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Council Approves Ballot Measure Requiring Super-Majority Vote on Development


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June 28, 2018 -- In an effort to quell Santa Monica's development wars, the City Council on Tuesday voted to place a measure on the November ballot that would require a super-majority vote to make changes to the City's zoning standards.

The proposed Charter Amendment -- which would sunset in 10 years -- would have no impact on proposed developments currently in the planning pipeline ("Super-Majority' Ballot Measure Would Have No Impact on Proposed Developments," June 21, 2018).

Instead, it is meant to send a clear message that the Council will stick to the City's Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) and zoning code that took years to update, its sponsors said.

"We have a plan," said Himmelricch, who co-sponsored the motion. "By making the rules and sticking to them, it creates a somewhat more placid atmosphere.

"A super-majority will cause developers to up their ante. When a project is a good project, it is unanimous."

Co-sponsor Kevin McKeown, who like Himmelrich is up for re-election, said the measure "has been misunderstood and mischaracterized."

"It's intended to create a lull in the development wars," McKeown said. "Most of the developments that have caused great consternation have been approved on 4 to 3 votes."

Councilmembers Gleam Davis and Terry O'Day -- who voted against the measure -- argued it could escalate rather than diffuse the tensions surrounding development.

"It's putting the divisive issue of development on the ballot," Davis said. "Now we are voluntarily inviting development wars."

"The circus is coming to town," said O'Day, "and here's the sideshow for fighting over development.

"It's nonsensical," he added. "We're really going out on a limb."

Before the 4 to 2 vote, the Council tweaked staff's proposed initiative to ensure all seven council members would not need to be present for a super-majority vote.

The proposed measure will require a super-majority when all members of the City Council "eligible to vote" are present.

The difficulty of obtaining a super-majority was illustrated when the Council added an exemption for development projects on School District property.

McKeown, who is retiring after 25 years as a computer consultant for the District, was forced to recuse himself when the friendly amendment was made.

Vazquez also recused himself because his wife is a School Board member.

With Council member Pam O'Connor absent, that left four members on the dais.

Davis and O'Day, who opposed the main motion, voted to add the school district exemption.

The District is not expected to propose any new projects in the near future.

According to staff, the proposed measure likely would only impact proposed changes to zoning standards in the Memorial Park Neighborhood and the Santa Monica Business Park at the Airport, staff said.

The measure exempts 100 percent affordable housing projects, a exemption Davis called "meaningless" that "just makes us feel better about a bad idea."


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