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Proposed LUVE Initiative Getting Little Support from Santa Monica Council Members
Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
Roque & Mark Real Estate
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Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

March 9, 2016 -- The slow-growth “LUVE” initiative proposed for Santa Monica sure isn’t getting much of that sentiment from members of the City Council, including those considered part of the slow-growth majority.

In fact, two long-time council members normally on opposite sides of the city’s development wars are aligned in their dislike of the proposed Land Use Voters Empowerment initiative, which seeks to require a public vote on bigger developments in Santa Monica.

Both Council Members Kevin McKeown, considered a staunch slow-growth proponent, and Pam O’Connor, who has been avidly opposed by her colleague's allies, say that LUVE would inadvertently give developers added power.

LUVE, McKeown told The Lookout, “appears to give developers the ability to initiate special elections, where they can pour unlimited corporate financing into local low-turnout balloting.”

The proposed initiative, he added, would even target what he considers moderate-sized projects. “We need housing," McKeown said, "and we don’t need more developer influence on our politics.”

O’Connor, who has had some bitter political fights with McKeown over development over the years, is on the same page.

"It gives developers the power to call elections--it's ballot-box planning at its worst,” O’Connor said.

That argument inspired a verbal blast from Armen Melkonians, whose organization, Residocracy, drafted LUVE in reaction to a long list of what the group believes are extra large and tall projects being proposed for an already-congested city.

“I absolutely repudiate that,” he said when told of the developer-related comments by McKeown and O’Connor. “LUVE gives power to the voters, not the developers.

"The only one who would make that statement is someone beholden to special interests today.”

Residocracy, an increasingly active slow-growth organization, started collecting signatures for LUVE Sunday at a kick-off event that drew a crowd of about 300 supporters and volunteers.

At least 6,500 valid signatures are needed to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

The group plans to finish collecting signatures by April 4, count and double check them and then submit them to the City Clerk’s Office about two weeks later, Melkonians said.

Melkonians argues that the number of projects would drop and the quality and compatibility with the community of those submitted would increase if both the developers and council knew they would be subjected voter approval.

“Developers would take their money to another city,” rather than face an election, he said. “LUVE will take special interests out of city elections.

” The lack of support from at least some of the City Council is not altogether surprising. LUVE would usurp much of the council’s power on development, one of its most crucial issues. The council would still vote on projects but no approval would be final under the measure without a public election.

Specifically, the measure amends the City’s land-use and zoning ordinances to require voter approval of projects exceeding two floors in height and other size limits imposed by the City’s Tier 1 building laws. "Online Residents' Organization Submits Ballot Measure Tying Development to Electorate", February 19, 2016.)

Voter approval also would be required for all “development agreements.” Such agreements are reached with developers and now approved by the City Council on projects that exceed regular standards for size, height, density or other such factors.

A public vote also would be needed on changes to land-use and planning policy documents.

The public votes could be held in either general elections or special elections, according to the proposed initiative.

Developers, however, would be required to pick up the cost of a special election, the measure says.

The proposed law includes exemptions, including those for affordable and moderate-income housing, 100 percent senior citizen housing projects and single-unit dwellings.

Council member Ted Winterer said he could “appreciate and understand the sentiments behind the LUVE initiative,” but that it goes too far by starting with developments of more than two floors. He, too, talked about the need for more housing development.

“Market forces will gentrify and change forever places like the Pico Neighborhood if we're unable to provide new housing downtown within the height limits which have been in place for many years,” he told The Lookout.

O’Connor complained that the initiative had been created by Residocracy “without any public input or process.

" By contrast, the City’s overarching guide on development—the Land Use and Circulation Element – took years of community debate to update, she noted.

LUCE was adopted with modifications last summer, although objections from many slow-growth proponents remain.

Melkonians said he was displeased with McKeown's comments on LUVE, as well as with the Council's general direction on development issues.

“I’m not sure if he is part of a slow-growth majority,” he said of McKeown. “I don’t think there is a slow-growth majority.

"The votes of the City Council are to approve all of these developments. The proof is in the pudding.”

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