Santa Monica business and neighborhood groups have won a small battle in their war against a proposal by Mayor Dennis Zane to limit the amount of construction permitted annually and allow city officials to select projects based on their benefit to the city.
At this week's City Council meeting, city planning officials asked the council to postpone action on the plan for at least two months because they said critics have expressed serious concerns about it and have offered "potentially viable alternatives."
The plan, called the Commercial Allotment Program (CAP), would dramatically alter the way development happens in Santa Monica. It is the latest effort to rein in what many see as runaway growth in the city.
The CAP program would set an annual limit on all commercial development at 200,000 square feet, including all office, hospital and industrial projects larger than 20,000 square feet. Projects up for approval would be ranked on a weighted point system, based on the benefits they offer the community and any adverse environmental impacts.
Smaller projects, publicly sponsored projects and those on land belonging to the school district would be exempt, said city officials, to the chagrin of slow-growth residents.
"We can't expect private developers to meet our criteria if we are not willing to follow the same rule," resident Laurel Roenau said during the council meeting Tuesday.
Business leaders said the CAP's competitive rating system is too subjective.
City officials said all projects would be reviewed by staff and the Planning Commission, but final approval would rest with the City Council. Zane and other slow-growth backers won a majority on the council in last November's elections.
'Creates a Beauty Contest'
"I think (CAP) could easily lead to political corruption and definitely to public perception that corruption is occurring," said attorney Tom Larmore, a member of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce. "The proposal creates a kind of beauty contest, with the City Council being the judge. Instead of going to neighbors for suggestions on proposed construction, developers will just go into the mayor's office and ask, 'What do you want?' "
Instead of CAP, business leaders proposed bolstering zoning restrictions or splitting the city into districts with different density limits.
City Manager John Jalili said officials will study all proposals and meet with different community leaders over the next two months.
Undaunted by the delay, Zane said he welcomes public discussion of the slow-growth measure, but remains committed to setting an annual limit on development and establishing a ranking system for evaluating projects.
"I think a measure like this, that is so significant to the future of our city, must have thoughtful and careful discussion," he said. "But, the city needs a measure that is going to give residents some assurance that their future is not going to be a future of clogged streets."