Is Santa Monica's LUVE initiative a threat to City Council?

The fall election is still five months off and already a number of issues are getting plenty of pre-election buzz.

The major issue is the Land Use Voter Empowerment (LUVE) initiative that will be before Santa Monica voters Nov. 8. In a nutshell, the citizen-backed measure (which might not appear on the ballot as “LUVE,” but under some other designation) promises to stop the new, oversized construction projects such as the kind we see sprouting up all over our fair city.

LUVE is similar to 2008’s slow-growth RIFT initiative, a citizen-generated measure (Proposition R on the ballot), also vehemently opposed by developers that spent $800,000 to defeat it in a campaign riddled with lies and deceit.

PHOTO: HKS

PHOTO: HKS

With the amount of development in play here, other issues such as traffic and congestion, parking shortages, “road rage” and a decreasing quality of life have become fodder for vigorous debate and adamant differences of opinions.

It would appear that currently elected City Council members believe that poorly designed, six- and seven-floor, wall-to-wall, apartment buildings — located mostly along major thoroughfares and near major transit routes such as the new Expo Line light rail — are a small price to pay for a handful of unneeded, “affordable” (low-income?) apartments and other questionable community benefits.

Citizen advocates backing LUVE believe that giving voters the final say on size, scope and density of development will put an end to the hideous, oversized, environmentally damaging mixed-use projects currently being developed through City planning’s development agreement process under council’s watch.

Despite claims by special interest groups financed and backed by developers, their attorneys, consultants, contractors, architects and advisors, LUVE will protect rent controlled and affordable housing in Santa Monica and will empower voters to stop the feeding frenzy that’s eroding our existing housing stock and making Santa Monica even more unaffordable except for the very rich.

PHOTO: CITY OF SANTA MONICA

PHOTO: CITY OF SANTA MONICA

Let’s get something straight, here. To those in power — and that includes elected officials, overpaid city policy makers, powerful business interests and behind-the-scenes pro-business advocacy groups — any attempt to restrict size, mass and shape of local development is viewed as a major threat to their power, wealth and profitability.

Low income housing, diversity and all the pie-in-the-sky platitudes spewing forth from developer advocates like Santa Monica Forward, Santa Monica Next and even the local Chamber of Commerce are nothing more than an attempt to disguise the real reason for backing the City’s aggressive pro-development policy: earning money and lots of it.

LUVE will protect existing housing and neighborhoods and provides opportunities to add all the housing we could ever need. LUVE will stop the stampede of bad development and greed, ill-designed buildings, lack of open space, and promised “community benefits” and that has the wealthy and powerful feeling very threatened.

It’s unfortunate that supposedly neutral groups such as the League of Women Voters have jumped ship and are weighing in with assertions and positions that seriously damage their credibility as reliable sources of information.

PHOTO: CITY OF SANTA MONICA

PHOTO: CITY OF SANTA MONICA

Nevertheless, last Tuesday night, our “slow-growth” City Council refused to adopt LUVE and asked for a 28-day City-conductedstudy of the measure. The study is due back for review July 12.

The consensus is that LUVE, with all its development restrictions and public approval process, is just too extreme for their taste. Because the current council has more or less ignored the will of the residents on development issues for years, taking major planning decisions out of their hands is the obvious solution to the growing community discontent with the City’s planning policy.

Just sayin’, that in the mid-1970s, the same issue was before the community when the then business/developer controlled City Council voted to demolish the Santa Monica Pier (actually two structures) and replace it with a modern causeway extending Colorado Avenue about a mile out into the Santa Monica Bay where an artificial island with a convention center and 1,500-room high-rise hotel was planned.

The 1972 City Council, never understood the importance of the pier to the community. On top of that, they deliberately defied the people. Overwhelming public reaction against the project sunk the luxury island, but when key council candidates then refused to rescind their demolition order for the pier, they were voted out of office. This November, will history repeat itself?  You better hope so.

Their mantra was, “We don’t have to listen to you, we know better what’s important to the community.”  Never has an elected body been so wrong. When the municipal elections came along that spring (literally weeks after pro-demolition council persons thumbed their nose at the public), the anti-pier crowd was gone and replaced by pro-pier supporters. By the way, there are many who feel that the emergence of the pier “power-to-the-people” movement in 1972 and 1973 is what eventually triggered the rent control takeover in April 1979.

If adopted, the LUVE will require most new developments higher than 32 feet obtain voter approval (instead of City Council’s) along with major changes in planning policy and “development agreements.”  LUVE doesn’t require voter approval for affordable and/or moderate-income housing developments, senior citizen housing or single-unit dwellings.

With the credibility of city government at issue, one can only wonder what kind of hodge-podge is going to result from a study commissioned by a City Council that has been so openly opposed to LUVE and who stand to lose a major source of their power, influence and campaign donations if it prevails at the polls.

trevor montano

Trevor Montano, 15308 Sunset Blvd, Pacific Palisades, CA, 90272, United States