Saturday, October 25, 2008

Proposition T is a Simplistic Solution to Complex Problem

According the flyer I just received in the mail, the authors of Proposition T claim that it is very well written.  However, I beg to disagree.

Not that I have any problem with the grammar or syntax, or that it’s hard to understand. No, Proposition T gets a passing grade there. It is so simple that even a child could comprehend most of it.

When critics of Proposition T claim that it isn’t well written, they mean that as a policy document it is ambiguous and raises a staggering array of implementation and enforcement questions. Here’s a list that I generated on the back of an envelope. I bet there are more.

  1. Who decides which projects get built in a given year? If it’s the City Council or Planning Commission; why would we trust them with these decisions any more than with the overall approval discretion they enjoy now, which this measure denies them? In fact, in a situation such as the one created by Prop T, when a scarcity is created, in this case a scarcity of buildable commercial space, isn’t the potential for lobbying, corruption (of the legal kind) and general sliminess even greater? Can you imagine what the developers will be doing to get their project selected?
  2. What is the decision based upon? Aesthetics? Function? Whether it’s Re-use or New? Geography? Degree of sustainability? Location of the developer, or the architect? If function or geography is the determinate, is there a hierarchical list of uses or locations? Is it for a given year, or does that list change? Who decides on the hierarchy? If aesthetics govern, who decides here? Will we do a call-in like Dancing with Stars, where we pick our favorites, and certain projects get booted off the show. City TV would probably have a ratings bonanza. If it’s some combination of all of the above, would there be some sort of point system? Who would make that up? What would happen during the two years or so we were waiting for this point chart to be argued over and created? Would the competition or decision making take place yearly, bi-annually or on a first in line, first served basis
  3. Why has medical office space been left out of the exemption? This seems to be big concern of both of Santa Monica’s hospitals. Was this just an oversight? If it was an oversight, and the authors didn’t mean that, will we need another ballot measure just to fix the mistakes in this one?
  4. How much affordable housing must be built above ground floor retail to make it exempt from the cap? Can I build two –units atop a Target store? Is it at least 50-50 in terms of square footage? How much?
  5. The measure allows an alternative methodology (other than ITE standards), from a city similar to Santa Monica for determining traffic equivalency when replacing existing commercial space. Who determines which cities are similar? Who determines the applicability of the methodology? It’s pretty clear that the many of the traffic planners the city has used in the past are not trusted by the backers of Prop T, so how why should we trust their determinations on methodology? If a traffic planner making the determination has previously worked for a developer that has given money to fight Prop T, are their judgments to be trusted?
  6. The Proposition allows the city to borrow from future years on the 75,000 square foot cap, so for example a 100,000 sf. could be approved in one year, with 25,000 square feet borrowed from the future. How much can be borrowed? For how long? Can the City go a full year into debt? How about two or three?
  7. If I am the owner of land with active commercial space on it, and I sell to a developer who plans to develop an affordable housing project with ground floor retail, in effect, taking a certain amount of commercial space is being taken off the rolls, does the developer get a “credit” for this space? Can that credit be sold back to the City or to another land-owner in another part of town? If so, does Prop T, in effect, create a new type of real estate market, say a commercial space equivalency market?

Whew! Quite a few questions, no? And I’m just getting started. So now when I hear folks say that Proposition T is well written, and that it’s simple, I respond, simplistic yes, but this it is not simple at all. What Proposition T creates is yet a new bureaucratic nightmare, more work for an overworked planning department, and in the end an ambiguous process whose potential for abuse is off the charts. Proposition T is a really bad idea.

1 comment:

Idaho House - Herb said...

Thanks for the post. Prop T fully illustrates that simple minds need simple solutions. What is shocking is that council men, like Shriver, need to be thinking this through. It is clear that they only see the numbers of voters at the end of this algorithm. Maybe Shriver is smarter than I give him credit for, as the outcome of anything that he does has to add to the voter column. Any supporter of Prop T is not interested in solving the Traffic issue or urban blight problem at all.

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