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Opinions Vary on Reasons for Lopsided Ballot Measure Results

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

By Jonathan Friedman
Association Editor

November 6, 2014 -- In the end, it wasn’t even close. After ballot counting concluded early Wednesday morning, it was determined the pro-Santa Monica Airport Measure D that had gained national attention was rejected by a margin of more than 16 percentage points. 

The rival Measure LC was approved by an even wider margin.

Measure D, which would have prevented the City Council from making any adjustments to the 227-acre City-owned airport property (including full or partial closure) without voter approval, received 10,691 “no” votes (58.3 percent) and 7,641 “yes” votes.

One might consider that the results show Measure D did not do well. Christian Fry, a spokesperson for the Yes on D/No on LC campaign, disagrees.

“Measure D did fair well with over 42 percent of voters voting yes, just not enough votes for approval,” Fry wrote in an email to The Lookout. “ The Measure LC camp did a fantastic job of confusing and deceiving voters about the core issues and motivations behind the two measures."

Fry continued, “We were confident voters would choose to take total control over the future of the airport and its land. Unfortunately, they chose instead to leave our pro-development politicians in charge of the biggest land use decision in our cities history.”

The concept of Measure D being an anti-development proposal was a major theme of the backers’ campaign, which raised more than $800,000. Most of the money came from outside Santa Monica, including $500,000 from two East Coast aviation groups.

This argument did not fly for opponents who said Measure D’s true purpose was to keep the airport open indefinitely. 

Opponents said outside aviation interests were willing to spend big money to get the measure on the ballot through what they considered to be deceptive signature gathering. The campaign to get Measure D approved was also not done with truth in mind, opponents said.

“Given a extraordinary complex, 'competing ballot' scenario, our challenge was to win knowing we were outmatched up against a well-heeled special interest opposition campaign willing to spend in the high six-figures”, said Sharon Gilpin of Gilpin Group, consultant to CLCSMAL.

She continued, "Our strategy was: present the facts in as straight forward and persuasive way as possible to Santa Monicans who we knew would respond to the real threat against the legacy value of our airport land.

We saw this as 'air cover' for the ground troops John Fairweather’s group - and other concerned citizens - so methodically and artfully rolled out across the community. In the end, it worked...very well!”, concluded Gilpin.

In response to the perceived threat of Measure D, the City Council voted during the summer to place Measure LC on the ballot. 

It keeps decision making in the hands of the council (at least on paper, judges will likely make any major decisions) and gives voters a chance to weigh in on general guidelines for development on the airport property in the event the facility closes.

There were 11,181 votes (59.73 percent) in favor of Measure LC and 7,539 votes (40.27 percent) in opposition.

“We believe that these results prove primarily that the electorate is sick of lobbyists and their money meddling in our city,” said John Fairweather, who headed the campaign in favor of LC and opposed to D. 

He continued, “We sent a powerful message that not even a million dollars and six months of lies will get you anywhere in this city if you are out to deceive the people and degrade quality of life.”

While this election concluded another chapter in the Santa Monica airport debate, the argument is far from over. Many eyes are looking at July 1, when a deal between the City and the Federal Aviation Administration expires.

“On that date, the City regains full power over much if not all of the airport land,” Fairweather said. “All leases can be renegotiated at market rates and sub-leasing at taxpayers expense can be ended. 

He continued, "The City can pursue environmental policies consistent with its role as one of the greenest cites in the nation. The unencumbered western 2,000 feet of runway can be retaken, so shortening the runway, dramatically reducing the jet problem, potentially installing the missing safety zones, and beginning the transition of land released into green space for the benefit of all.”

Fry sees a different future.

“Supports of the Santa Monica Airport will continue to make their voices heard at Airport Commission and City Council meetings, and in doing so, will attempt to hold our City government accountable for all decisions it makes in regard to this irreplaceable and vital public asset," Fry said.  

Fry continued, "The 47-year-old Santa Monica Airport Association (SMAA) will also continue in its role to educate residents about the airport and airport related issues and most importantly, provide a much needed aviation voice in Santa Monica government.”

Fry also referred to "the next steps in protecting the airport" involving "applying the principles of good governance." 

"The Airport Commission is plagued with incompetence and the appearance of self-dealing," Fry said. "The SMAA will continue to pursue the question of conflicts of interest ... as it applies to both the City Council and the Airport Commission. In addition we are actively investigating what appear to be serious anomalies in the City's finances regarding the airport and the apparent misuse of taxpayer monies.”

Real Estate Tax Hike Failure Blamed on Voter Turnout

Measure H, the proposal to increase the real estate tax on transactions above $1 million in an effort to raise money for affordable housing programs, did not resonate with voters.

The measure was defeated 10,325 votes (57.8 percent) to 7,538 (42.2 percent). City Council member Kevin McKeown said low voter turnout was a reason for this result.

“While I haven’t had a chance to look at precinct results, the conventional wisdom is that a low turnout tends to mean less participation by more progressive voters," McKeown wrote in an email.

He also noted the companion Measure HH, an advisory proposal saying that had H passed the tax money should go to affordable housing programs, won with 8,866 votes (50.1 percent) in favor and 8,829 opposed (49.9 percent.)

“The passage of HH would seem to indicate that the issue with H was more the way the money was to be raised than an unwillingness to create affordable housing, which the city is required to do in any case under state law and the City Charter,” McKeown wrote.

He continued, “We may now have to dip into funds we’d hoped to use for other community purposes, because relying on getting a percentage of affordability from market-rate developers will only lead to more development."

The California Association of Realtors spent more than $160,000 to defeat Measure H. The organization did not respond to questions emailed from The Lookout. The opposition campaign’s website celebrated the victory.

“Voters rejected the triple tax on homeowners,” the website states. “Thank you for your votes, support, advice and hard work! We kept Santa Monica from increasing taxes on residents to pay for more traffic, more construction and more apartments!”

Voters approved Measure FS, a proposal to increase the residential landlords’ registration fee as a method to increase the Rent Control Board’s revenue. The result was close with 8,860 votes (51.5 percent) cast in favor and 8,340 (48.5 percent) in opposition.

McKeown told The Lookout that low voter turnout was also the reason for Measure FS having a closer result than most observers expected. There was no active campaign for or against the proposal.

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