Santa Monica Lookout
|Opposition Mounts to Santa Monica Airport Ballot Initiative||
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By Daniel Larios
May 19, 2014 – A proposed ballot initiative by Santa Monica Airport supporters is facing mounting opposition on the legal, political and grassroots fronts.
On Friday, May 9, a group of Santa Monica citizens filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court in an effort to derail the initiative, which would require voter approval to shut down the airport or change the land’s use.
The pressure mounted last week when the City Council voted to draft a rival initiative, and nearly three dozen residents asked the City Clerk to remove their signature from the petition.
So far, all seven of the city’s neighborhood groups and Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, the city’s most powerful political organization, have urged their members not to sign the petition.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), a Washington, D.C.-based national lobbying group, “has tried to masquerade its sponsorship of a private business protection act by creating a phony grassroots organization,” said Gavin Scott, of Airport2Park, the organization formed last year to turn Santa Monica Airport into a public park.
“Additionally, the initiative pretends to be a measure to give voters the right to make decisions about the airport, when it’s really about subverting a planning process for the airport’s future that has been ongoing for several years.”
David Shaby, attorney and board member of the measure’s campaign committee, Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decision (SMOHDD), is confident the measure will get the 9,500 valid signatures needed to qualify.
More than 12,000 signatures have already been collected, Shaby said. To make the November ballot the signatures would need to be submitted by June 3.
"The airport's not going anywhere anytime soon.” Shaby said. “It shouldn't be left in the hands of the City Council, it should be up to the electorate; let them vote on this issue."
If the measure is approved, the Santa Monica City Charter would be changed to require voter approval for decisions concerning airport land use. (“Ballot Initiative to Preserve Santa Monica Airport Moves Forward,” April 8, 2014)
In a lawsuit against the three individuals who filed to circulate the petitions, airport opponents argue that the proposed initiative contains numerous misleading statements, was not vetted properly by City officials and violates the state Constitution and elections code.
Filed on behalf of 11 residents, the lawsuit, as a legal formality, also names the City Council, City Clerk and City Attorney as defendants in the suit.
Attorney Jonathan Stein, who filed the lawsuit against the petition filers and City Hall, has numerous issues with the initiative.
The lawsuit also includes findings reported by the Lookout on May 1 concerning the hiring of Arno Political Consulting, a Carlsbad-based petition drive management firm which has been the subject of controversy over allegations of petition fraud. The suit notes the three cases reported by the Lookout of alleged abuses by Arno petition gatherers.
Shaby dismisses the allegations. "Our position is that he [Stein] threw the kitchen sink in the lawsuit,” Shaby told the Lookout. “There's no merit to it. It's a frivolous lawsuit."
Late last month, campaign finance disclosure forms found that the AOPA was the sole contributor to SMOHDD,” donating $20,000 to the group. Out of that, $10,000 was used to hire Arno Political Consultants to gather signatures for the measure. (“Santa Monica Airport Referendum Steeped in Controversy,” May 1, 2014)
Last Tuesday, the City Council voted unanimously to combat the ballot initiative drive with a ballot measure of its own.
The measure council directed staff to draft would “require voter approval for any significant change in the use of the land,” but it also “would protect the City Council’s discretion to manage the Airport,” according to the council agenda item.
In the week after the lawsuit was filed 33 Santa Monica voters contacted the City Clerk to have their signatures rescinded from the AOPA-backed petition, according to the Santa Monica City Clerk’s office.
“We have had many emails complaining about the signature gatherer’s misleading statements,” said John Fairweather, Chair of CASMAT, “and we have been advising these voters to contact the City Clerk to rescind their signatures.
“We expect rescissions to increase as we inform more Santa Monicans about these deceptive practices and the truth about the initiative,” Fairweather said.
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