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Santa Monica’s Bergamot Project Transit Village Can Go to a Vote, County Officials Say

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By Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

April 21, 2014 -- The fate of Santa Monica’s controversial Bergamot Transit Village project -- approved by the City Council in February -- can now be put to the voters, according to County officials.

The County Registrar’s office confirmed Friday that opponents of the 765,000 square-foot mixed-use development planned for the abandoned Papermate factory site in Santa Monica’s old industrial corridor had collected enough signatures to put the project before voters in November.

Of the 13,500 signatures collected by opponents of the project over the course of 30 days in February and March, County officials verified that at least 6,643 -- about 100 more than was necessary to qualify the referendum for the November ballot -- were unique signatures belonging to registered Santa Monica voters.

“If not for the passion and hard work from all of our volunteers, we could not have stopped the development machine from changing our City for the worse,” said Armen Melkonians, the former City Council candidate who spearheaded the referendum drive.

Melkonians is also the founder of the anti-development group, which explicitly opposes the Bergamot Transit Village and a pending $255 million overhaul of Santa Monica’s Fairmont Miramar Hotel. (“Former Santa Monica City Council Candidate Takes to the Internet to Protest Development,” January 8, 2014)

The City Council will be presented with the County’s certification of the referendum at its Tuesday meeting, at which point will direct staff to agendize a vote during a future meeting on one of three options: The Council can either overturn the ordinance, call a special election for the referendum or place the matter on the November ballot.

Melkonians and his allies -- Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City and others -- submitted their petition along with the 13,500 signatures they had gotten to the Santa Monica City Clerk’s office on March 11. (“Santa Monica Referendum Gathers More than 13,000 Signatures,” March 12, 2014)

The City Clerk then passed the petition on to the County, which had 30 business days to verify if the requisite number of signatures -- 10 percent of registered Santa Monica voters -- had been gathered to qualify the referendum for the ballot.

While Melkonians maintains that the lion’s share of the work gathering signatures was done by volunteers, the group supplemented its efforts with paid signature gatherers, according to financial disclosure forms.

The forms also show that the group’s single largest donor was the Huntley Hotel, which has been a vigorous opponent of plans by its neighbor, the Miramar Hotel, to redevelop its property.

“I am so proud of our Residocracy volunteers for their true love of Santa Monica and for all of their hard work and accomplishments,” said Melkonians.

Together as a Community Network of Residents, we will ultimately win the war on over-development that has been raged on us by our majority pro-development city council,” he said. “I am confident that our Community Network of Residents will soon take our city back.”

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