By Daniel Larios and Jason Islas
April 25, 2014 -- The referendum to stop the Bergamot Transit Village project will move forward after the City Council scheduled a meeting Tuesday to discuss the future of the embattled development.
The council unanimously voted to receive and file the petition -- and the 13,500 signatures gathered over the course of 30 days in February and March -- calling for the project to be overturned.
As part of the motion, the council scheduled a hearing at its May 13 meeting to decide whether to rescind approval of the project, schedule a special election or put the referendum on the November ballot.
“I can’t think of anything more Santa Monica than 10,000 residents getting together to let this council know that a decision is not what they want. That’s what democracy is all about,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who was one of three council members who voted against the project in February. (“Santa Monica City Council Narrowly Approves Bergamot Transit Village,” Feb. 5, 2014)
The 765,000 square-foot mixed-use project would replace the abandoned Papermate factory, across the street from the future site of one of three Expo light rail sites in Santa Monica.
But opponents of the project, many of whom claim it would add too much traffic to an already congested corridor, submitted more than 13,500 signatures to the City Clerk’s office last month. (“Santa Monica Referendum Gathers More than 13,000 Signatures,” March 12, 2014)
The petition was passed on to County officials, who then verified that enough of the signatures -- about 6,500 -- belonged to registered Santa Monica voters to qualify the referendum for the ballot.
“It’s wonderful that 10,000 people signed it,” said Mayor Pam O’Connor, who voted for the project. “That means there are 45,000 other registered voters in Santa Monica that have not weighed in on this.”
While the council will not decide how exactly to move forward with the referendum process until May, former Mayor Mike Feinstein spoke Tuesday in opposition to calling a special election, which City officials said would cost about $200,000, to decide the fate of the project.
“If you were to spend $200,000 of public taxpayers' money on a special election, meaning far less voter turnout, I fear it would come across as pulling a Chris Christie,” said Feinstein, alluding to the New Jersey Republican governor’s scheduling of a U.S. Senate special election weeks before his own due to the popularity of then-Democratic candidate Cory Booker.
“Residents used a pro-democracy tool: the referendum,” Feinstein said. “To then give them less democracy in a time when people are not turning out to vote, it would be questionable and against what this community is about.”
He continued, “I think what the residents here are saying is that they’re not against anything, but this was the wrong mix, both the amount and deepness of the affordable housing and the job housing balance.”
As approved, the Bergamot Transit Village would be divide into roughly 60 percent commercial space and 40 percent residential, or about 427 apartments. (“Santa Monica's Former Mayors Sound Off on Bergamot Transit Village,” Feb. 6, 2014)
Of the four people who spoke Tuesday, peace activist and council candidate Jerry Rubin was the lone voice of opposition against the referendum.
“I don’t think it enhances the democratic process,” he said. “We had a democratic process, and it lasted almost seven years.
“I was at the first meeting and the Hines project got much better through all the input, criticism and praise on all sides of the issue,” he said. “We got more affordable housing and more community benefits.
He added, “To undercut the process like this is so un-Santa Monica. If people really understood what [the referendum petition] was saying, they wouldn’t have signed it. I know I didn’t.”
Brenda Barnes spoke in favor of the referendum, relaying the experience of visitors to Santa Monica.
“I was a tour guide for some people from Ireland and England for two days this week," she said. "They were here eight years ago and we were seeing different things this time and they asked, ‘What’s wrong with this traffic?’ It was 12:15 when the traffic was stuck going east."
Barnes then commented on the public transit solution touted by supporters of the project, saying that traffic will only worsen.
“They are not going to come in trains; they are going to come in cars," she said. "That’s what the Environmental Impact Report said. So people are mad and they are going to stay mad, and this is very Santa Monica.”