Perhaps one of the Santa Monica City Council’s biggest decisions to make outside of the future of the Santa Monica Airport is about to take place on Tuesday, as the seaside community’s panel of seven elected officials will decide whether to repeal the Hines development agreement (DA) or submit the question to the City’s voters in November.
A grass-roots movement successfully filed a referendum petition protesting the City Council’s decision to authorize a DA with Hines 26th Street LLC in February. Led by Armen Melkonians and his website, Residocracy.org, the grass-roots movement gathered more than 15,000 signatures challenging the DA, which became City law in February.
The approved DA opened the door for the construction of more than 765,000 square feet of mixed-use development at the former Papermate site at 1681 26th Street.
According to City staff, about half of the project would have been dedicated to creative office space, with the remainder of the development featuring 473 rental housing units, 25 artist work/live units, restaurant and retail space, various publicly accessible outdoor spaces, and north-south public streets bisecting portions of the project site.
In March, Melkonians and supporters of Residocracy.org arrived at City Hall with boxes full of signatures to petition and challenge the approval of the Hines DA. About five weeks after the signatures were submitted, the County Registrar verified the signatories and it was determined the grass-roots movement formally collected the requisite 10 percent of registered Santa Monica voters to qualify the issue for the ballot.
Once the threshold was met and the referendum qualified for the ballot, the DA was suspended and the City Council, under State law, was required to take one of two actions: repeal the ordinance or allow the voters to decide whether the Hines DA should be allowed to stand or fail.
If the council decides to hold an election, State law says a vote must take place no earlier than 88 days after the council’s decision is made. Accordingly, the City Council could call for a special election as early as Aug. 10.
However, the City Clerk confirmed with The Mirror a special election would cost Santa Monica about $200,000.
The council could instruct the referendum come in front of the voters in the Nov. 4 general election, which would only cost City Hall about $5,000.
With the wide gulf of expenses between placing the referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot versus a special election, City staff recommended council members to opt for the cheaper alternative.
“If Council favors a prompt resolution, then it may wish to decide the matter itself. On the other hand, Council may favor an election as the preferred means of settling a dispute that has divided the community,” City staff stated.
In a pair of public hearings and meetings in late January and early February, the City Council narrowly approved the Hines DA by a 4-to-3 vote, with Mayor Pam O’Connor, Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day, and Council members Gleam Davis and Bob Holbrook voting in favor of the project.