Answering questions about Santa Monica’s LUVE initiative

LUVE Initiative

By now, most of you may have heard of the LUVE initiative. LUVE stands for Land Use Voter Empowerment. It is a citywide initiative started by Residocracy to allow residents to vote on major city development issues and projects. Signatures are now being collected to place it on the November ballot. This initiative is in direct response to several recent controversial development projects that have been approved or are being processed without much resident buy-in or approval.

Naturally, in anything as complex as a citywide initiative that is designed to give residents a say in how their city is being developed, there are many details that need explanation. Understanding the initiative is critical to its success, so this week’s SMa.r.t. column is a list of answers to your frequently asked questions:

Does the initiative prohibit every project higher than two stories?

No. Projects higher than 32 feet (two or sometimes three stories) would go through a more extensive permit process, including approval by the voters. Voters could approve a project that is higher than 32 feet (the City’s predominant baseline height), or they could reject it. There are important exemptions to this requirement, as detailed below.

What are the details of this new extended permit process?

The new permit process for projects higher than 32 feet would be called a Major Development Review Permit. Such projects would be initially reviewed the same way they are today by the Architectural Review Board, the Planning Commission and the City Council. Then, after approval by City Council, the projects would need to be approved by voters either in a special election or in the general election.

Are there exemptions to this new permit process?

Yes. Projects that would be exempt from the new Major Development Review Permit process include: 100 percent affordable housing projects of 50 units or fewer; projects that exceed the 32-foot height limit only because of state-required height and density bonuses for affordable housing; projects that include on-site affordable housing in compliance with the City’s Affordable Housing Production Program; and single-family homes.

These projects would simply need to comply with the zoning code, so if a 100-percent affordable housing project (of 50 units or fewer) were designed to be higher than two stories, it would be approved as long as it complied with the height allowed in the zoning code — no voter approval needed.

Will every commercial project above two stories require a special election?

Every commercial project higher than 32 feet would be submitted for voter approval at an election unless it fits the list of exemptions in the initiative. City Council would decide whether a project that requires voter approval would go to a special election, or alternatively, would be put on the next election’s ballot.

Who would pay for a special election if the City Council chooses that option?

The project’s developer would pay for that special election.

How about market-rate housing projects? Would those require voter approval?

Those projects would require approval only if they exceed 32 feet in height and don’t fit the list of exceptions in the initiative. A project could be exempt for a number of reasons. For example, a project higher than two stories (or 32 feet) could avoid voter approval if the reason it exceeds that height is only because of height and density bonuses required by the state for affordable housing. A project could have market-rate housing that brings its basic height to 32 feet, and then be allowed extra height for inclusion of affordable housing (as specified by state law).

Is voter approval needed just for projects that are higher than 32 feet?

No. Two additional items would also require approval by the voters:

1. All major amendments to various city land-use plans that control how and where development takes place. For example major changes to the LUCE (Land Use and Circulation Element), the Zoning Ordinance, the Districting Map, Neighborhood Area Plans and Specific Plans (except for an Airport Land Specific Plan allowing only park and open space use) would need to be approved by the voters. Major changes include, among others, increases to the number of housing units that could be built on a given site, increases to height limits, changes to the size of commercial projects that would be allowed, and repeals of any planning policy documents.

2. All Development Agreements would need voter approval except as noted below. A Development Agreement is a contract between the City and a developer, in which the city agrees to approve a project under certain conditions. Development Agreements are used to build taller or bigger projects than otherwise allowed by law.

Which Development Agreements would be exempt from approval by voters?

Development Agreements that would not require voter approval include: 100-percent affordable and moderate-income housing projects; 100-percent senior housing projects; projects in the Coastal Zone that comply with the height and density limitations in the Local Coastal Program when adopted (the Local Coastal Program must be certified for these projects to be exempt); projects on sites listed in the City’s Housing Element (which is part of the City’s General Plan), with minimum residential percentages and maximum floor-area ratios as specified in the Housing Element. There are 77 such sites throughout the city, and they are listed in the initiative. This requirement would last until 2021, or until a new Housing Element is adopted

Development Agreements for all other types of projects would require approval by the voters.

Would the proposed project at 5th Street and Broadway be required to obtain voter approval?

No. This 8-story, 302,000-square-foot project has been already been approved by the Planning Commission, so it is likely that it would approved by the City Council before the Initiative passes. However, once the initiative passes, projects such as that one would need voter approval.

Would the proposed 12-story project at 5th and Arizona be required to obtain voter approval?

Yes. This oversize project would need to be approved by the voters. In fact, the initiative is designed specifically to deal with such controversial projects by giving residents final say in these over-scaled developments.

Why is the initiative so complicated?

The initiative is complicated because it has to be consistent with state laws, City codes and regulations already in place. In addition, it is designed to withstand the expected legal challenges. Each clause or exception is designed to make sure it functions in a robust and equitable way. However, it is really quite simple in its effect, which is to make the City as a whole more responsive to the wishes of its residents by giving them a direct say in choosing which large projects can invade our City.

SMa.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow) Sam Tolkin, Architect; Dan Jansenson, Architect; Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Planning Commissioner; Ron Goldman, FAIA; Thane Roberts, AIA; Bob Taylor, AIA; Phil Brock, Chair, Recreation & Parks Commission.

Advertisements