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SMRR, Neighborhood Groups Rally for Anti-Development 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 14, 2014 -- Some 250 people turned out Wednesday night to mark the official start to the effort to overturn Santa Monica City Council’s approval of a major mixed-use development in the city’s arts district.

There was standing room only in the meeting hall in Downtown Santa Monica where opponents of the 765,000 square-foot development, approved with a 4-to-3 vote Tuesday, had gathered to start the month-long process of gathering the 6,100 signatures needed to put the project before the voters.

De la Torre addresses the crowd Wednesday night (photos by Jason Islas)

“Too often profits trump people,” shouted Santa Monica-Malibu School Boardmember Oscar de la Torre, who later said he was considering a run for City Council.

“Now, it’s time for the people to trump profits,” he said to applause.

At the back of the room, Santa Monica’s six neighborhood groups had set up tables where volunteers could pick up the petition, a three-inch-thick packet of papers.

Each packet contained about 400 pages since, according to California law, a copy of the development agreement (DA) that is being challenged must accompany the petition.

Former Council candidate and three-year resident Armen Melkonians is spearheading the referendum movement through his website,

And, to prepare for the effort, he had personally shelled out $2,500 to pay for the printing costs of the initial bundle of petitions, Melkonians told the crowd Wednesday.

Organizers with the neighborhood groups assemble the petition packets

Parks and Recreation Chair Phil Brock, who announced his candidacy for City Council earlier that day, took up a collection plate for cash donations from the crowd to help defray the costs to Melkonians.

While the project by Texas-based developer has been opposed for a variety of reasons, most who are against the project cite the increase in traffic that will come if the new housing and office space is built at the seven-acre site now occupied by the abandoned Papermate factory.

Former mayor Denny Zane, who was present at Wednesday’s meeting along with other members of the powerful tenants’ organization Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), said he wanted to see a project that was 100 percent residential with ground floor retail, since he says the area does not need more office space.

SMRR’s steering committee voted Saturday to back the referendum movement started by former City Council candidate and three-year Santa Monica resident Armen Melkonians through his website

Those who have come out in support of the project, including the three SMRR-backed council members who voted to approve it, see the project as preferable to what’s currently at the location.

State Assemblymember Richard Bloom, who helped negotiate the project while he was on the City Council, has also come out in favor of the development.

He argued that the site, located walking distance from a future light rail stop, is ideal for denser development that includes work places and homes.

But that hasn’t convinced the opposition.

Also speaking at the meeting was Diana Gordon, founder of the anti-development group Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC), which has called the project a “planning disaster.”

Gordon, a seasoned veteran at challenging major developments in the bayside city, gave the crowd basic instructions on how to collect signatures.

The referendum effort “has a long way to go but it passed its first test given the number of people and the enthusiasm in the room,” said former mayor Mike Feinstein, who was also in attendance.

If volunteers can gather the requisite number of signatures -- about 10 percent of registered voters in Santa Monica -- by March 13, the City Council will decide whether to change its vote.

If the Council does not rescind approval, the development agreement would then be placed on the November ballot, unless a special election is called.

“Now we’ll see if people are organized to get the signatures,” Feinstein said.

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