Santa Monica’s LV is one of the more confusing measures on the Nov. 8 ballot. Aimed at restricting development, and especially high-rises, it would require a citywide vote to construct new buildings taller than two stories or 32 feet.
Speaking to KCRW, Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole has described the measure, formerly known as LUVE, or the Land-Use Voter Empowerment initiative, as “draconian and problematic.”
“It’s a very different approach to managing growth never been tested before. I hope the people in Santa Monica will read the LUVE initiative—it’s a difficult one to understand,” he said.
To help clarify things a bit, here are images of buildings from around the beachside city to show and explain whether they would have required a vote under LV to be constructed. They are also examples of how LV might be a detriment to the construction of affordable housing. And, they demonstrate that by relying on height restrictions, LV might not accomplish its goals of lessening the impacts of development on traffic.
Ocean Avenue South
↑ This project has been praised for replacing a bland private campus for the RAND Corporation with transit-accessible housing, retail space, and gardens. More than half of the units, or 160, are dedicated to tenants with low- and moderate-income units. It was the only LA-area development honored by the Urban Land Institute for its affordable housing—which the city sorely needs. But because it’s five stories, this is the kind of project that would not be easy to build under LV.
Santa Monica Professional building
↑ At seven stories, the 1928 Colonial Revival building would require a vote to be erected in a post-LV Santa Monica. A vote would also be required for an ambitious plan to add a hotel to the building’s footprint as part of a preservation project. (That plan has already been approved). LV critics say many historic preservation projects, which often depend on creative revenue strategies such as adding additional square footage, would be tougher to fund under LV.
Avalon Santa Monica on Main
↑ This mixed-use building has restaurants and stores on the ground-floor of walkable, bikeable Main Street, meaning residents have options for getting around other than cars, which helps traffic. Because it’s four stories, this is the type of construction that would require voter approval.
Bay Cities Guaranty Building
↑ At 12 stories, the 1929 Bay Cities Guaranty Building, also known as the Clock Tower, is among the tallest buildings in Santa Monica. As such, it’s become an iconic part of the city’s skyline. It would need a vote to be approved today under LV, because it’s too tall.
Santa Monica Public Safety Facility
↑ There’s no exemption for city services or nonprofits under LV, so a government building like this contemporary new headquarters for firefighters, police, and other first responders would need to pass a citywide vote.
Vote Possibly Required
St. Monica Catholic Church restoration
↑ St. Monica’s looks fantastic today, but it was badly damaged in the 1994 earthquake, requiring a major rebuilding effort. In addition to the church, at least 1,600 housing units and two major hospitals were also damaged in the Northridge quake.
One of the reasons why Measure LV is confusing is because there are disagreements over how it would impact repairs and rebuilding to major structures in the wake of a fire or floor or another major quake. The No on Santa Monica's Measure LV campaign, and an analysis by the city, have found citywide votes would be required to rebuild. LV supporters say that’s not true.
No vote needed
Two-story luxury condos
↑ LV proponents say the measure could help preserve affordable housing for renters by thwarting the conversion of rent-controlled buildings into larger, luxury complexes. But opponents say a developer could still convert rent-controlled apartments into luxury condos, taking sorely needed low-rent units off the market, so as long as the buildings were one- or two-stories tall.
Totally affordable housing structure with less than 50 units
↑ The handsome Broadway Housing designed by Daly Genik in 2013 would make for the ideal exemption project under LV: It offers a total 33 units, all below market rate. That’s great for Santa Monica’s housing shortage and its affordability crunch. But this type of a building is a rarity. Projects with 100 percent affordable units have been nearly impossible to fund and build in Santa Monica. (Last year, only 36 affordable units were built in the city.)
↑ LV also aims to preserve Santa Monica’s “low-rise character.” But because single-family residential buildings are not included in LV, homeowners and developers will still be able to build outlandishly-scaled, vaguely Italianate houses.
↑ The point of LV is to curtail development, and thus reduce traffic, but it does so based on height—not square footage or other features that can be catalysts for traffic. Under construction now on the former Papermate site next to the Expo Line station 26th Street, the Pen Factory is converting 196,317 square feet of vacant buildings to creative offices and adding 446 parking spaces. The project has already been approved by the city’s planning department and would not require a vote under LV.
The plans were filed after slow-growth and anti-development advocates succeeded in forcing the City Council to rescind its approval of plans for the site (the biggest criticism was that it would snarl traffic), which would have created 400 apartments and about 400,000 square feet of new offices, with new buildings ranging in height from five to seven stories. In exchange for the council initially approving the project, the developer agreed to give the city $9 million to build 93 affordable housing units. That project was referred to as Hines or Bergamot Transit Village, and it also would not have required a vote under LV. Here’s why: The ballot measure exempts 77 sites from voter approval, including this one, with certain conditions, including that it be 40 percent residential, according to the No on LV Campaign. (Update: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the Hines project would have required a vote.)