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Top Santa Monica Activist May Leave City

Bob Kronovetrealty
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Santa Monica Convention and Visitors

By Jorge Casuso

June 24, 2019 -- The potential shuttering of another Santa Monica rent-controlled building could have an impact on the local political scene.

Last week, former City Council candidate and political activist Armen Melkonians received notice that the 13-unit complex north of Downtown where he lives will be cleared by the owner.

Although no move-out date has been set, the proposed buyout of the tenants could throw Melkonians' future as a possible Council candidate and head of Santa Monica Residocracy up in the air.
Armen Melkonians
Armen Melkonians 2016 candidate picture (Courtesy City of Santa Monica)

"I don't know what's going to happen with me, whether I'm going to stay in Santa Monica. I don't know if Santa Monica is the right place to raise a kid," said Melkonians, who has a year-and-a-half-old son.

He and his wife's decision will hinge on real estate prices and the quality of local schools, said Melkonians, a structural engineering consultant who has lived in the city for nine years.

"Santa Monica is changing," he said. "A single-family home is out of the question. The schools are good, but public safety is down.

"Do I stay and keep fighting, or go somewhere I can concentrate on myself instead of the city?"

Melkonians' decision comes at a time when Santa Monica could see a shift in its political landscape and battles are brewing over major developments proposed for the Downtown.

By this time next year, the California Court of Appeal will likely have decided whether Santa Monica must replace its at-large election system with districts ("Appeals Court Grants City's Request to Expedite Voting Rights Case," May 7, 2019).

If the panel upholds a lower court ruling that the current system intentionally discriminates against Latinos, the make-up of the Council would change in November 2020.

Melkonians' current address would likely place him in a Downtown district that includes no incumbents.

Still, Melkonians -- who finished a distant fifth in the 2016 Council race that saw the four incumbents win reelection -- said he is not sure "100 percent now about running," even if he remains in the city.

Melkonians' decision also comes at a time when voters could be asked to decide the fate of three major hotel mixed-use developments proposed for the Downtown.

Residocracy -- an online residents group that serves as a sounding board for local slow-growth activists -- is expected to play a crucial role in organizing residents against the projects.

Five years ago, the newly formed group successfully led a campaign to overturn the Council's vote approving a major mixed-use development in Santa Monica's light industrial zone ("Council Repeals Approval of Controversial Development," May 14, 2014).

Melkonians, who says he spends "easily a couple of hours a day" moderating the site, would look for a volunteer to take over.

"I would probably transition it to someone else and probably start one where I move to," he said. "Throughout the last couple of years, I have had people volunteer to moderate.

"I don't moderate much," Melkonians said. "Some moderators who want to help want to limit (the content) more."

Should he stay, Melkonians says he would focus on a trend that is causing more and more rent-controlled tenants to lose their homes ("Speculators Turning Small Santa Monica Rent Control Properties Into Single-Family Homes, Report Says," June 3, 2019).

"I see what's going to happen to my neighbors," Melkonians said. "Only three or four will be able to afford to stay in Santa Monica. "

Whatever decision he makes, Melkonians is confident Residocracy will survive.

"Should I leave, people would have to step up, and they will," he said. "I have no doubt they will."

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