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Signed Petitions for Santa Monica Airport Initiative Expected to be Submitted Monday

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By Daniel Larios
Staff Writer

June 9, 2014 -- After a last-minute signature-gathering drive this weekend, Santa Monica Airport supporters are expected to submit a proposed ballot initiative to the City Clerk  today, according to City officials.

City Clerk Sarah Gorman told The Lookout Friday that proponents of the measure have informed her they plan to submit the signed petitions Monday.

While the June 3 deadline to get the proposed measure on the November General Election ballot has passed, Gorman said the date is not “hard and fast.”

The City Council has the discretion to place the measure, if it qualifies, on the November ballot or call for a special election, Gorman said.

Council members oppose the measure, which would require voter approval to change the use of airport land, including shutting it down, and have directed staff to craft a rival ballot measure.

Airport supporters reported in mid-May that they had already collected more than 12,000 signatures in the five weeks after City officials published the title and summary of the ballot initiative on April 7.

To make the ballot, approximately 9,100 signatures from registered Santa Monica voters will have to be verified by the Los Angeles County Registrar’s office within 30 days of receiving them.

Signature gatherers blanketed the city on the weekend before the June 3 primary election, according to anti-airport activists. They also claim that airport supporters have hired a second petition gathering company, with the price going up from $4.50 to $10 per signature.

Airport proponents did not return a call for comment.

The most recent finance disclosure forms filed May 5 by the pro-airport committee “Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions” listed Arno Petition Consultants as the only petition gathering company hired. 

According to the statement, Arno was paid $29,353 for their services.  The sole donation of $20,000 to the committee is from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), a Washington, D.C.-based national lobbying group.

Of that, $10,000 was initially used to hire Arno to gather signatures for the measure and $5,794 was used to hire the Monaco Group, a Santa Ana-based printing and direct mail company. (“Santa Monica Airport Referendum Steeped in Controversy,” May 1, 2014.)

The filings also show two payments being made on behalf of the committee, one for $14,740 from an individual from St. Joseph, Missouri and another for $3,495 from Goldstein, Ostic and Associates, a Reseda-based political consulting firm.

The Santa Monica resident’s group Residocracy has recently come out against the AOPA-backed petition drive, weeks after leading a similar signature campaign to block the Bergamot Transit Village Project.

The organization told its members in an email labeled “Alert,” that while the petition talks of preventing overdevelopment at SMO “the actual goal...seems to be preserving the ‘status quo’ both for pilots ...and for aviation businesses based at the airport.”

The group advised that those who regret signing the petition can rescind their signatures, and linked to a form to do so.

The stance was taken after the AOPA promoted its measure by linking it to the Residocracy referendum, according to Airport2Park, a coalition of anti-airport organizations that wants to turn the airport land into a park.

In addition to Residocracy, six 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. (“Opposition Mounts to Santa Monica Airport Ballot Initiative,” May 19, 2014.)

If the measure is approved, the City's Charter would be amended to require voter approval before the City can close any part of the airport. (“Ballot Initiative to Preserve Santa Monica Airport Moves Forward,” April 8, 2014.)

The ballot battle was sparked when the City Council unanimously voted on March 25 to take steps to shut down airport when the City’s agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expires next year.

Two days later, supporters of the century-old airfield filed paperwork with the City Clerk's office to place an initiative on the November ballot.

On May 9, attorney Jonathan Stein, on behalf of a group of Santa Monica residents, filed a lawsuit against the City Council in an effort to halt the effort to gather the necessary signatures to put the initiative on the ballot.

The following 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.” 

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