slow-growth group about to launch a public signature drive to clamp down hard on proposed high-rises and other big projects., an organization with about 2,000 members, will begin circulating petitions late this month or in early February for its Land Use Voter Empowerment, or LUVE, Initiative, said Armen Melkonians, the organization’s founder.

If the petition campaign is successful, the LUVE measure would go to voters in November, he said.

Prompted in large part by high-rise projects proposed for downtown, the LUVE initiative would set strict limits on such building, as well as require a public vote for the larger development agreements that now head to the City Council for final approval.

As it now stands, development agreements between the City and developers are required when projects exceed zoning and land use standards.

Public votes are required by LUVE for developments of more than two to three stories in most of the city and four stories downtown (known as Tier I developments).

LUVE also requires public votes for major amendments to planning policies and for major changes to any City “specific” plan, the zoning ordinance or land use maps and zoning district maps.

Melkonians said he has not received direct input on the proposed initiative from the seven-member City Council. It has a slow-growth majority, but at least two of those members – Kevin McKeown and Sue Himmelrich – have expressed reservations.

But Melkonians said the initiative has significant community support, based on an online e-petition that garnered more than 11,000 signatures for the measure – including about 1,300 people who offered to help collect signatures to get LUVE on the ballot..

“Their heads are in the sand,” Melkonians said of the Council. “We have enough support to go forward.”

Valid signatures from 10 percent of the city’s 64,625 registered voters are required.

Melkonians, who ran for a seat on the City Council in 2012, also said a second bid isn’t out of the question in November. The environmental engineer came in 11th out of 15 candidates for the Council on his first try, winning 2,886 votes.

“I haven’t ruled that out,” Melkonians said of another Council candidacy. “But right now this is about a movement and the initiative, not politics.”

He predicted that development “will be a critical issue in the Council race” this November, when members Gleam Davis, Terry O’Day and Ted Winterer are up for re-election.

Davis and Winterer were not immediately available for comment on their election plans, but O’Day said he hadn’t yet made up his mind.

“I haven’t decided,” said O’Day, a former planning commission who was first appointed to the Council in 2010 and won election to a full four-year term in 2012.

He said he has heard voices that are supportive of a re-election bid, and voices that are not so supportive.

“I’ve heard both. That’s nature of things. I’ve been here long enough to know that,” he said.

Residocracy is a relatively new group and a harsh, outspoken critic of development policies in Santa Monica. It claims the city’s zoning rules and building regulations are full of loopholes that would lead to enough development to overwhelm the seaside city.

It emerged on the city’s political scene last year, gathering more than 13,500 signatures to halt a 765,000 square-foot mixed-used development project in Santa Monica’s industrial corridor.

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

The group’s web site zeros in on some controversial developments before the City Council, including a proposal to build a 12-story mixed-use complex on City-owned land at 4th and 5th Street and Arizona. Slow-growth advocates in general strongly oppose the project. Residocracy has petitioned for a park to be built there instead.

Another flashpoint for Residocracy is the proposed redevelopment of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard and Ocean Avenue to include more than 20 floors. The project is so controversial that Himmelrich, also a former planning commissioner, waged her own election-time war in 2014 against the development, blasting it as “MIRAMAR ZILLA.” She won that election, her first try, on a no-growth platform.

Meanwhile, the project itself is being overhauled, according to City officials.

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