I recently wrote an opinion piece on the Santa Monica LV Ballot for a college course. With the general elections coming up, I thought people trying to decide on local issues might find my thoughts relevant.
In discussions of urban development in Santa Monica, one controversial issue has been the Land Use Voter Empowerment (LV) ballot requiring a cap and voter approval on new construction projects exceeding the height of two stories. On the one hand, proponents of the ballot argue that additional development in the city will negatively affect the quality of life for residents and they will lose what’s left of their blue skies and ocean breezes. On the other hand, opponents argue that the ballot will slow down all future developments, including affordable housing. Others even maintain that without the ballot, existing rent-controlled buildings will be demolished to make way for new, larger buildings exempt from rent-control. My own view is that that the ballot would perpetuate income inequality and should, therefore, be rejected by voters.
The LV ballot sets an arbitrary and extreme two-story height limit citywide that would essentially halt any potential developments, including affordable housing. Santa Monica is desperate for affordable housing. Historically the city has provided as much as possible. Examples include the introduction of the 1979 Rent Control passage, the 1990 Proposition R and the Affordable Housing Production Program (AHPP). AHPP requires a few things of residential developers. If they’re working on a new project, they can either acquire development land for affordable units off-site, include affordable units in their project or pay a fee to the city’s housing fund. According to the Santa Monica Daily Press, to abide by the AHPP, most developers have been building large projects (usually four to six stories high) and the size means they can offer some units at below market rents. The LV ballot’s height restriction would make this impossible. Enforcing a two-story height limit on future construction would result in developers being unable to afford to offer units for lower-income households.
The LV ballot would perpetuate income inequality. The New York Times economist Paul Krugman claims that new housing opposition in cities is making our national income inequality crisis worse. The effect of this inequality is that lower income workers are being denied access to better schools, jobs, and opportunities that would help them improve their lives. Gentrification in Santa Monica has created less diverse streets, schools, and civic institutions, which LV would exacerbate. The Pico Neighborhood Group recently stated that Santa Monica is “transforming into an exclusive tourist destination and high-income community with less and less room for its low-income residents.”
We all care about our city’s appearance, vitality and character although we may not agree on how to manage its evolution. Advocates of the LV ballot believe it will protect Santa Monica from increased traffic congestion, over development and maintain the city’s character and beauty without compromising resident’s quality of life. However, the ballot won’t reduce traffic or help us look after our city. In fact, it could make our already problematic traffic worse by clogging the roads further due to reducing the amount of housing for workers and forcing them to commute. In addition to this, according to Mike Chopowick at the Federation of Rental-housing, high rise apartments reduce traffic congestion. “There is no evidence that a new high-rise apartment building worsens traffic congestion. In fact, the evidence we do have shows the opposite. Multi-family buildings get more people out of their cars, and into public transit, while also boosting commuting by bicycle and walking.” Rather than attack future construction that preserves what green space we have left by growing upwards rather than outwards, we need to look at improving parking options, providing more buses, increasing the number of stops for the Expo Line and enforcing traffic management programs for developers.
A one-size-fits-all height limit citywide goes too far. The LV ballot is riddled with unforeseen consequences that greater income inequality would bring. If it passes we would be stuck with this decision for 20 years. I’d ask you to consider rejecting the Santa Monica Measure LV ballot.