Santa Monica Lookout
|Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights Votes to Back Referendum Against Hines Development|
By Jason Islas
February 8, 2014 -- Santa Monica's powerful tenant group voted Saturday to back the movement to put the Bergamot Transit Village project to the voters.
In an 9-to-1 vote, the Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights steering committee voted to lend the group's considerable political influence to the referendum campaign against the 765,000 square-foot development which the Council approved last Tuesday in a 4-to3 vote.
“We want to support the community's efforts for a referendum,” said SMRR Co-Chair Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein.
Opponents of the project will have 30 days to collect 6,100 signatures from registered voters in Santa Monica starting next Tuesday, after the development agreement (DA) with Texas-based developer is formally adopted.
SMRR's backing of the referendum could tilt the balance in Santa Monica's development wars that have been brewing over the last decade.
The last major ballot measure to slow development -- Prop T, which would have capped most commercial development at 75,000 square feet a year -- failed in part because SMRR did not take a position on the measure, which lost with 44 percent of the vote in 2008.
This time, SMRR will lend its considerable credibility to the movement for slow growth in the bayside city of 90,000. Renters represent 70 percent of Santa Monica residents.
The group could also commit its army of volunteers, a well-oiled political machine and its significant war chest to the referendum effort.
At Saturday's meeting, representatives of UNITE HERE Local 11 -- the regional hospitality workers' union and perennial ally of SMRR -- announced that they would support the referendum with SMRR.
Until now, the only referendum effort has come from former City Council candidate Armen Melkonians through his website Residocracy.org. (“Santa Monica Resident Group Gears up for Referendum, February 7)
“Residocracy.org was born in Santa Monica in 2014 to address the overwhelming lack of concern shown by the elected officials in City Hall towards issues and concerns important to Residents,” the website reads.
Language like that didn't sit well with some members of SMRR who worried that a referendum would be used to attack the council members who voted in favor of the project, three of whom are supported by SMRR.
While SMRR will support a referendum, “we are not throwing our hats in with anybody who wants to use this as a vehicle to go after individual council members,” said Tahvildaran-Jesswein.
But with passions coming to a boil in the community over development issues, it remains to be seen how much influence SMRR can have over the rhetoric backing the referendum effort.
SMCLC, along with SMRR, has been a vocal opponent of the Hines project, arguing that its size and the amount of commercial space proposed would generate too much traffic.
The two groups joined forces last Tuesday before the Council meeting to protest the project outside of City Hall. (“Anti-Development Crowd Protests Outside Santa Monica City Hall,” February 5)
That night, the Council approved the project by a narrow margin with the six SMRR council members voting on opposite sides. (“Santa Monica City Council Narrowly Approves Bergamot Transit Village,” February 5)
Proponents of the project worried that, after about seven years of negotiating a project, Hines would walk away if plans were delayed for much longer.
If those in favor of a referendum get the signatures necessary to put the project to the voters, it would go on the November ballot unless the Council calls for a special election.
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