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Ballot Measure Decisions Could Have Major Impact on Future of Santa Monica

Phil Brock For Council 2014

Sue Himmelrich

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Airport Measure

Michael Feinstein for Santa Monica City Council 2014

Frank Gruber for Santa Monica City Council

Richard Bloom for State Assembly 2014

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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

November 3, 2014 -- While there are several local, County and State races on the November 4 ballot, the biggest decisions of this city's election season might be those involving two rival measures affecting Santa Monica Airport. 

The ballot also includes two related local measures on a real estate tax increase and one proposing higher fees for landlords.

Big money and conflicting arguments have highlighted the campaigns of rival airport measures D and LC. More than $900,000 had been spent on the campaign as of last week.

Most of the money – nearly $800,000 -- has come from airport advocates, including two East Coast aviation groups that have put up more than $500,000.

Measure D earned its place on the ballot following a signature drive sponsored by the Baltimore-based Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, or AOPA ("Airport Advocates Submit More than 15,000 Signatures," July 11, 2014). It calls for a requirement of voter approval to take nearly all actions at the 227-acre airport property, including full or partial closure of the airport.

Proponents have hailed Measure D as being locally created because it was placed on the ballot with a signature drive. But detractors tell a different story of residents being misled by hired signature gatherers.

They also note how the campaign is funded mostly by AOPA and the Washington D.C.-based National Business Aviation Association.

The main argument in favor of Measure D is that without it, the council would close the airport and bring high-density development to the property, which is owned by the City. Most of the advertising has focused on this argument, and the group leading the campaign is called Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions.

Opponents say the development argument has no basis in truth, and that the real purpose of Measure D is to keep the airport open indefinitely. Among the opponents are City officials, including all seven council members. 

In response to Measure D qualifying for the ballot, the council decided to offer the voters a rival proposal on Election Day ("Santa Monica Voters to Choose Between Competing Airport Ballot Measures," July 25, 2014).

Measure LC calls for the council to be in control over airport decisions, including full or partial closure. Residents would be able to decide on the general concept for what could be developed on the property. Until that decision were made, only parks, open space and recreational facilities could be placed on the property.

Proponents of the measure have raised more than $110,000, with much of this money coming from Santa Monica residents.

There have been two attempts by a faction of the anti-airport movement to keep Measure D off the ballot through litigation. Both have failed, but legal challenges are expected to continue if the proposal goes into effect ("Airport Measure Litigation Halted Until After Election," August 30, 2014).

With rival measures appearing on the ballot, there is a good chance of both passing. If that were to happen, the one receiving the most votes would go into effect, legal observers say.

Although this has become an expensive battle about two ballot measures, it is part of a greater war about the future of the airport and when, or even if, the facility could close. 

Anti-airport activists and some City officials say closure could happen next year, based on the agreement signed in 1984 between the City and the Federal Aviation Administration. Others say the airport could not close any sooner than 2023 (“Santa Monica Airport Proponents Gain Star Power in Complaint,” July 4, 2014).

Many, including City Attorney Marsha Moutrie, say airport closure will be determined in a courtroom many years from now ("Status of Santa Monica Airport Will Take Years to Sort Out," August 14, 2014).

Two other measures that have captured big money attention are H and HH. Measure H calls for an increase to the tax on real estate transactions of at least $1 million from $3 per $1,000 to $9 per $1,000.

Measure HH says the money earned through the tax hike should support Santa Monica’s affordable housing program, although it is only an advisory proposal.

The California Association of Realtors is funding the opposition campaign. It has put up more than $160,000 as of last week. But real estate -- as well as hotel and development -- interests are also supporting the campaign in favor of the measures. More than $90,000 has been raised, with money also coming from residents.

The City Council voted 5 to 1 (Terry O’Day was not in attendance and Bob Holbrook opposed) in July to place the measures on the ballot as recommended by City staff. 

Andy Agle, Santa Monica’s director of housing and economic development, has said the City’s money for affordable housing projects is drying up due to the 2012 dissolution of the redevelopment agency, so a new funding source is needed.

Opponents have called the proposal an unfair tax increase, and some of them have said it a scheme to bring more development into the city ("Santa Monica Tax Hike Opponents Say Measure Will Lead to Massive Development," July 25, 2014).

One other measure on the ballot, FS, calls for residential landlords' annual registration fee to go up from $174.96 per unit to a maximum of $288. Tenants couldn’t be forced to cover more than 50 percent of the fee. The current rule caps a tenants’ payment at $156 per year.

No money has been raised to campaign for or against the measure. Political observers expect it will pass.

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