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Santa Monica City Council Reconsiders Public Vote on Development
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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

December 8, 2016 -- Trying to mend fences after the defeat of a contentious slow-growth measure in November’s election, the Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday ordered staff to study giving voters final say on major development proposals or requiring a council super majority for approval.

The council, whose members generally opposed Measure LV as too restrictive, “won the battle” in seeing it solidly rejected by voters, said Council Member Kevin McKeown.

But the only way to “win the war” over development in Santa Monica is to start a “conversation” with those who supported the initiative, he said.

McKeown, who co-authored the motion with colleague Gleam Davis, said the intent is to start considering reforms, now that the bitter campaign has ended.

He said he hoped the motion would help heal some the wounds left by the battle over LV. So did Davis.

“If we’re intent on re-establishing trust in the community, now is the time to do it,” she said.

Measure LV was a reaction to an anticipated building boom that includes unusually tall and large developments downtown. It sought to give voters -- not the City Council -- the final say on most new projects taller than 32 feet.

The measure pitted the local slow-growth movement, primarily activists and neighborhood associations, against the City’s political and civic establishment, which was backed by more than $1 million in funding from developers.

LV was defeated with 55.30 percent of the vote (24,475 votes) cast against the measure, and 44.70 percent (19,786 votes) cast in support ("Backers of Defeated Santa Monica Slow-Growth Measure Blame Development Money, Claim Success," November 10, 2016).

Specifically, the motion by McKeown and Davis directs staff “to explore the procedural steps necessary to establish voter approval requirements for development” exceeding the general plan, zoning code and other regulations.

The council asked staff for the same analysis for requiring a super-majority council vote on such projects and to return with information on any action that might be needed, including new laws or a council-generated ballot measure.

Currently, only a majority vote is needed on development, or four votes from the seven-member council. A super-majority increases the minimum vote needed to five.

LV’s creators –- the leaders of the group Residocracy -- have not publicly supported an alternatives to their measure ("Development Combatants in Santa Monica Consider Post-Election Compromise," November 14, 2016).

A sore point is whether any changes would become effective before the adoption of the controversial Downtown Community Plan (DCP) being fought by slow-growth and LV supporters as allowing too much building ("Santa Monica Set to Tackle Downtown Community Plan Again," November 8, 2016).

Much of the proposed 3.8 million square feet of development in City’s planning pipeline is downtown and could have been impacted if Measure LV had been successful ("Nearly 3.8 Million Square Feet Await Approval in Santa Monica's Jammed Development Pipeline," November 3, 2016).

A final council vote on the Downtown Plan is anticipated in the spring.

Council Member Pam O’Connor abstained from the vote after expressing doubt that common ground could be found with the LV camp.

O’Connor, who has been accused by critics of being too close to the development community, said a decade of such battling had convinced her no meaningful compromise was to be had.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” she said.

Council Member Terry O’Day, also a frequent target of the slow-growth movement, said he agreed with the intent of the motion. But he only voted to support it after it was broadened to include a review of how the City’s planning process could be improved.

A few speakers addressed the council, including some from Santa Monica Forward, a group formed last year that includes civic and political leaders that opposed LV.

But compared to the blistering campaign season, the evening’s discussion was low key and was pushed into the wee hours by a packed agenda.

McKeown has been considered a staunch ally of the slow-growth movement, but his standing took a hit with his vocal opposition to LV. Mayor Tony Vazquez and Mayor Pro Tem Ted Winterer also have been aligned with the slow-growth movement.

Davis, O’Day, Vazquez and Winterer won re-election easily, backed by the same groups opposing LV and some campaign funding from developers.

Council Member Sue Himmelrich also voted for the McKeown-Davis motion, having previously supported its ideas. She too expressed opposition to LV, although she stayed out of the election fight by not taking a formal position.

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