It looks like Armen Melkonians and his Residocracy movement has been successful in floating a ballot measure that would require voter approval for overly large developments within our borders.

Melkonians posted recently on Facebook, “To stop developer control of our city, residents of Santa Monica submitted 10,116 signatures in support of putting on the Nov. 8 ballot the Land Use Voter Empowerment (LUVE) Initiative…” With the measure sure to qualify for the ballot (with thousands of ‘extra’ signatures) the real battle is now just beginning.

In 2008, another “slow-growth” ballot measure, Prop T, also known as Residents’ Initiative to Fight Traffic (RIFT), would have capped most commercial development at 75,000 sq. ft annually for 15 years. It was soundly defeated at the polls with 17,878 voters (56.5 percent) rejecting it and 14,170 (43.5 percent) voting for it.

An anti-T group was co-chaired by Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights power player Judy Abdo and SMRR-endorsed City Councilman Terry O’Day. Save Our City (SOS) raised and spent an eye-popping $772.000 — a record amount for a political advocacy group up until that time.

The contributions obtained mostly from development interests was about six times the $140,000 spent by T’s proponents according to campaign finance disclosure statements.

SOS also sent out a blizzard of mailers trumpeting opposition to the measure by major unions — police, firefighters, municipal employees, teachers and hotel workers as well as most City Council members and other elected officials. Messaging stated that jobs including emergency (911) services would be cut, schools would suffer as teachers were fired and contributions dried up. Paying for things like police, fire, libraries and parks would be curtailed if T prevailed.

Typical of the dirty pool played by SOS and its developer, real estate and land use attorney supporters was this game of political hard-ball with a public school support group.

Two volunteers for the Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) resigned from the educational advocacy group before the election because of the phony ‘scare” campaign being forced on it by SOS’s developer backers and politicians such as (then) State Senator Sheila Kuehl.

“Despite contentions of the developers funding the campaign against it, you must know that [Measure] T will not harm our schools,” one of the volunteers told the Daily Press (Oct. 6, 2008). “Everyone knows that if you can make a ‘schools’ argument you can get the sympathy of voters.

“And everyone knows the argument here is nothing more than a scare tactic.” She disclosed that education groups were under pressure to support the City Council because they controlled school funding allocations through the Master Facility Use Agreement which allowed the district and City Hall to exchange money for access to school facilities. The majority of council members opposed Prop. T.

“I know that people aspiring for local office do not want to face the ire of developers and their deep pockets, which one risks by refusing to do their bidding here,” she said. “However, we should not allow ourselves to be blackmailed into opposing a ballot measure that has nothing to do with schools just to help the developers and appease the City Councilmembers.”

Everyone expects developer’s interests to pull out all the stops to defeat LUVE at the polls, this year. Already, one group Santa Monica Forward has formed a coalition with the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, the Santa Monica Next bicycle advocacy and other special interest and business groups in spreading half-truths, blind suppositions and old fashioned B.S about LUVE — and it’s not even on the ballot, yet.

City Attorney measure

One of the things that will not be on the November ballot is a measure that would make the position of City Attorney an elected position as opposed to an appointed one.

AIDS Walk Los Angeles founder Craig R. Miller formed Santa Monicans for Democracy, a group that was collecting signatures from registered Santa Monica voters for a ballot measure that would require an election to appoint a City Attorney if the measure had qualified for the ballot and been approved by fifty percent of the voters plus one person.

Last week, the group which had been collecting the estimated 6,500 qualified signatures necessary to qualify the measure for a voter referendum announced that it was no longer gathering signatures and would devote its future efforts towards a “City Attorney Accountability Project” that would monitor the position and assure proper job performance.

None of the major municipal positions are electable. Department heads, including the City Manager, Police and Fire Chiefs are appointed and approved by City Council. It’s up to City Council to insure that department heads and key employees are doing their jobs and performing to the standards determined by their job titles and periodic performance reviews.

Moutrie was appointed City Attorney in 1993. Over the years, there has been criticism of the way she has performed her duties on a number of fronts — from legal opinions on development agreements to leases at the municipally owned Santa Monica Airport.

Miller and Moutrie previously locked horns over the issue of non-profit advertising on the city’s Big Blue Buses — a practice that had been prohibited for the last 15 years. The disagreement over banning non-profit bus ads was finally resolved in Miller’s favor just this last February.

There’s probably no advantage to voters or taxpayers in having an “elected” City Attorney. And, despite occasional carping and complaints, City Council has never made a formal move to criticize, censure or remove Moutrie from her position. If there’s a problem, council needs to do its job.

Bill Bauer can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.

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