A VOICE: Large developments like this one on Ocean Avenue may be subject to voter approval if a group of citizens have their way. There has been growing displeasure with development. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@smdp.com)

A VOICE: Large developments like this one on Ocean Avenue may be subject to voter approval if a group of citizens have their way. There has been growing displeasure with development. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@smdp.com)

CITYWIDE — Imagine if you could write Yelp reviews of City Council decisions.

That’s kind of the idea behind the new grassroots website Residocracy.org, which allows residents to sign petitions on hot button issues like development. If popular petitions are ignored by council, the site’s founder, former City Council candidate Armen Melkonians said, it automatically kickstarts a paper petition to officially veto the decision.

Melkonians, a civil engineer, aims to prove that residents who speak out against large developments at City Council meetings are more than just a vocal minority.

The site, which launched on Sunday, will start with e-petitions, allowing residents to click against or in favor of upcoming decisions. If the e-petition gains enough popularity but council votes otherwise, r-petitions, or referendum petitions, are e-mailed to everyone who signed the petition online.

If 10 percent of Santa Monica’s registered voters, roughly 6,000 people, sign referendum petitions, the issue could go before the public for a vote, Melkonians said.

Local attorney Thomas Nitti has volunteered to help the group pro bono to write the referendums. His biggest gripe is the traffic on city streets and he said he would help write any referendum that could halt a council-approved development considered by the public to be too extreme.

Residents have 30 days from the council vote to gather signatures, he said.

“There’s quite a few in the pipeline now right now,” he said. “I haven’t picked any one single development. But you can see on the Internet that people are interested and coming together.”

Last year, voters in Encinitas, Calif. passed a measure requiring all developments over 30 feet tall to be approved by a public vote. Nitti favors a similar measure for Santa Monica but said that something like that takes a long time to gain approval. The advantage of the referendums, he said, is that they require public vote to occur 88 days after the petition is successfully completed.

Currently the Residocracy website has two items in its crosshairs: The Hines project proposed for the corner of 26th Street and Olympic Boulevard, and the expansion of the Fairmont-Miramar Hotel.

The Hines project, which proposes 472 apartments, 374,434 square feet of creative offices, 15,500 square feet of restaurants, and 13,891 square feet of retail, recently passed Planning Commission in a close vote. It will go before council this year.

Alan Epstein, an executive at MSD Capital representing the Miramar project, said he was disappointed the website’s creators are targeting the hotel remodel before all the project’s details have been drafted.

“Their web page speaks of the delicate balance that Santa Monica faces, but never once mentions (City Hall’s) enormous financial challenges in providing public safety, schools, parks and taking care of the many residents who live below the poverty line,” he wrote in an e-mail. “We’ve spoken with thousands of Santa Monicans across the city over the past couple of years, and know that many enthusiastically support the Miramar plan, even when shouted down by this very vocal minority.”

In 2008, residents got a measure on the ballot that, if approved, would have placed an annual 75,000-square-foot cap on commercial growth. The measure failed.

Melkonians hopes that if a couple referendums gain traction, council members will start regularly checking the website.

“Eventually, we want this to focus on all the issues,” he said. “Right now there’s a real disconnect with development but the petitions could expand to any topic. Residocracy really represents the voice of residents.”

A private meeting introducing the website will be held for community leaders tonight, Melkonians said.

 

dave@smdp.com

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