Armen Melkonians, founder of the Residocracy movement, speaks to a crowd of supporters gathered outside of City Hall. (Daniel Archuleta

The city’s biggest users of the word “referendum” are weighing their options in the calm before the storm that is the time between the first and second reading of the updated Zoning Ordinance.

Residocracy, which successfully used a referendum to derail the Hines development project last year and has publicized two pre-referendum online petitions opposing development projects, may seek a development-limiting ballot initiative, rather than a referendum, in response to the ordinance.

“I’m glad to see that we’re moving in a direction where policy is starting to shift toward resident concerns,” the group’s founder, Armen Melkonians, said of some changes council majority made to the ordinance. “They’re being addressed, but this is also a slow path to that. I think they could have done a lot more. They’re making a shift in the right direction and so we just need to see what happens for the future.”

Without Residocracy, he doesn’t think council would have done away with activity centers, which were meant to encourage high-density development around transit hubs, or Tier 3 limits, which allow taller and denser development.

“We are seriously considering something like an initiative that would limit development, maybe tie up some loose ends in the Zoning Ordinance, and let the voters vote on that,” Melkonians said of Residocracy’s planned response.

He would not give specifics, but past slow-growthers have tried to set limits requiring any projects over a certain height or density go to voters for a final approval.

There are several key differences between a referendum and a ballot initiative. The referendum exists in direct opposition to a decision made by council — if the referendum succeeds, council’s decision can be overturned. An initiative, on the other hand, can create new legislation.

Those seeking a referendum have 30 days from the second reading and adoption of an ordinance — the Zoning Ordinance is expected to be adopted later next month — to gather signatures from 10 percent of registered Santa Monica voters.

Those seeking an initiative have 180 days from its filing to gather signatures from 15 percent of registered Santa Monica voters for the item to placed on a special election ballot.

Melkonians said Residocracy has not ruled out the possibility of a referendum on the Zoning Ordinance.

“Nothing’s off the table,” he said. “We’re meeting. We’re discussing. We’re trying to see what’s going on.”

Council discussion this week will reopen debate about housing density “in an area designated Mixed Use Boulevard Low on Colorado Avenue east of 20th Street and on the south side of Broadway east of 20th Street,” according to a request by Mayor Kevin McKeown. The outcome of the upcoming meetings will also influence Residocracy’s plans.

“We’ll see what develops in the next couple of weeks,” Melkonians said.

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