With residents alarmed by ever-mounting traffic and vanishing open space, a new movement aimed at banning certain types of construction is beginning to sweep the Westside.
Most recently, members of an influential citizens group in Venice have started a push for a one-year moratorium on commercial development in that beach community. Already, an interim control ordinance puts a limit on the size of commercial projects, but some residents think the measure is inadequate.
In Santa Monica, officials this week are expected to slap an 11-month emergency ban on some commercial development. A 45-day moratorium on residential construction in a large swath of northern Santa Monica just went into effect.
And in Culver City, a town where developers until recently have faced few restrictions, officials this month imposed a 90-day prohibition on construction of residential buildings with four or more units.
Such slow-growth fervor is nothing new on the Westside. But public discontent--fueled by congested streets, gridlock, pollution and other symptoms of boom-town growth--is on the rise, creating potential political trouble that elected officials are eager to quell.
"The mood of the citizenry is getting out of hand," Santa Monica City Councilman Herb Katz, an architect by profession, said in explaining his support for a moratorium.
"Logic has left, and we have a lynch-mob attitude going on," he said. "A moratorium can cool things off . . . giving us time to identify the problems and the solutions."
Santa Monica officials have watched with dismay in recent months as almost every project approved by the city's Planning Commission is appealed to the City Council by residents complaining of the project's dire effects on their neighborhoods.
City planners estimate that the number of projects approved in just the last three years has exceeded all development forecast for the year 2000. Recent projects include several luxury hotels and some of the largest office complexes on the Westside.
In 1987, permits were issued for 1 million square feet of non-residential construction in Santa Monica; the amount nearly tripled in 1988.
The ban that goes before Santa Monica's City Council on Tuesday was proposed by City Councilwoman Judy Abdo. It would be retroactive to May 2, prohibiting many types of commercial development projects after that date and for the next 10 months and 15 days.
However, the ban includes many exceptions, such as development on land owned by the city, state or school district; projects along the Third Street Mall or in hospital areas, and small projects.
A moratorium now--as limited as this one may be--appears to be in part an admission that the City Council's efforts last year to curtail development with tighter zoning regulations have fallen short. Last summer, the city adopted zoning rules that reduced the allowable size of buildings by as much as 50% in some areas.
Unlike the downzoning, the proposed moratorium has not inspired an outcry from developers and business leaders. In fact, because the ban is temporary and because it exempts all projects already approved, many developers do not see it as a punitive swipe at them. And, ultimately, a moratorium only raises already-soaring land values, experts say.
'Left Feeling OK'
"The way (the moratorium) was handled, people were left feeling OK," land-use attorney Tom Larmore, who represents several developers, said. "It wasn't perceived as an anti-development thing but something genuinely motivated by community concern."
Abdo was praised in some quarters for her handling of the measure. She was able to unite political factions on the City Council for unanimous support of the ban.
Several critics, however, contend that the ban's exemptions weaken the measure substantially and render it virtually ineffective.
"It's pointless and hypocritical," said Gregory Thomas, an activist from neighboring Mar Vista, who has led opposition to a 1.4-million-square-foot office complex proposed for Santa Monica Airport. That project is also exempt.
"Now that they have (numerous projects) approved, they're doing this. It's a joke, a token."
In addition to the proposed commercial moratorium, a group of activists has launched an initiative drive aimed at placing a measure on a November ballot that would outlaw hotel construction on Santa Monica's beach.
In Culver City, the City Council on May 8 unanimously approved a 90-day halt on new residential buildings with four or more units. The law also lowers the permitted heights of smaller buildings and requires larger setbacks so that some open space is maintained on a property.
Officials said the interim ordinance was an attempt to stop a rash of condo construction. Many developers are buying single-family homes or duplexes in some Culver neighborhoods and replacing them with multi-unit buildings, often using up front and back yards.