Santa Monica’s Proposition T may affect Malibu

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The measure could reduce Pacific Coast Highway traffic, but, on the downside, could affect revenues for the local school district, opponents say.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Neighborhood groups fed up with what they perceive to be unchecked growth of commercial development and its concomitant expansion of traffic in Santa Monica put Proposition T on the local ballot. Malibu may be impacted by the measure, if the development it seeks to limit has any kind of impact on traffic flow on Pacific Coast Highway.

Measure T, also known as the Residents’ Initiative to Fight Traffic, or RIFT, will amend the land use element of Santa Monica’s General Plan by imposing an annual limit on commercial development to 75,000 square feet of floor area. Projects already approved would be exempt, as well as certain types of development benefiting the community at large, such as hospitals and schools. It would also permit “borrowing” square footage allotment from future development, with certain constraints. Any remodeling projects would be approved based on a calculation of how traffic would be affected.

Foes of the proposal, many of them out-of-state development firms, have poured campaign donations amounting to more than $730,000 into fighting it, claiming that the measure would hamper the city’s ability to raise funds and would stifle promotion of mixed-use development.

Proponents of T say halving the current rate of commercial development would alleviate future traffic congestion and improve the quality of everyday life for residents, including reduction of air pollution from more vehicles on the road.

“An increase in development in downtown Santa Monica would certainly affect traffic on PCH,” Bobby Shriver, Santa Monica City Councilmember and supporter of Prop T, said. “It seems a simple equation. A lot of new development is going to equal a lot of new traffic.”

Another way in which the measure could impact Malibu is in the portion of developer fees devoted to the school system. Opponents have claimed that passage of Prop T would immediately cut current and future revenues for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. Shriver contested that claim.

“The city did a study on funding for the school system and the numbers showed that there might be a loss in 2024, at the earliest,” he said. “There is zero chance that Measure T would cut funding to our schools now or in the immediate future.”

Opponents also fear the fiscal impact the measure could have on the city. Oscar de la Torre, SMMUSD president, is adamantly against Prop T. “I’m a lifelong resident of Santa Monica and I’m not against responsible development that benefits the community,” he said.

“PCH is congested already,” de la Torre argued. “What we need is smart development that revitalizes our local economy, while controlling its environmental impact.”

De la Torre said the city’s study of the measure’s impact on traffic shows the effect would be negligible and that, if Prop T failed to pass, any future proposed development still has to be vetted by the City Council.

To further roil the waters, backers of the measure claim the city never collected more than $45 million due from commercial developers in fees designated to help mitigate traffic issues since passage of a 1991 ordinance requiring the fees. The city is now researching the validity of this argument.

Opposition to Prop T is not limited to commercial developers and city leaders concerned about losing future revenue sources. The Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Saint John’s Health Center, both of which serve Malibu residents, issued a joint statement expressing concern about limiting future ancillary health service facilities, with which they work in tandem.

“Proposition T could severely limit the hospitals’ ability to provide essential health services by limiting the building of medical office space,” the statement reads. “Hospitals need a network of caregivers in close proximity to ensure a full breadth of accessible services …”