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Santa Monica Democratic Party Plots Future Strategies

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

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

By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

February 2, 2015-- After years of feeling on the uphill side of constant struggles against major development projects, local stake-holder organizations feel better poised than ever to build on the gains made in the election of two of their City Council candidates this past November, a panel told a Santa Monica Democratic Party meeting this week.

“We're not going to go away,” said Mayor Kevin McKeown.

He joined Patricia Hoffman of Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), Diana Gordon of Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City and Dan Jansenson of Santa Monica Architects for a Better Tomorrow on the panel to discuss what should come next.

McKeown's election to his fifth term and the election of newcomer Sue Himmelrich, who vowed in her campaign to oppose three hotel projects proposed for Ocean Avenue and support a seven-story limit on Downtown Santa Monica buildings, have “flipped the balance of power on the City Council,” said Hoffman.

A “rise of residents, politically” was signaled by a petition drive for a ballot measure to overturn the proposed redevelopment of the Papermate site approved by the City Council, McKeown said. The council reversed its vote after more than 13,500 signatures were submitted.

“We've always been a force, but with the referendum and the signature-gathering and what that did to the electoral process, frankly, it's what helped to get Sue Himmelrich elected to the Council and shift the majority in the Council,” he said.

Gordon, whose group formed ten years ago to fight three 21-story towers and a 15-story office building proposed to replace Santa Monica Place, agreed.

“I think we are at a different place now,” she said. “And I think that residents have, to a certain extent, taken back the City.”

That's a place far different from the Coalition's political defeat at the polls in 2008, when the group tried unsuccessfully through Measure T to limit all future commercial development in Santa Monica to 75,000 square feet per year, what Gordon called a “natural level of development.”

Had it been approved, Measure T would have required a public vote for projects higher than the limit.

“Had we passed Prop. T we would not have had to do the Hines referendum,” said Gordon.  “We would've been in a position where the city would, I believe, have been much more in partnership with residents about what do these really large projects offer to the residents of Santa Monica and do the benefits outweigh the detriments.”

Gordon said secrecy at City Hall and a bureaucracy that makes it difficult to obtain public records “still remains a problem today” as it was when her group was forced to sue the City for access to public e-mails ten years ago.

Two other ongoing issues are “the Bergamont Arts Center, which is on public land, and how it's going to be developed, and 4th and Arizona,” Gordon said.

“We have a lot more work to do,” said Hoffman. “If we can work together and spend the next  few years selecting candidates, that, I think, can make our City Council even better.”

While panel members took questions from about 30 people inside the Community Room at the Santa Monica Library, the most important development-related debate in Santa Monica was going on that same evening across town at City Hall, where Planning Commission members were hammering out a new Zoning Code, McKeown said.

“This is one of the biggest things happening in this year where I get to be mayor,” said McKeown. “That document, once it's adopted by the City Council, is going to determine what is going to happen in our town for the next twenty to thirty years.

“We're dealing with a lot of other things, but that's the one that's going to effect our day to day lives.”

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