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Santa Monica Slow Growth Group Half Way to Meeting E-petition Goal

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

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

September 22, 2015 -- Less than a week after posting an online petition calling for a slow-growth ballot initiative in Santa Monica, Residocracy is already half way to meeting its goal, one of its leaders said Monday.

The Internet-based organization has collected more than 650 e-signatures supporting the proposed initiative, which would ask that voters decide the fates of some of the biggest developments in the planning pipeline.

The e-petition, which is not a legally binding document, would be used to gauge support for a measure that would still require the signatures of 10 percent of the City’s 64,625 registered voters to get on the ballot.

Armen Melkonians, the group’s leader, said the number of e-signatures was “fantastic’ and that they are still rolling in. Each supporter has pledged to circulate an average of 10 petitions each to qualify the proposed initiative for the ballot, he added.

The e-ballots were posted Wednesday on the group’s website.

The number of e-signatures already exceeds the 450 Residocracy gathered when it launched a campaign last year to rescind the City Council’s approval of the 765,000-square-foot Bergamot Transit Village.

The group subsequently gathered more than 13,500 signatures, far more than the 6,500 verified signatures required to qualify a measure for the ballot. The council reversed its vote after enough signatures were qualified.

Melkonians said the group hopes to collect 1,300 e-signatures supporting its proposed Land Use Voter Empowerment (LUVE) initiative, hoping that setting a higher bar will guarantee enough supporters to gather the necessary signatures.

The LUVE initiative posted on line would require a public vote to approve Development Agreements (DA) between the City and developers required when projects exceed zoning and land use standards. DAs currently require City Council approval.

The proposed initiative would also require public votes for developments that are more than two to three stories in most of the city and more than four stories downtown. In addition LUVE would require public votes for major amendments to planning policies and major planning documents.

It is unclear how broad the support for the proposed measure is at this stage.

Council member Sue Himmelrich, who was elected as a slow-growth advocate, said Monday that she has some reservations about the LUVE initiative. 

On the one hand, she favors larger projects going before the public “because I believe there must be some process for the public” to contribute input, Himmelrich said.

“When developers think they only need four (Council) votes, they only go for four votes,” leaving the public behind, she said.

But she called the proposed initiative “a little extreme” when it comes to smaller developments covered by the measure.  The proposed initiative, she said, demonstrates the City needs a “better communication process” for the public when it is considering development agreements, especially on larger projects.

Other cities, including San Diego and, in some cases, San Francisco, decide big projects by referendum, Himmelrich said. In Santa Barbara voters defeated a measure because it was “too extreme,” she said.

Mayor Kevin McKeown, another staunch slow-growth advocate, also has expressed reservations.

Residocracy, which claims some 2,000 members, is one of the city’s harshest critics regarding development issues and has used e-petitions to highlight opposition to two proposed developments -- a 12-story mixed-use complex on City-owned land in the heart of Downtown and the redevelopment of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel.

E-petitions have become an increasingly popular tool for expressing viewpoints and trying to influence public officials in Santa Monica and across the nation, although their effectiveness has been questioned.

Aside for calling a halt to controversial development projects, some recent local e-petitions have called for both supporting and opposing pony rides on Main Street, reinstating a suspended teacher, lowering parking ticket charges and allowing a musician to perform at Santa Monica College’s campus quad.

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