Voter’s Guide: Santa Monica’s Prop. T

Ballot Initiative Proposition T Seeks To Limit Commercial Development in Santa Monica

(Between now and the November 4th election, LA Streetsblog will be writing about as many local ballot measures that effect transportation that we can find.  Please email any suggestions to

A group of Santa Monica residents known as the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, tired of the overwhelming traffic they see caused by commercial development, have placed a measure on this fall’s ballot, known as Proposition T, that would limit commercial development in Santa Monica to 75,000 square feet a year
for the next 15 years.  Santa Monica, which is only 8 square miles large, has seen over 9,000,000 feet of commercial development over the last 25 years.

Opponents of Proposition T, led by State Senator Shelia Kuhl and the chair and co-chair of Santa Monica’s Planning Board, claim the proposal would do little to help traffic because the major commercial developments that already exist in Santa Monica will continue to create traffic.  On top of that, developers will just build large residential developments over existing units replacing and wiping out existing affordable housing.

Right now, much of the debate has been between the two factions arguing whether the plan would reduce traffic and what cost the proposal would have for the people of Santa Monica.  What has been somewhat absent is a clear alternative to the proposal to improve the quality of life on Santa Monica’s streets.

For example, a mix of a large affordable housing plan, an increase of bus service to major traffic generators such as the Water Garden and Westside Center, and continuing to invest in pon-motorized transportation infrastructure could have a larger impact on traffic demand than a proposition limiting development.  For those of us that watched last night’s presidential debate, one might say this type of approach is the "scalpel approach" versus the hatchet of Proposition T.  Unfortunately, that’s not the debate we’re seeing, at least thus far.

Personally, I find this proposition to be too poorly written to pass even if a credible transportation engineer could prove that it would lessen traffic.  Hospitals are concerned it threatens their viability by limiting their chance to grow and the reality is there are a lot of good developments that can be built, especially transit oriented developments that should be put in place before the Subway to the Sea and Expo Line are completed.  I would be a lot more comfortable with this proposal if it had exemptions for TOD or other sustainable development plans.  In other words, try a carrot approach rather than a ban.

For more information and opinions about Proposition T, check out the website for the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City and Neal Payton’s exhaustively researched No On Proposition T Blog.

Image: DooleyMTV/Flickr

  • NO on Measure T!!!! It will undermine the Santa Monica LUCE plan in development, which is a real solution to traffic woes.

  • Stephen

    Bobby Shriver is the ONLY council incumbent running for re-election this year who has not taken developer $$$. He is not beholden to the developers or their allies who are trying to buy this election.

    Bobby Shriver’s sent out an email saying:

    Measure T is a tough decision. Good Santa Monicans are on both sides. Good arguments are made on both sides. I am going to vote for it.

    Here?s why:

    1. New development?especially commercial development?will generate more traffic. Conversely, if Measure T causes 1,000,000 square feet NOT to be built over the next 15 years, the traffic related to it is not happening. This is common sense.

    2. My canvassing tells me that traffic is killing Santa Monica residents? way of life and they want to slow development down; they do not want more tall, dense buildings. City Hall is ignoring their pleas to preserve what?s left of the low-scale, open feeling that keeps Santa Monica connected to the ocean, mountains, and sky.

    There is nothing wrong with putting a brake on for a little while. Once the City ?gets it? and aligns its development policies with what residents keep asking for, we can vote to modify or even repeal T.

    3. This is pretty obvious, but once a building is built, you cannot get rid of it. The most important results of T will be what we will never see: huge buildings and more gridlocked traffic.

    4. I don?t believe the predictions made by Measure T?s opponents:

    o City revenues are not at any near-term risk. Because of the long-term nature of development approvals, we will know well in advance if T is keeping too many developers from proposing new projects. If it looks as if serious revenue loss will occur, we can change the law in plenty of time.

    The City derives revenue from many sources other than development?that?s why our bond rating is AAA.

    Over the past thirty years various development policy proposals have caused opponents to predict that new development would stop. Those predictions have never come true.

    o Police, fire, and schools are not at any risk. If the City loses revenue for whatever reason, funding for public safety and helping our schools are two of the last items in the city budget that would be cut. The notions that passing Measure T will harm school children or cause crime to increase are cheap scare tactics.

    o Nonprofits and medical centers are not at risk. Do we sincerely believe that the people of Santa Monica, their city council, and planning department will not make sure our great nonprofits and hospitals can continue their service to the community? If that requires an amendment to Measure T, the council can put it on the ballot, and the public would no doubt pass it.

    o If, over the next 15 years, some very large development is proposed that most residents agree would be good for the city, Measure T provides that a vote of the people can approve the extra square footage.

    To summarize:

    The effects of our current system
    ? Certain: More gridlocked traffic and big buildings
    ? Harmful to the city
    ? Irreversible: Once huge buildings are built, we are stuck with them.
    ? No Voter approval of very large projects

    The effects predicted by Measure T?s opponents
    ? Not certain: Ranging from educated guesses to scare tactics
    ? Not harmful to the city, since they are probably not going to happen
    ? Reversible: We can change the law if an unintended result does begin to occur

    The effects of passing Measure T
    ? Less traffic growth
    ? Fewer large buildings
    ? Voter approval of very large projects

  • I’m a Santa Monica resident, and it seems clear as day to me that this Measure T is poorly written and fails to address any real traffic solutions. Traffic isn’t a problem of business, it’s a problem of too many cars. So long as we keep the automobile as the dominant form of transit, traffic will be a problem for any area that is a popular destination. If we stop commercial development that isn’t going to keep Santa Monica from being a popular destination, but it will stunt our economy.

    This will also inhabit mixed use developments which are good for traffic reduction by bringing centers of economic activity closer to housing to render more car trips unnecessary.

    Want to see a reduction in traffic right now, enforce the already existing California parking cash out program for alternative transit commuters. Since my company in the heart of the Santa Monica business district enacted cash outs for subsidized parking to comply with the law (which most companies do not), our number of daily bicycle and transit commuters has more than doubled.

    Any measure that tries to reduce traffic without addressing automobile use and it’s potential alternatives is a joke. Measure T deserves to fail, and I will see it to it that everyone I know, is told the truth about what a sham this thing is.

    -Gary Kavanagh

  • I should look more carefully at which council members have endorsed Measure T so I know who to strongly consider not voting for.

  • I wrote a piece on my blog outlining my opposition to Measure T, and proposing enforcement of the existing CA Parking Cash Out Law as a more effective alternative to immediate traffic relief.

  • Measure T is a really bad idea. I don’t live in Santa Monica, but it seems to me that it would drive up the cost of commercial space by reducing the supply, forcing certain businesses out of SM. Since it does not also restrict demand, the rising cost of space will cater to a higher income market, which uses transit less and might actually INCREASE traffic.

    Why pass laws against development? Why not just increase transit to decrease traffic?

    SM is taking a serious turn to the right with this one. I actually expect it to pass.

  • Alek F

    Gary Kavanagh, great point!
    I totally agree with you.
    I am really amused at narrow-mindedness of many Santa Monica NIMBY’s, who think that preventing development will improve things?! Give me a break!
    As they say, a city that does not develop – eventually dies down.
    On the other hand, a city that develops – is a winner, and is destined for prosperity.
    So, do you, NIMBY’s out there, want to see the beautiful City of Santa Monica die down and rot, or do you want to see the city flourish and prosper?
    Those who support measure T – please, get out of your cars!! Take a walk, take a bike ride, take a ride on a bus, or train. By preventing developments you will prevent nothing. Because Traffic is ALREADY there, traffic is already bad, you have to live with it, or seek other options (such as, mass transit, biking, walking).
    I’ve used mass transit for years, and am really enjoying the much better quality lifestyle associated with it. If you don’t drive, traffic won’t bother you nearly as much. Plus, when we have the Expo light rail line built, combined with Subway to the Sea, then we all will have even more alternatives.
    So, Gary – you’re absolutely right: it’s not the developments that create traffic, but too many cars! So, get out of your cars, folks, and enjoy life!

  • 2PriusFamily

    Personally, I don’t think Prop T goes far enough, but, to paraphrase an Obamaism, it’s probably better to cut with a scalpel than a hatchet. Prop T forces the City to use a scalpel. If you can’t approve everything, then you have to decide which projects are most worthy. Is it aesthetic? Does it fit in the neigborhood? Does it offer services that are needed? How much extra traffic will it generate? How will it mitigate its impact on the community? is it a green building? What’s its carbon footprint? Will it help or hurt renters? Only when there is a limit on growth will these kinds of questions get answered.

  • Ted Winterer, who’s running for City Council, is one of the co-authors of Measure T. He’s also the president of the Ocean Park Association, aka the neighborhood that gets all that business park traffic. Thanks for the NIMBYism, Ted!

  • 2PriusFamily,

    So as you seem to confirm, and as I think most who have read between the lines expected, this is first and foremost not a measure to effect traffic, as was claimed to everyone who signed it to the ballot. This has little to do with traffic, and everything to do with adding more red tape and micromanagement to the development process on top of the already extensive list of hoops to jump through already enforced in Santa Monica. I support smart growth but there is point where the heavy hand of government prevents the natural flow of a city’s development. As someone who swears by the words of Jane Jacobs, I think Measure T is a terrible way to go about creating vitality in our city.

  • 2PriusFamily

    dear Gary Kavanagh,
    Prop T is neither a measure to effect or affect traffic, only a measure to slow the out-of-control growth of traffic. when it comes to deciding on new projects for our area, a little competition is healthy, no?

    btw, who is Jane Jacobs? enlighten me please.

  • Regarding Prop T, look at the history of the city council. What effort has the city council made toward making riding a bike a viable choice. If you ride a bike, you will either be killed or given a citation by the SMPD. Where are the safe bike lanes? Where are the bike only lanes?

    I like walking, but I think it is reasonable that a car should move faster than a walker. The traffic gets worse every year. What does the city council do? Approve more and more building. What has the city council done about the problem? They just keep singing, “Over the Rainbow” there will be a light rail system. Anybody out there heard anything about California’s financial situation???? You won’t be seeing a light rail for decades. What about now and for the next 15 years? What is anybody doing to stem the tide except the Yes on Prop T people? The majority of residents in Santa Monica are totally fed up with the over-development, the ever-worsening traffic, and a city council that turns a deaf ear to the concerns of the residents. Unless you throw thousands and thousands of dollars at the city council members (Kevin McKeown and Bobby Shriver, the non-developer owned councilmembers excepted), they won’t be listening to you. They have had years to address the issue, with no results. Every election the candidates are asked over and over agian, What are you going to do about the traffic? What are you going to do about the parking? Seen any solutions?

    It’s up to the people to take action when the campaign contribution receivers refuse to do anything about the elephant in the city. We can’t repair the damage of so much commercial building. We can vote to slow down the growth of traffic. Yes on T.

  • Jeff Segal

    Lets take a look at Neal Payton’s “exhaustive researched”

    1. Reducing commercial development to 75,000 square feet per year will not reduce traffic and may even increase it.

    RIFT does not claim that Prop T will reduce traffic. Only replacing existing building with parks would reduce traffic. What Prop T will do is significantly reduce the increase in traffic in the future. There is a bottom line that the more office buildings and stores in Santa Monica, the more workers and customers that drive their cars to and from Santa Monica to use those offices and stores.

    2. There are more effective ways to fight traffic congestion. This method is like using a chain saw to do heart surgery (or as my teacher used to say, if the only tool in your box is a hammer, than every problem looks like a nail).

    The root cause of the traffic congestion in Santa Monica is the 9,000,000 square feet of commercial development that has been built over the last 25 years. Prop T addresses the problem at it source. If there were more effective solutions the city would have tried them by now. Calling Prop T a chain saw or hammer is silly. The city has been averaging 150,000 square feet of commercial development per year, over the last 10 years. Prop T merely cuts this trend in half. The people who are crying foul are those who are trying to dramatically increase the rate of new commercial development in Santa Monica.

    3. This measure will not increase pedestrian safety.

    Prop T is not intended to either help nor hinder pedestrian safety.

    4. This measure will require cuts in services, increase in taxes, or some of both to maintain a balanced budget.

    The only study that claim Prop T will have any impact on city revenue was done by HR&A Associates, a company in the business of lobbying for developers. The city attorney, whose job it is to report fiscal impacts in her neutral assessment of the proposition, reviewed HR&A report, and was unable to find any credible evidence that Prop T will have a fiscal impact. The Santa Monica PTA, reviewed HR&A’s report, and was unable to find any credible evidence that Prop T will have a fiscal impact. Council members Kevin McKeown and Bobby Shriver have reviewed HR&A’s report, and were unable to find any credible evidence that Prop T will have a fiscal impact.

    5. This measure will affect the ability to redevelop abandoned industrial sites in the city particularly along Olympic Avenue

    The city has every opportunity to rezone the abandoned industrial sites along Olympic avenue to multi-family residential, and start to address the major imbalance of Santa Monica jobs greatly exceeding Santa Monica homes.

    6. This measure will seriously affect the ability to humanize Lincoln and Pico Boulevards

    Preventing a dramatic increase in gridlock along Lincoln and Pico Blvd. is the best way to humanizes those streets.

    7. This measure will impact the likelihood of the Purple Line, aka, “the Subway to the Sea” aka, the Wilshire Blvd. subway from ever getting beyond Westwood. (Note, I’m not talking about the Expo light rail line here, but the actual underground subway).

    Santa Monica does not need to add a single square foot to qualify as both an extremely congested area, and a desirable destination for rest of the people in Southern California. The only thing hold back light rail is a shortage of funding.

    8. This measure will hurt our city’s efforts to halt global warming and create a more sustainable environment.

    This accusation is funny. Preventing the destruction of existing building, and reducing the increase in car trips, and corresponding extra car exhaust fumes, interferes with sustainability and causes global warming. I think this argument was created by the same person who advised Ronald Reagan that trees cause polution.

    9. It is biased against lower income folks.

    Most people do not consider commercial developers to be low income folks, and given they have spent $500,000 to fight Prop T, it is hard to consider them to be poor.

    10. It will not stop development, just commercial development. The increased housing will generate even more traffic.

    Finally, a truthful accusation. However, an increase in residential development is preferable to an increase in commercial development because it generates only one third as much traffic.

  • I’m so tired of the phonies pretending to be concerned citizens when they are really just supporting the developers. Are people able to think at all? The developer fronts keep saying Prot T won’t reduce traffic. Prop T doesn’t say it will reduce traffic. Hello! It says it will reduce the increase in traffic. Commercial development brings in more traffic than residential traffic. Anybody in their right mind can see that traffic is horrible. If the developers want to develop. Let them have an ironclad rule for all the new companies that they can only hire people who live in Santa Monica. That would reduce traffic.

  • @2PriusFamily
    Jane Jacobs was a highly influential voice in concepts of urban planning and the author of the book The Life & Death Of Great American Cities. She was opposed to complete lassie fair control as was typical of L.A. at the time, but also cautioned against overly restrictive government control on economic development and rigid zoning restrictions.

    @ Jeff Segal, Kathy the Walker, Mae Ellen and any other Prop T supporters.

    I don’t know if any of you read my blog post on Prop T, but I outline not only why I am opposed to it, but also an alternative that would would actually reduce traffic, right now, not some future projected traffic. It wouldn’t cost very much money either. Since 1992 California has had a law that businesses that offer subsidized parking are required to offer a rebate for the value of the parking space to any employee who takes alternative transit and thus does not need to use it. The few companies that comply with this have had proven results, and guess what I got my own company, in Santa Monica to comply and our alternative transit use at the studio has gone up about 3x over.

    This law goes languished and unenforced, and has tremendous proven potential to influence transit behavior by assigning a dollar value to the employee for parking spaces. If you want to see a reduction in traffic in our city, tell our Government to get off it’s ass and enforce this existing law, which should tide us over until we can get LUCE set into motion.

    “Let them have an ironclad rule for all the new companies that they can only hire people who live in Santa Monica” -Mae Ellen

    Are you kidding me, you people sound like you want to start ruling Santa Monica under some kind Stalin like dictatorship of economic activity. And I’m also tired of hearing this nonsense that all those opposed to Prop T are just supporters in the pocket of developers crap. I live and work in Santa Monica, and ride a bike to everywhere I go. I’m not some “outsider” as so many supporters of Prop T seem to be afraid of. The more I hear the people behind Prop T open their mouths the more I hate it, because it reveals more and more of true motives behind it. I’ll get to work on my own personal flier campaign against it this weekend.

  • Jeff Segal:

    Your summation and disputation of my 10 reasons to oppose Proposition T lacks any of the commentary I use to back those reasons up. Many of the my points are obviously counter-intutive at first blush, and thus used somewhat rhetorically. I created the list as I did in order to establish an outline, and to enhance readability. But one has to actually read the substance to of each of the points to understand them, something you seem not to haved done, or else you simply ignored them You deliberately miscontrued my arguements, for example,to my claim that the measure would actually harm the City’s efforts to fight global warming you write,

    “This accusation is funny. Preventing the destruction of existing building, and reducing the increase in car trips, and corresponding extra car exhaust fumes, interferes with sustainability and causes global warming. I think this argument was created by the same person who advised Ronald Reagan that trees cause polution.”

    Well did you actually read my argument? Simply put, IMHO, Proposition will not reduce car trips, and certainly not reduce VMTs. Proposition T is based on a faulty traffic planning methodology that assumes reducing one kind of development without any geographic or contextual hiearchy will actually reduce traffic is flawed. To know that I said that, I guess you’d have to read the whole argument, rather than just trying to be clever.

  • Jeff Segal

    Dear Mr. Neal,

    I am waiting to read your explanation on how increasing the number of offices and stores will reduce the number of cars in Santa Monica.

    It must be a bizarre coincidence that every environmental impact report has found that new commercial buildings increases traffic. But I suppose we should blindly accept that you are right, and that every traffic engineer is wrong. I suppose we should also blindly accept that every city is acting completely irrationally by requiring parking spaces (or major fees for the use of public parking structures) in all new commercial buildings. After all, Mr. Neal, you have determined that increasing stores and offices takes cars off the road.

    I am looking forward to reading your expert opinion on how we are going to build our way out of traffic. I am also looking forward to reading your list of cities who have decreased their traffic by increasing their commercial development.

    Dear Mr. Kavanagh,

    As you get older, I believe you will start to appreciate the importance of quality of life. You will likely understand the importance of balancing promoting economic growth with promoting quality of life. Certainly Santa Monica could maximize its economic opportunity by abolishing all of its zoning codes, and business regulations. But doing so would make life in Santa Monica miserable. If you talk to long time Santa Monica residence, they can tell you that in the past people did not have to waste large amounts of time driving across town. They can also tell you that in those prior times, residents’ standard of living was just as good as it is now.

    It would sure be nice if more Santa Monica employees would take advantage of the rebate for value. The problem is not business hiding this opportunity. The problem is that only a tiny percentage of Santa Monica employee live in Santa Monica, or close to a convenient public transportation opportunity.

    No one is accusing you of acting on the behalf of commercial developers, but being someone who travels virtually exclusively by bicycle makes you part of a group that is less than of 1% of the adult residents in Santa Monica. 99%+ of us are having to deal with a very unpleasant car traffic situation.

  • Dear Jeff Segal,

    I didn’t say I was was completely free market with development, but I feel Santa Monica is heading too far toward stifling vitality by adding this proposition. If commercial space has a hard cap than it will drive up the cost of commercial space, making it prohibitively difficult for small business to move in, and I think could as a consequence make business even more homogeneous and corporate, since only big business will be able to afford to set up shop. With Prop T I envision a future of a lot more Starbucks and a lot less Unurban Cafe.

    Concerning the parking cash out, the problem is no one has even heard of it. I don’t think businesses are trying to hide it, it actually benefits their own bottom line by relieving parking lot pressure, but no one in government has made any effort to promote let alone enforce it. Although it is true that many people who work in Santa Monica do not live here, there are enough who do, or from neighboring cities like Venice, that our company saw significant gains in alternative transit use from it’s implementation. This has allowed our company to add employees without having to lease additional parking spaces. This is an example of growing business without growing traffic.

    Just because I ride a bike all the time now is not a reason to write off my opinion, it was only in the past year that I’ve made this change. I used to drive to work too, it’s not as though I don’t understand what driving in Santa Monica traffic is like. I don’t want car traffic anymore than you do and that’s why I am offering a solution that actually address car traffic directly and right now. I also don’t find how being young means I have no interest in quality of life. I want to continue living here for long time, it’s one of the best places to bike commute in all of Los Angeles, and a great place to live generally.

    By assigning value to our parking spaces rather than hiding the value in subsidy, it creates an incentive for people to consider alternatives, and when this incentive is offered it gets cars off the road when people start converting trips to alternatives or car pooling. Some will obviously want to continue driving anyways, but enough will go for the carrot that it relieves traffic pressure for everyone. With Santa Monica’s network of bike lanes and blue bus routes, it is an ideal environment for this kind of incentive to work. The value of parking is so high where I work that I get about $120 a month to not drive to work.

    My riding a bike to work is not a just because I am in my 20’s thing, we have many bike commuters at Sony Santa Monica, all of whom are older or much older than I am. This parking cash out incentive also benefits transit users, car poolers, motorcyclists who can park not taking a space, or the lucky few who can walk to work. So the California Parking Cash-Out Law that already exists could reduce traffic right now if it were actually implemented (my company has it only because I wrote a letter to our HR department), while Proposition T in theory could reduce future traffic while doing absolutely nothing to mitigate our already terrible existing traffic. There are a lot of ways to reduce traffic that are better then throwing a cap on all commercial development, and without the economic consequences this proposition would have.

  • Faustino Garza

    It is clear who is backing the opposition to Prop T – outside developers and those with financial interests in bringing in more business to our city. Development has gone too far. Living conditions for those of us who live and work here have become unbearable. It is time to curb this incessant development and traffic congestion. Please support the residents of Santa Monica and vote for Prop. T.

  • To Jeff:

    Go to:
    It’s a quick read, covers the basics — then you can get further into it. Actually, I’m not saying that you should blindly believe me. Read what the traffic engineers are actually saying.

  • Faustino Garza,

    You do realize that if the living conditions here are unbearable, a statement I find to be a stretch living here my self, that Proposition T will basically freeze in place the existing terrible conditions. This proposition doesn’t actually solve traffic problems, it’s aimed at potentially reducing traffic that might exist in the future. I wish people would just call this what it is, an anti-development proposition rather than anti-traffic. There is a lot of ways to reduce traffic problems, some of which as I have said already exist in law but are unenforced.

    If you’re interested in reducing traffic, which I’m not so sure the people behind Prop T are actually interested in, then check out the California Parking Cash-Out Law, and urge Santa Monica to enforce it on local businesses, particularly ones with many employees. It’s only more recently that I have become aware of this law (written in 1992), and I plan to bring it up at the next City Council meeting I attend.

  • 5000 words in the comments???!

    Raise your hand if you think the comments of a blog are the best place to post your best attempts at persuasion. Raise your hand if you have a healthy political base – a base which will fight your battles for you. Raise you hand if you have a well trafficked blog that doesn’t need any attention – either in the promo, formatting, or content department. Raise your hand if you think this is the best audience to be typing 800 word responses to. Raise your hand if you think your 800 word response is very persuasive. Raise your hand if you feel you have robust talking points to pitch a councilman or woman, an elevator speech if you happen to encounter them on the stairs.

    If your hands are still on the keyboard, like mine, then go take care of those problems first.

  • Donal Murta

    Sustainable developement is only doing what you say you will do. Taking or not taking money from developers will not affect the amount of developement and will not affect outcomes. It will result in competition and reflection. Public planning has never been about talking points, its about planning.,0,7337680.story

  • Charles

    Ironic that all of these Prop T supporters are hell bent on “reducing traffic in the future” when for 20 years these same bozos have fought against subway expansion and light rail. These NIMBY’s are total hypocrites.

    If you really want to “reduce traffic in the future” get a subway that goes to the Westside and LAX – now there’s novel idea…