CITY HALL ‚Äî City Council will have to reconsider its controversial decision to approve a major development project.
The Los Angeles County Clerk deemed 6,800 referendum signatures legitimate, enough to put the future of the Hines development agreement into the hands of the voters.
The ordinance approving the development agreement for what is also called the Bergamot Transit Village is now suspended. It will remain suspended until it is repealed by council, repealed by voters, or adopted by voters.
Approved in a 4 to 3 council vote back in February amid loud opposition, the agreement with the Texas-based developer Hines would add five buildings with roughly 765,000 square feet of office space, housing, and retail at the corner of 26th Street and Olympic Boulevard.
Opponents of the project, who point to the estimated 7,000 daily car trips it will add to an already congested area, challenged council‚Äôs decision through a referendum.
Lead by the community group Residocracy, the project‚Äôs opponents had 30 days to gather signatures from 10 percent of Santa Monica‚Äôs registered voters, or 6,525 legitimate signatures. Opponents turned in 13,512 signatures, of which at least 6,800 were found to be sufficient.
City Clerk Sarah Gorman received the information from the county on Friday and certified the signature count. She placed the item on the next council agenda, as is required by state law.
In February council members Gleam Davis, Terry O‚ÄôDay, Pam O‚ÄôConnor, and Bob Holbrook voted in favor of the project. Soon ‚Äî likely in May ‚Äî they will have an opportunity to reconsider that decision. If all four council members decide to stick to their guns, voters will get a chance to decide the issue in a special election or on the general election ballot in November.
The general election is Nov. 4. It would cost City Hall about $5,000 to add the ordinance to that ballot. A special election would have to occur between Aug. 10 and the general election, city officials said. A special election would cost City Hall about $200,000.
At Tuesday‚Äôs meeting, council will receive and file the certification of qualification presented by the City Clerk. At a future council meeting they will decide whether to repeal the ordinance or put it to a vote.
If the agreement is rejected, either by council or the voters, Hines can build a smaller project within the zoning code, reoccupy the current space, or start from scratch working its way, once again, through City Hall‚Äôs development agreement process.
In the current agreement Hines would provide the city with more than $32 million in community benefits over 55 years, including contributions to traffic mitigation and early childcare.
The county had 30 business days to verify all of the signatures. Signatures could be disqualified if the signer was not a registered Santa Monica voter or if the accompanying address did not match the address at which the resident was registered to vote.
The county only checked 8,434 of the signatures submitted, stopping when it was clear that the necessary number of signatures had been reached.
Of those, 1,634 were rejected. There were 157 instances of resident signatures appearing twice.
About 80 percent of the signatures checked were found by the county to be sufficient. If the percentage is accurate across the 13,512 signatures filed it means that nearly 10,900 Santa Monica voters may have signed the petition opposing the project.
Armen Melkonians, the founder Residocracy and leader of the referendum initiative, said he hopes that council will recognize the opposition to the project and repeal its initial decision without a public vote.
“It‚Äôs very validating that the amount of people that are against this project far exceeds what council was telling us was this vocal minority,” he said. “We had signatures from nearly twice the required 10 percent of registered voters and I believe council recognizes that if the ordinance goes up for a vote it will fail.”
Melkonians plans to hold a Residocracy rally in about a week to discuss their plans for next steps.