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Ballot Measure LV

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Land Use Voter Empowerment or LUVE

What’s the proposal?

The goal of Measure LV is to rein in high-rise development in Santa Monica by requiring developers of buildings taller than two stories, or 32 feet, to get approval from voters before starting construction.

This would be a dramatic change. Right now, buildings that are taller than 32 feet, the maximum height allowed in Santa Monica, are reviewed by the City Council or Planning Commission.

Under Measure LV, voters would cast their votes during general elections or in special elections. The new approval process would also apply to projects negotiated via development agreements. These are contracts between the city and the developers, allowing the developers to build bigger than what zoning codes allow (not just for height) in exchange for "community benefits," which can by anything for money to build parks to agreeing to hire local workers.

An example of the type of project that would have to be voted on is the Plaza at Santa Monica, a big multi use project proposed for Downtown at Arizona Avenue between 4th and 5th streets that would top out at 148 feet.

Some new construction would be exempt: Single family homes; senior housing; and housing projects with fewer than 50 units, 100 percent of which would be rented below market rate to tenants with low incomes.

Who’s behind it

The measure was mostly driven by neighborhood activists who are fed up with traffic and who are "fearful that more development will diminish the seaside city’s charm and quality of life."

The back story

Similar to the situation in the city of Los Angeles, Santa Monica is grappling with both a housing shortage and huge demand from developers who want to build but who aren’t necessarily interested in building affordable housing. There’s also an insane amount of traffic, especially around Downtown. Measure LV is a response to some pretty big and controversial projects, including a proposal to expand the Fairmont Miramar Hotel on Ocean Avenue and, on the same street, a proposal to build a 244-foot, Frank Gehry-designed tower with a luxury hotel, condos, and a museum. (Both projects are on hold right now, because city planners are reworking the zoning code).

Arguments for

  • There’s too much backroom negotiating with developers in City Hall, and this will give residents a voice in deciding how Santa Monica is developed.
  • It will preserve Santa Monica’s low-rise character.
  • It might prevent traffic from getting worse
  • It might help stop Ellis Act evictions from old rent-controlled buildings that are torn down and replaced by luxury housing

"Our City Council never can say no to a deal that's offered by the developers, and the residents are choking on traffic," activist Tricia Crane, speaking to KCRW.

Arguments against

  • Putting these types of decision to voters is risky. They might not necessarily know much about the complexity of land use policy and only those who are really passionate might bother to actually show up at the ballot box.
  • Housing developers might be discouraged from building in Santa Monica at a time when more units are sorely needed.
  • It will lead to developers spending a lot of money on political campaigns, giving them more influence on local politics.

"The proposed LUVE initiative, with its indiscriminate and extreme restrictions on all growth in the city, would make it virtually impossible to continue Santa Monica’s commitment to affordable housing and diversity … At a time when our region is facing a shortage of housing — especially affordable housing for low- and middle-income people — making it harder to build new homes is simply wrongheaded and will only deepen the crisis." — Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl in a statement