Santa Monica's Measure LV is being watched around the southland

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Downtown Santa Monica is being transformed from a Central Business District accessed by the car into a dense, walkable community of three- to seven-story, mixed-use buildings attractive to young and older city dwellers .

But many Santa Monica residents who live outside the urban core are angered by what they see as over-development and traffic congestion.

"Our City Council never can say no to a deal that's offered by the developers, and the residents are choking on traffic," says activist Tricia Crane.

Crane is one of the co-authors of an initiative on the November ballot called LV, also known as LUVE, which stands for "Land Use Voter Empowerment."

The measure would cap most development in Santa Monica's downtown to a height of 32 feet as zoned for in the current code. Projects that exceed that height would require voter approval.

There are several arguments against LUVE, one of the main ones being that Santa Monica desperately needs affordable housing and that the only way to achieve that is by allowing developments higher than 32 feet, in return for a so-called "community benefit" of a percentage of affordable dwellings.

The LUVE folks say that developers are providing only a tiny amount of affordable units; they add that 100 percent affordable housing projects are exempt from LUVE.

But opponents say that it is impossible for affordable housing developers to build 100 percent affordable projects on pricey Santa Monica land.

Another argument against LUVE is procedural. How can you plan a city where voters get to weigh in on many individual projects?

Rick Cole is city manager for Santa Monica and says, "If LUVE were to pass, it would be the most complicated and restrictive growth measure of any community of our size in California in history."

He says the problem is that Santa Monica's downtown development was being guided by LUCE (the Land-Use and Circulation Element), a set of guidelines that, while generally good in his view, gave too much room for back-room negotiations between councilmembers and developers.

He recommends that voters come together around a Downtown Community Plan that allows for a balanced amount of development and that once rules have been agreed upon, planners, councilmembers and developers stick to them.

Measure LV is being watched around the Southland, especially in Los Angeles where the Coalition to Preserve LA has gathered the signatures to place the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the ballot next March.

NII wants to slow high-density developments of mostly market-rate or luxury housing that the group says result from a corrupt system of "spot zoning."

The campaign has been funded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is also helping fund Measure LV.

Both measures are aimed at slowing growth, at a time when the Southland is booming and sorely in need of housing.

Mayor Garcetti has called for 100,000 new housing units of all income levels.

Economists project that four million people will be moving into the region in the next 20 years.

With communities all over the region saying no to development, the question arises: where should people live?

Photo courtesy of The proposed Miramar Expansion Development Agreement project.