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Petition Drive for Santa Monica Slow-Growth Initiative Set to Start Early Next Year

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

October 8, 2015 -- Although still short of its goal for online signatures of support, organizers of an initiative to dramatically rein in growth in Santa Monica are confident they will start a door-to-door campaign drive early next year.

The slow-growth online organization Residocracy has collected some 1,000 e-signatures on its online site supporting its proposed Land Use Voter Empowerment (LUVE) initiative, said Armen Melkonians, founder of the group.

E-signatures have no legal authority in a public election, but are being used by Residocracy to gauge whether it has enough support and volunteers to launch a campaign for the voter initiative.

Residocracy is still 300 e-signatures short of the goal it set when it posted the online petition in mid-September, Melkonians said. Each signatures carries a pledge to rally at least ten supporters.

“The reaction has been massive,” he said. “I think residents can see now what’s happening. The support has been immense.”

Given the swift response, Melkonians said, Residocracy will start circulating petitions at the beginning of next year.

“We want to wait until the holidays are over,” he said.

The LUVE initiative is meant to put the brakes on major developments by requiring voter approval for projects taller than two to three stories for most of the city and four stories in downtown.  Voter approval would also be needed before making major amendments to planning policy documents, such as the general plan, specific plans, the City’s Zoning Ordinance or its land use maps and zoning district maps.

Critics are worried that such an initiative, if approved, would halt most development in the city, and some slow-growth supporters, including Mayor Kevin McKeown and City Council member Sue Himmelrich, have expressed concerns about its reach.

Two big Santa Monica projects already in the City pipeline are on Residocracy’s radar.

One is the mixed-use 12-story, 420,000-square-foot Plaza at Santa Monica slated to take up nearly two blocks of City owned property in the heart of Downtown.

David Martin, the City’s director of planning and community development, said the project is scheduled to go before the City Council at its October 20 meeting. The “float up” session is designed to give Council members a chance to discuss the development and give direction to staff.

“It is not a final action,” Martin said, adding that it would take a year to conduct an environmental impact report that would then go before the City Planning Commission before heading to the City Council.

The other major project in Residocracy's sights is the $255 million redevelopment of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel on the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Ocean Avenue Downtown.

Plans for a “mixed-use luxury hotel” that would replace two of the existing buildings with three new ones, including a condo tower with as many as 120 units, were submitted to the Council in 2013. After floating the plans, the developer, MSD Capital, returned to the drawing board.

According to Martin, no time line has been set. “We’re just waiting to hear what they have to say,” he said, referring to the developer.

In the meantime, Melkonians said he is making the rounds at neighborhood group meetings to spread the word about LUVE. He plans to meet Thursday at 7 p.m. with the Friends of Sunset Park at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church and says he already has met with the Wilshire-Montana Neighborhood Coalition and Santa Monica Northeast Neighbors.

Based on previous experience, Melkonians said, he is pleased with the progress LUVE has made so far. In fact it is outpacing Residocracy's petition drive last year opposing the Bergamot Transit Village development, he said.

That campaign also started with an e-petition drive, which collected some 450 signatures over a two-month period and 4,500 pledges to help with the proposed referendum. The subsequent petition drive ended up ended up collecting more than 13,500 signatures

After the County Registrar qualified enough signatures to place referendum before voters, the City Council rescinded its vote in favor of the controversial project.

“We’re already have double” that number of e-signatures, Melkonians said. “But we’re shooting for the top number of e-signatures we can get because this is a bigger undertaking.”

At least 10 percent of valid registered voters must sign the initiative – or about 6,500 signatures – for it to qualify for the ballot, although it still hasn’t been decided when the proposal, if cleared, would go before voters.

Both the November 2016 general election and a special election are being considered, Melkonians said.

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