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Development Combatants in Santa Monica Consider Post-Election Compromise
Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
Roque & Mark Real Estate
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Santa Monica, CA 90404
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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

November 14, 2016 -- Santa Monica City Councilmember Kevin McKeown is drafting a compromise to allow public votes on proposed projects that exceed buildings limits, although the proposal's future is unclear in the bitter aftermath of the defeat of slow-growth Measure LV.

The olive branch from McKeown backers of the measure -- which would have required voter approval of most projects taller than 32 feet -- is expected to go to the council at a future meeting, he said.

“I hear and honor the message about traffic and overdevelopment," McKeown said, "and am drafting a proposal to assure voter approval for projects that exceed our zoning code, addressing the real problem of quality of life impacts.”

For the slow-growth camp, McKeown's proposal has a fatal failing: It takes effect only after the City Council approves the Downtown Community Plan (DCP), a document that allows the type of “big and tall” developments that inspired the backlash in Measure LV.

McKeown floated the compromise about two weeks before the November 8 election. At the time, LV’s leaders quickly dismissed the idea as too little, too late.

The reaction now?


Neither Armen Melkonians nor Tricia Crane, the authors of LV, replied to repeated requests for comment.

Measure LV lost badly on Tuesday, garnering 12,658 “yes” votes to 16,237 “no” votes, or 43.81 percent in support versus 56.19 percent in opposition, according to the unofficial vote count Wednesday.

The measure, backed by neighborhood groups and slow-growth activists, would have impacted most of 39 projects in the City’s current development pipeline, which total almost 3.8 million square feet in new proposed building ("Nearly 3.8 Million Square Feet Await Approval in Santa Monica's Jammed Development Pipeline," November 3, 2016).

Santa Monica’s established political leaders and organizations opposed the measure as too restrictive and a roadblock to plans for addressing the housing shortage with new building.

McKeown was one of the LV's more outspoken opponents.

So far, only Council Member Sue Himmelrich has expressed support for McKeown’s compromise, although with a few “tweaks.”

“I do believe that we should have a vote on projects that exceed existing zoning,” she told the Lookout on Saturday.

However, Himmelrich said a supermajority vote of the council should be required before sending projects to a public vote.

She said she is also “quite concerned” about the Downtown Plan and hopes “that it will not be too aggressive.”

A final council vote is expected in the spring.

Himmelrich said she hopes to calm some the anger unleashed by the battle over LV, which saw opponents raise $1.15 million compared to about $60,000 raised by supporters, ("Fundraising for Major Opposition to Santa Monica’s LUVE Measure Tops $1.1 Million," October 28, 2016).

“I plan to start hosting open houses for the community once a month at my house to hear what people have to say and to encourage them to engage in civil dialogue,” Himmelrich said. "I hope to start in January.”

McKeown and Himmelrich are part of a four-member council majority that was viewed as friendly to the slow-growth camp in past. McKeown strongly opposed LV and was considered a traitor by LV’s leaders.

Himmelrich expressed concern about LV, but did not take a formal stance, staying out of the fray.

All of the incumbents were easily re-elected, and all opposed LV.

Two of them -- Tony Vazquez and Ted Winterer -- are also considered part of the slow-growth majority. Vazquez, said in his re-election campaign (which he won) that he might consider public votes on new development.

Winterer had little to say on McKeown’s compromise.

“Since I'm not aware of his plans to place this on our agenda, and since I don't know the particulars, I really can't comment,” Winterer told the Lookout on Saturday.

Council Member Gleam Davis also has said she is open to discussion of public votes on development.

Terry O’Day, who finished first in the council race with 12,899 votes, did not reply to an email request for comment on McKeown’s compromise.

O’Day was also critical of LV during his campaign, and says Santa Monica is not at risk of overdevelopment.

There is little time before the issue of development heads back to the City.

The City Planning Commission is set at its November 16 meeting to discuss the draft DCP, which details the types of development allowed downtown, where new building would be best located and sets acceptable allowances for height and mass.

At the top of the slow-growth movement’s radar is a trio of high-rise hotels close to the oceanfront. The tallest would reach 320 feet under its latest proposal.

Development critics are also worried about a 12-story “plaza” on City-owned land at 4th/5th and Arizona, plus a battery of mixed-use apartment buildings, typically from four to eight stories, which would replace older buildings of one or two stories and surface parking.

Almost half of all proposed projects now in the City’s development pipeline are downtown, and most of them are on hold until the council approves the DCP.

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