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Council Searches for Perfect Airport Ballot Measure

Phil Brock For Council 2014

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and MarkHarding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

July 10, 2014 -- The Santa Monica City Council members struggled Tuesday to craft a ballot measure regarding the future of Santa Monica Airport that would avoid tying the hands of City leaders while also appealing to a voting public wanting a say on land-use decisions for the 227-acre City-owned property.

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie is expected to return to the council in two weeks with a “menu” of options for a measure that will appear on the November ballot.

The City’s measure would compete with a possible rival referendum backed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association calling for a requirement of voter approval to make any changes at the airport, including closure. Whichever measure receives more votes would pass, Moutrie said.

It is not certain the AOPA measure will reach the ballot. County officials have until July 23 to determine if supporters collected enough valid signatures from Santa Monica registered voters for qualification. Proponents say they have more than enough signatures.

The council will vote on its measure July 22, but could delay the decision to the next day so it could see if a City measure is needed.

Council members told Moutrie they wanted a measure that would include voters having a voice on what kind of development would go onto the airport property after a potential closure, although they differed on how this would work.

A concern for council members is that the AOPA measure has the appealing feature of giving residents the right to vote on nearly all airport issues. But they say it would also have a detrimental effect of tying the hands of the council and keeping the status quo at the facility.

“We have to be cognizant of the fact that the AOPA initiative presents this tantalizing opportunity for the voters to empower themselves,” Councilmember Ted Winterer said.

Winterer proposed Moutrie come up with a measure that would allow residents to vote on a Specific Plan for the property. Moutrie favors requiring a Specific Plan before any development can be built on the property, but said there are consequences of requiring voter approval to implement the plan.

Councilmember Gleam Davis agreed with Moutrie

“My concern is that a Specific Plan is very specific, and the problem is people might say, ‘well I like this part, but I don’t like this part, so I’m going to vote no,’” Davis said. “And we could get into almost an endless loop of developing Specific Plans, trying to find one that could get us over the hump.”

Several public speakers disagreed with Davis. Among them was Jonathan Stein, who is part of a group that has sued the people behind the AOPA measure and the City to prevent it from going forward.

Stein noted City officials say even without a vote, residents would still be involved in creating the Specific Plan because there would be a public process, including meetings where ideas are gathered. But, Stein said, there would be no incentive for City staff to take the public's opinions into consideration before presenting a final document to the council for approval.

“If we have a [public] vote on a Specific Plan, you can bet that the pieces will fall in place and the Specific Plan will in fact bend over backwards to reflect what people actually want,” Stein said.

Other ideas proposed included one from Councilmember Kevin McKeown that residents be allowed to vote on a conceptual plan for the property “early on” in the process. Davis suggested a measure allowing residents to vote on any “expansion or intensification” of the site.

The council heard from John Jerabek, a Santa Monica resident who represents the people behind the AOPA measure. He reiterated the concept that the measure is an anti-development proposal.

“Redevelopment of 227 acres of low-density land would be by far the most dramatic land-use event in Santa Monica history, by far,” Jerabek said. “That cannot in my opinion be left solely to politicians, lobbyists [and] activists that typically dominate the land-use process.”

City officials and other airport opponents have said the characterization of the AOPA measure as anti-development proposal is misleading and disingenuous. They say its purpose it to keep the status quo at the airport.

Those speaking against the AOPA measure include the newly formed Committee for Local Control of Santa Monica Airport Land, which will lead the campaign against it. The committee members told the council requiring voter approval for a Specific Plan should be part of a City measure. 

Less inclined to worry about specific details of a City measure and the attempt to appeal to voters through specific language was Councilmember Bob Holbrook, who has sat on the dais for 24 years.

“I’ve been around a long time in Santa Monica politics,” he said. “I don’t think you need to do any of this. Just put it on the ballot because if Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, the Chamber [of Commerce], the neighborhood organizations … say ‘please vote [yes], it’s the right thing to do,’ that’s the one that is going to [win]. It’s really simple.”

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