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LV Supporters, Santa Monica Councilmember Clash as Campaign Intensifies
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Note: A previous version of this article stated that Council member Terry O'Day tried to oust campaign volunteers for Measure LV from Clover Park. The accusation made by campaign volunteers was denied by O'Day.

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

October 12, 2016 -- A verbal clash this weekend between slow-growth campaigners and a Santa Monica City Council member they claim tried to oust them from a City park demonstrates how bitter the battle over Measure LV has become.

As it turned out, Council Member Terry O'Day -- who is running for re-election on November 8 -- was wrong when he assumed the volunteers were not permitted to engage in electioneering at the Clover Park youth soccer event, City officials determined.

The volunteers resumed campaigning under their two “pop up” tents and a literature table. But the brief encounter created a stir and showcased the extreme measures the cash-strapped pro-LV campaign is resorting to with less than a month before voters go to the polls.

Tricia Crane, who co-authored the measure, said the campaign is concentrating on reaching voters at public spaces such as parks, using inexpensive tools like its tent arrangement and an ironing board it can unfold for literature while talking to passersby.

The novelty of the approach gets a lot of attention, she said.

“It’s the way we can reach voters to tell them they can have a real voice” in development, Crane said. “They’re sick of all the slick ads from developers. People in Santa Monica are sophisticated. They know what’s going on.”

The campaign has no permanent headquarters and gathers at the homes of volunteers, said Armen Melkonians, who heads Residocracy, the group sponsoring the measure.

Instead of traditional phone banking, the campaign holds BYOP -- or bring your own phone and pizza -- gatherings, Melkonians said.

If enacted, the measure gives voters, instead of the Council, the final say on most new developments taller than 32 feet, as well as major changes to City planning policies.

Almost all of Santa Monica’s political and civic establishment opposes Measure LV, arguing that it is too restrictive and, among other things, would curb much-needed housing development and the building of pubic facilities.

The pro-Measure LV camp is being overwhelmed by a campaign war-chest largely funded by developers. As of September 29, the two LV opposition groups had raised a combined total of just under $947,000, compared to about $49,000 for supporters ("Opposition to Santa Monica LUVE Measure Raises Nearly $1 Million," September 30, 2016).

The core of LV’s support comes from the City’s neighborhood associations, which are worried new development projects threaten to overwhelm the city with traffic and erase what is left of its beachside charm.

Tensions over the slow-growth measure had been escalating before last weekend's flareup.

The week before, the pro-Measure LV camp was stopped from setting up at the Farmers Market at Virginia Avunue Park due to a long-standing policy there prohibiting such activity, said City Manager Rick Cole.

O’Day said he assumed the same prohibition extended to the soccer event at Clover Park.

“There have never been campaign booths at those events,” O’Day said. “I contacted the City Manager's to respond to the inquiries of soccer participants, just as I would do for any constituent. City staff checked into the permits and allowed the campaigners to stay. That's it.”

Leaders of the LV campaign saw it differently. They sent a request to Cole to order O’Day to “desist in chasing residents out of public spaces” as they campaign for their cause.

The request also extended to Karen Ginsberg, the City’s Director of Community and Cultural Services, who went to the park after O’Day called Cole.

O’Day's actions were an “inappropriate” use of his council authority, said Oscar De La Torre, a school board member and Council candidate who was part of the encounter.

De La Torre supports Measure LV, also widely known as the LUVE (Land Use Voter Empowerment) initiative. O’Day, along with all but one council member, opposes it.

“It was an abuse of power,” de La Torre said. “If we’d been against LV, he wouldn’t have opposed us being there.”

De La Torre and O’Day each said they were at the park with family to enjoy the soccer. De La Torre said he became involved when O’Day starting asking the campaigners to leave.

O’Day said he was responding to questions from other parents at the event, part of his job as a councilmember.

“Improper influence claims are nonsense and do not represent reality, like so many claims in this campaign,” he said in an email to the Lookout.

Told by the pro-Measure LV campaigners that they’d received the go-ahead from the City, O’Day said he called Cole, who in turn checked with several City officials, including the city attorney.

Cole said he learned the campaigners were not breaking rules.

“There are broad protections for free political speech (in our parks) and in the absence of any contrary policies governing ‘time, place and manner’ the campaigners were completely within their rights to be at the park," Cole wrote in the email to Crane.

The episode has been “blown out of proportion,” Cole said, adding that a desist order was not needed.

Cole said that before the next election cycle, City officials will "look to clarify rules for electioneering in public spaces to all concerned to avoid situations like Sunday.”


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