CITYWIDE – You might have seen them at the Farmers’ Market, outside the Whole Foods, or at the Albertsons. They ask passers-by if they’re registered to vote in Santa Monica and if they want to put the future of the Santa Monica Airport on the ballot.
Many of them (all that the Daily Press has encountered) are paid.
Following City Council’s March decision to study closing portions of the airport in 2015, three residents filed the paperwork allowing them to begin collecting signatures for a ballot initiative.
The initiative, which requires signatures from 15 percent of registered Santa Monica voters and then a majority vote in an election, aims to force any decisions about the airport be put to a public vote.
The filers noted that the airport provides jobs and tax revenue to the city and claim that closing it could lead to high-density development of the property.
Those opposed to the airport call the initiative deceptive, noting that council members emphatically rejected the idea that a massive development would one day be built in the area.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a nationwide aviation advocacy group, contributed $20,000 to a group called “Santa Monicans For Open And Honest Development Decisions” that’s backing the petition. The group, in turn, paid $10,000 to Arno Political Consultants.
On Wednesday, at the Downtown Farmers’ Market, a man who would not give his name was collecting signatures for the initiative. He was simultaneously collecting signatures for an initiative to split the state of California in two.
“Are you a registered L.A. County voter?” he asked this reporter. “And if not, are you a registered Santa Monica voter?”
The man said he gets paid $4 for every verified signature. He’d collected 25 by noon on Wednesday – a bad day, he said. It was his third time collecting signatures for the airport initiative and it’s getting harder, he said, because “everyone’s already signed it.” He’d been out for about a week.
The signature gatherer said he supports the petition because he wants to see the airport turned into a space for gliders and an outdoor workout space, like muscle beach.
“It shouldn’t be developed,” he said. “That’s for the voters to decide.”
Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), the city’s largest political group, told its members not to support the initiative. The signature gatherer’s framing of the initiative, as one that is stopping development, is precisely the political group’s concern.
“This initiative, although cloaked in rhetoric about the rights of the people, is really all about perpetuating private benefits at the airport,” said Denny Zane, a former Santa Monica mayor and SMRR steering committee member. “While it is too early for SMRR to support one future use of the airport land over another, it is urgent that SMRR oppose this initiative that would cut off planning for that future.”
A group of residents will file a lawsuit Thursday against the filers of the initiative and City Hall, calling the initiative’s allegations “reckless and lawless.”
Jonathan Stein, who will be representing the plaintiffs, said they legally had to name City Hall in the suit but that they believe it has residents’ best intentions in mind.