CITY HALL — City Council will have a rare chance to overturn a controversial decision.
Thanks to thousands of signatures from Santa Monica voters, council will have to decide whether or not to repeal its previous agreement with the Texas-based developer Hines.
Approved in a 4 to 3 vote in February, the Bergamot Transit Village project would add roughly 765,000 square feet of office, housing, retail, and restaurants across five buildings on the corner of Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street.
Many residents were infuriated by the project, with their primary concern being the estimated 7,000 daily car trips it would add to an already congested area.
Residocracy, a community group, circulated referendum petitions calling for a public vote on the project. They had 30 days to collect 6,525 signatures from registered Santa Monica voters (or 10 percent of the registered voters) and they turned in 13,512.
On Friday, the Los Angeles County Clerk announced that at least 6,800 of the signatures were valid. They stopped counting at 8,434 after it became clear that the minimium had been reached.
On Tuesday, council officially heard the news along with a bit of sparring during the public comment portion of the item.
Council set the date of May 13, the next regular meeting, to decide next steps.
Four council members, Gleam Davis, Terry O’Day, Pam O’Connor, and Bob Holbrook, voted in favor of the project. At the May meeting they will have a chance to change their minds. If one of them flips and the other three council members (Ted Winterer, Kevin McKeown, and Tony Vazquez) stand by their decisions, the agreement will be overturned and Hines will have to go back to the drawing board.
If everyone stands pat, then the agreement will go before a public vote, either on the ballot for the Nov. 4 general election or in a special election.
A special election could cost taxpayers about $200,000, city officials said. Including the vote on the general election ballot would cost an estimated $5,000.
Five residents spoke during the public portion of the meeting. There was little to no gloating from residents opposed to the Hines project, though many on hand applauded when the item concluded.
Armen Melkonians, founder of Residocracy and leader of the referendum initiative, sat in the council chambers but did not speak during the public portion.
Former Santa Monica Mayor Mike Feinstein urged council to repeal the agreement and warned them not to spend the $200,000 to hold a special election.
“I think we’d be better off simply learning from that, putting it aside, and revisiting what goes on there, rather than throwing this to a big expensive election and bringing in all those kind of dollars which I think is kind of ugly,” he said.
Local peace activist Jerry Rubin, who regularly speaks positively about on-goings in Santa Monica at council meetings, said he thought the Hines project improved over the seven year development agreement process. He lauded improvements made to the affordable housing in the project and sounded disgusted with the referendum.
“To undercut that process is so un-Santa Monica I don’t even know what to say,” he said. “I’ll bet you that a lot of people who signed that ballot initiative, if they really understood everything, probably wouldn’t have signed it.”
After Rubin’s time elapsed, McKeown and he exchanged barbs.
“I don’t usually ask you questions, Mr. Rubin, but you mentioned it twice so I have to ask you: Do you think the affordable housing in that project was appropriate and adequate?” he asked.
“If we kill the project we don’t get any affordable housing,” Rubin responded, “and that’s not adequate.”
“There could be another project of course,” McKeown returned.
McKeown noted that given the percentage of ballots that were deemed valid by the county, it’s likely that more than 10,000 registered Santa Monica voters turned in valid petitions.
“I can’t think of anything more Santa Monica than 10,000 residents getting together to let this council know that a decision was not what they want,” he said. “That’s what democracy is all about.”
Davis and O’Day were quiet throughout the item.
Holbrook, who is currently at sea, was absent from the meeting. O’Connor, McKeown, and Holbrook are up for reelection this November.
“It’s wonderful that 10,000 people signed it,” O’Connor said. “That means there are 45,000 registered voters in Santa Monica who have not weighed in on it. So we will see where we go on this in the future.”