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Santa Monica's 'slow growth' initiative one step closer to ballot

An under-construction five-story building, left, sits adjacent to a two-story Victorian house, Angel's Attic Museum, on Colorado Boulevard between Fifth and Sixth Streets in Santa Monica.
An under-construction five-story building, left, sits adjacent to a two-story Victorian house, Angel's Attic Museum, on Colorado Boulevard between Fifth and Sixth Streets in Santa Monica.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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A Santa Monica group pushing a ballot initiative to limit development in the city says it has delivered 10,000 signatures to the city clerk in an effort to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

Santa Monica City Clerk Denise Anderson-Warren confirmed Thursday morning that members of the group, called Residocracy, delivered 10 boxes of petitions supporting the Land Use Voter Empowerment Initiative, known also as LUVE.

Armen Melkonians, founder of Residocracy, says the group far exceeded the 6,500 signatures needed, a sign that the initiative has broad appeal among residents fed up with increasing development and housing.

“Santa Monica residents are in love with LUVE,” he said. “It does create a barrier for projects that I call ‘pork-belly projects’ that have been coming through our system. Hopefully we’ll start getting better projects from developers.”  

If approved by voters in November, LUVE requires a public vote whenever the City Council green lights a development project taller than two stories, or 32 feet. Voter approval would also be necessary for proposed developments that don't conform to zoning standards as well as any changes made to city policy on land use or planning.

However, the initiative is facing sharp opposition from not only developers, but also other slow-growth advocates, who say the measure’s restrictions could lead to a lack of new housing and trigger a rush of political spending to sway voters in the required elections.

Santa Monica Councilman Kevin McKeown defines himself as a staunch believer in slow growth, but says the measure goes too far.

“If no new housing is built, the price for existing rentals is going to go up,” said McKeown, who’s already concerned landlords may try to push out lower-rent tenants to charge higher rates. “Tenant harassment is already a problem in Santa Monica, we don’t need to make it worse.”    

If the city clerk’s office finds the petitions meet requirements, it will deliver them Friday to the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters, Anderson-Warren said. The registrar’s office will then have 30 days to verify that at least 6,500 of the signatures are from registered voters who reside in Santa Monica, she said.

If the petitions qualify, the city clerk will present them to the City Council at its next regularly scheduled meeting. At that meeting, councilmembers would have the option of ordering a staff report on the measure or placing it on the November ballot.

If a report is ordered, it must be presented to the City Council within 30 days, at which time councilmembers can either adopt the ordinance or place it on the ballot.

(For more details, see the Santa Monica city attorney’s summary.)