They're baaaaack!

Having failed to inflict sufficient damage on Santa Monica's planning process last year with its ill-conceived but successful referendum to hogtie the development of the admirable Hines project (you can see the not-unexpectedly mediocre aftermath of that effort here), nimby-oid Residocracy is back with a
26th Street as it might have been
non-binding digital petition designed to short circuit the reasonable, common-sense updating of the city's zoning ordinance, recently advanced by the planning commission after many months of study and debate.

According to the Santa Monica Daily Press, "Residocracy is asking for a 25 percent reduction of all proposed heights and densities under the first and second tier development standards. They want an amendment to another planning document (The Land Use and Circulation Element or LUCE) that eliminates third tier developments. They’d like a second amendment to the LUCE that would eliminate all activity centers, which would allow larger scale development. And finally, they want an ordinance requiring that all development agreements be approved by Santa Monica voters."

This is not how representative democracy works. In fact, representative government was established precisely to prevent the highjacking of the political system by highly motivated minorities. Even the heart of Residocracy's complaint -- that the proposed ordinance and LUCE are complex 500 page documents that took seven years to put together -- points to the inadvisability of deciding complex issues by referendum. The other complaint -- that, despite extensive public input in Santa Monica decision-making, the outcomes seem predetermined by city staff -- has some merit, but the solution is to give elected representatives more sway over city employees (council members need their own staffs, for example, or, shy of that, there should be a full-time independent auditor with his or her own staff).

Residocracy presents itself as the voice of Santa Monica residents. but in actuality it is a single-issue interest group with a very specific and very negative agenda. Using intimidation, sloganeering, over-simplification and scare tactics. it attempts to bully its way to its desired outcomes (go to a public meeting where its members have been turned out in numbers and you'll think you're at a cage fight not a civic event). During the lead up to the Hines ballot initiative, out off curiosity I took a walk around town randomly asking people what they thought of the project. Although it is anecdotal not scientific, what I found is nonetheless instructive: of the people I spoke to who'd heard of Hines. not a one was opposed to it as approved and a number expressed the hope that it would be built.

Maybe this time the city council -- charged with looking out for the general welfare,  after all, not the interests of one group, however clamorous -- will not let itself be bullied. And before you allow yourself to be bullied into endorsing Residocracy's abstinence appeal ("just say no" to all development it dislikes, whether useful, necessary, desirable or popular), consider this: what do you know about land use; tax law and revenue generation; infrastructure and utilities; zoning; federal and state regulations affecting development; the influence of local bylaws, ordinances and regulations on our environmental, economic and housing goals and whether such rules are prescriptive or proscriptive; the effects on traffic, air quality and other elements of urban life of concentrating development near transportation hubs; the mix and condition of the city's housing stock; public benefits that can be achieved from easements and development agreements; the possible differences, relationships and sound mix of residential, commercial and industrial uses; the need for public facilities; and how your concerns dovetail with others who have an equal claim on what happens here? That's what a city council is for.

By all means, participate! Go to community workshops, express yourself at planning commission and city council meetings, call and write your elected and appointed representatives. And when Residocracy turns up again, as they will, with a plebiscite on a complex development matter, don't play along. Just say no.

Follow: Santa Monica Mirror; Santa Monica Daily Press; City of Santa Monica.

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