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Council Tweaks Wording of Homeowner Initiative

By Oliver Lukacs

Dec. 18 -- After quibbling over grammar and wording, the City Council Tuesday night finalized language on a ballot initiative that would require an owner's permission before a single family home can be declared a landmark or included in an historic district.

The debate focused on the wording identifying the owner and whose consent would be needed to designate homes as landmarks under the Homeowners Freedom of Choice Initiative, which will go before voters in a special mail-in election being held from February 20 to March 21.

Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown wanted the wording to read "unanimous property owners' consent;" Councilman Michael Feinstein wanted it to read "all owners," because some properties have multiple owners.

Confused by the word "unanimous," Councilman Bob Holbrook asked, "Are they talking about their property or someone else's property with unanimous?" Holbrook said the word could be misinterpreted to mean that every homeowner's consent on the block, or neighborhood or community would be needed to designate one house.

After pondering the issue, City Attorney Marsha Moutrie informed the council that "state law really does not allow you to draft this for the reason that you have political positions you are taking."

The final wording will read: "Shall the municipal code be amended to require the prior written consent of all property owners of record before their buildings or other improvements in R-1 single family districts could be designated as either landmarks or structures of merit and before parcels could be designated as landmarks or included in historic districts?"

Afterward, the five Santa Monica for Renters' Rights council members -- Mayor Richard Bloom, Pam O'Connor, Ken Genser, Feinstein and McKeown -- offered to author the argument against the measure.

Because the council cannot write both arguments, Holbrook offered to assist any citizen in drafting the argument in favor of the measure, which qualified for a special election with nearly 10,000 signatures.

Arguments are due at the City Clerk's Office at City Hall by noon on Dec. 31, 2002. The deadline for rebuttals is January 10, 2003 at 5:30 p.m. For voters preferring to drop off ballots, ballots will be accepted at City Hall until 9 p.m. on March 21.

In a separate action, the council unanimously voted to adopt a resolution that under a new State law tightens affordable housing loan procedures for the City's Redevelopment Agency. According to Bob Moncrief, the City's housing and redevelopment manager, "nothing has really changed."

The new law basically asks the agency to prove on paper that recipients of the loans "tried" their best to secure financing from a normal commercial or private bank before receiving more than 50 percent of the needed money from the Agency, according to Moncrief.

Moncrief said this is already standard practice in Santa Monica, and according to the agency's staff report "of the 21 Agency loans issued during the last five years, 17 (81 percent) included conventional bank financing."

Those 21 loans have helped create affordable housing for 456 households over the last five years in the City, Moncrief said.

"On a human level it is more than 456 if you consider turnover," Moncrief said.

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