If approved on November 4th, the ‘Residents’ Initiative To Fight Traffic’ (RIFT) would set limits for commercial development
BY CHRISTINA HANFORD
Santa Monica City Councilmen Bobby Shriver and Kevin McKeown — along with Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl — led a protest rally of about 30 Friday afternoon, October 24th, from Virginia Avenue Park to an Interstate 10 Freeway on-ramp in support of Santa Monica’s anti-traffic measure, Proposition T.
Proposition T — also known as the Residents’ Initiative to Fight Traffic (RIFT) — is a ballot initiative created by the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) to fight the city’s traffic, which continues to increase, by limiting local commercial growth.
If approved by Santa Monica voters on November 4th, Proposition T would place an annual cap of 75,000 square feet on new commercial development in the city and would require that any large projects above the cap go before residents for a vote.
The measure, which targets large-scale commercial development because research shows it creates the most traffic per square foot over any other kind of development, would expire in 15 years.
The limit on commercial development would not apply to residential uses, parking, schools, child and senior day care facilities, hospitals and other specified care facilities, places of worship and government facilities.
More than 10,000 Santa Monica voters signed petitions to place Proposition T on the November ballot.
Shriver and McKeown are the only two Santa Monica City Council members who support the measure and who attended the rally October 24th.
But Rosendahl also came out in support of Proposition T, noting that the issue affects his constituents.
“Santa Monica is in the heart of the 11th District,” he said. “We embrace Santa Monica on all sides except the lovely ocean. We are all impacted by the gridlock. We’re all in this together. All issues — development, homelessness, transportation — can’t be done in a vacuum.”
Said McKeown, “Santa Monica is strangling in traffic, and unlimited commercial development is making it worse.
“Prop T puts a common-sense limit on how much office space and retail gets built in the future.”
He continued, “With overdevelopment, we’ve dug ourselves into a hole on traffic congestion. When you realize you’ve dug yourself a hole, the first thing is to put down the shovel.”
Shriver also spoke in support of the measure.
“The most important results of T will be what we will never see — huge buildings and more gridlock traffic,” he said. “The biggest lie of the anti-T campaign is that it will harm schools. The notions that passing Measure T will harm school children or cause crime to increase are cheap scare tactics that are being used to frighten people.”
The Los Angeles County Democrats, Friends of Sunset Park, North of Montana Association, Pico Neighborhood Association and Wilmont Neighborhood Coalition also support Measure T.
But others — including Santa Monica Mayor Herb Katz, Mayor Pro Tem Richard Bloom and Councilmembers Ken Genser, Bob Holbrook and Pam O’Connor, as well as State Senator Sheila Kuehl — are opposed to the measure.
Those opposed to Measure T have raised $746,000. Ninety-eight percent of that funding is from developers, according to the YES PROP T Campaign’s research.
Two-thirds of the contributions are from out-of-the-region developers from as far away as Chicago and New York.
Residents supportive of Proposition T are concerned that these developers may “buy” the election.
But those opposed to the measure don’t believe it will solve the traffic problem in Santa Monica.
“They have done no traffic analysis,” said Katz of the Proposition T authors. “They are assuming that if you cut out commercial [development], traffic will [decrease] and that isn’t true.”
In fact, Katz believes the measure would increase traffic and also badly hurt housing.
“We don’t want to destroy housing and this helps limit housing, both affordable and market rate,” he says. “The reason is because we’re doing a lot of mixed use and if you can’t build the retail, you can’t build the units. So you can’t possibly help housing; you hurt it. That’s bad.”
But Proposition T supporters say the measure would only affect commercial development, not housing.
In fact, they say Proposition T strongly promotes affordable housing by providing incentives for developers to build it by exempting all affordable housing projects with neighborhood-serving retail on the ground floor.
Conversely, Katz believes the proposition is badly worded and poorly developed.
“Really, what it is is a lack of planning by people who are not trained planners,” he says. “It’s very dangerous and a regressive ordinance. There’s no way I would support this.”
Katz is also angry that Rosendahl has gotten involved.
“He doesn’t belong in our city,” Katz said. “He’s a councilmember in Los Angeles. They’ve got enough problems. They don’t need ours. And to blame Santa Monica for Los Angeles traffic is ridiculous.”
Five of the seven Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board members, including board president Oscar de la Torre — along with the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association — are also opposed to the measure.
“What Measure T does is create a rift,” says de la Torre. “It doesn’t help bring people together to solve complicated problems that are regional in scope.
“We can reduce traffic by expanding public transportation, by creating incentives for businesses to hire locally and by working in partnership with our business community to create responsible development that includes substantial community benefits.”
He also worries that Proposition T could hurt schools.
“Independent analysis has come out saying schools can lose up to a million dollars a year,” de la Torre said. “In the time of a major budget crunch, schools are expecting to experience a cut, so it makes it risky for us to support a proposal that will contribute to a looming deficit.”
De la Torre, who is also the executive director of the Pico Youth and Family Center, believes there are bigger problems to worry about than traffic.
“Frankly, traffic is not the most pressing issue,” he said. “I’m not too worried about traffic. I’m more concerned about drive-by shootings than I am about traffic.”
Some opposed to Proposition T claim the city will lose millions in revenue, which will hurt city services, but the YES PROP T Campaign points out that the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office review of Proposition T found no significant impact on tax revenue.
In 15 years, the total loss would amount to less than one percent of the city’s budget.
The Santa Monica Police Officers Association and local hospitals Saint John’s Health Center and Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital are concerned about Measure T.
The hospitals issued a join statement noting, “Although Proposition T includes an exemption for hospitals, it does not exempt other medical providers that support hospitals, including medical offices, health clinics, medical research (including the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Saint John’s), medical laboratories and other ancillary health facilities and services.”
They added, “Proposition T could severely limit the hospitals’ ability to provide essential health services by limiting the building of medical office space.”