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Settlement Reached on Ballot Argument Signature Dispute

Phil Brock For Council 2014

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Michael Feinstein for Santa Monica City Council 2014Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

August 19, 2014 -- City Clerk Sarah Gorman has agreed to remove two signatures from an argument that will appear on Santa Monica's November ballot in exchange for anti-tax activist Mathew Millen withdrawing his lawsuit against the City.

Although Millen’s newly formed group No Taxes to Fund Development celebrated victory in a press release issued Monday, nothing actually changed because of the settlement. Gorman had already done what she said she would do in the settlement prior to the lawsuit being filed.

The issue focuses on the rebuttal for the ballot made in response to the argument from those opposing Measure H, which calls for an increase to the City’s real estate tax. Santa Monica law allows only those who sign an original argument to sign a rebuttal. For Measure H, two people who had not signed the original argument favoring the proposal attached their names to the rebuttal.

Gorman removed the disputed names -- City Councilmember Ted Winterer and League of Women Voters President Ann Williams -- before the rebuttal became official. No Taxes to Fund Development argued only a judge had the authority to do that.

In a letter to Millen dated Aug. 15, Gorman argued that she has the authority to remove the names. She further wrote that her letter confirms Winterer and Williams’ names would not appear with the rebuttal on the voter guide and ballot, and Millen would agree to withdraw his lawsuit and not seek attorneys fees.

“We are happy the suit is settled, arguments and rebuttals which are meant to educate voters will be published properly in all places,” said No Taxes to Fund Development member Peter Tigler in the group’s press release.

He continued, “All eyes are now open, rules are being followed. Public debate should focus on the measure. The more daylight on this issue, the more voters will see the necessity in rejecting this tax.”

Tigler acknowledged that there was no actual change because of the settlement during an interview with The Lookout.

“It seemed that [removing the names] was the path the City clerk was going on, but it was not definite” Tigler said. “Now it is.”

Some political observers speculated the suit was never a serious one, and its actual purpose was so Measure H opponents could issue press releases on why they believe people should reject the proposal. Separate press releases on the filing of the lawsuit and the settlement included arguments and quotes about why people should oppose the measure.

“They can say whatever they want to say,” responded Tigler when The Lookout asked him about the speculation. “The City could play games if they want to, and this way they won’t. The better they are at their job, the better it is for everybody.”

Measure H proposes to increase the tax rate for real estate transactions of at least $1 million from $3 per $1,000 to $9 per $1,000. A companion measure, HH, says the money earned through the tax hike should support Santa Monica’s affordable housing program, although it is only an advisory proposal.

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