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Santa Monica Resident Group Gears up for Referendum

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

February 7, 2014 -- On the heels of the City Council approval of the Bergamot Transit Village project, opponents of the development have begun an effort to take their fight to the ballot box., founded by former City Council candidate and three-year Santa Monica resident Armen Melkonians, announced Wednesday that next week the group will kick off a referendum effort to put the 765,000 square foot development before voters. ("Santa Monica City Council Narrowly Approves Bergamot Transit Village," February 5)

While the referendum effort cannot legally begin until the City Council formally adopts the development agreement (DA) next Tuesday, Melkonians said they will be ready to immediately start collecting signatures.

“Mostly, (the preparation) is making sure that the petitions are correct,” said Melkonians, a civil and environmental engineer.

Once the DA is adopted, opponents will have 30 days to gather 6,100 signatures of registered Santa Monica voters.

In the meantime, Melkonians is working with his lawyer to make sure that the petition will pass legal muster.

The petition must not only include the proposed referendum but the complete text of the ordinance that is being challenged.

One important facet of a referendum campaign is how to make the issue appeal to a broader base than those who are already in the same camp, said former Santa Monica mayor Mike Feinstein, a veteran of the referendum process.

In 1993, Feinstein joined with other locals to overturn Council-approved plans by the think-tank RAND to develop property near the Civic Center.

Though Feinstein and his allies were defeated in November, they were able to get enough signatures to put the project before the voters.

At the time, they needed about 5,500 signatures to put the referendum on the ballot. Feinstein said they managed to get 8,500.

In 1993, the message was “22,000 car trips a day. Don’t you think you should get to vote on this?”

Will Melkonians’ message have the same appeal?

“Let’s take our town back,” reads the email sent by Wednesday.

“Referendum to Veto (sic) City Council's decision on proposed 765,000 square foot development scheduled to launch after City Council ignores residents and approves 7,000 new daily car trips,” it reads.

Melkonians, who said that so far he has refused to take any money to fund the effort, believes the message will resonate.

“I don't think there will be a problem getting that 6,100. I think we'll hit double that number,” he said.

Melkonians is part of a group of vocal opponents of the project, including the slow-growth organization Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) and the powerful tenants’ group, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR).

But Melkonians said he is working independently through his website, which he says has about 800 members, to distribute the petition.

This “crowd-sourcing approach that hasn't been tried in Santa Monica,” Feinstein said.

“We had a core group that was willing to spend” hours outside of markets collecting signatures, Feinstein said.

The Internet, he says gives Melkonians’ effort “a chance to reach people you otherwise wouldn't reach at the market.” officially kicks off its effort Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the SGI-USA Building, at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and 6th Street.

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