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No Support for Having Residents Vote on Ocean Avenue Projects

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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

June 26, 2014 -- City Councilmember Kevin McKeown was unable to convince any of his colleagues on the dais that voters should have a say on proposed Ocean Avenue projects that are at least 84 feet high.

The lack of support at Tuesday’s meeting led to some snappy words between McKeown and a political ally.

McKeown’s proposal was for voters to decide in November whether all projects proposed for Ocean Avenue “exceeding existing zoning” should be placed on a ballot. He clarified the threshold would be 84 feet high in an attempt to rein in support from fellow council members.

After his attempt still did not convince anybody, including co-sponsor of the measure Tony Vazquez and slow-growth champion Ted Winterer, McKeown became frustrated.

“In good faith, I added [the 84-foot threshold] to the motion because Councilmember Winterer had given me some indication earlier that maybe he had interest.” McKeown said. “I thought maybe he would second the motion. But he didn’t.”

McKeown then added, “How collegial.”

This triggered a response from Winterer, who attempted to explain why he had asked McKeown several questions during the council member’s presentation and why he did not support the proposal.

“I simply wanted some clarity on your intent,” Winterer said. “It was not intended to be collegial or otherwise. I have reservations about your intent here and the influx of an enormous amount of money into the city for this ballot measure, which would skew the results of other important ballot measures.”

As Winterer was about to give the aviation interests’ airport ballot measure as an example of what could be skewed, he was interrupted and told he had gone off subject.

No other council members spoke about McKeown’s proposal, including Vazquez. So it was not clear why Vazquez added his name to the proposal for the agenda, but did not support the item.

During his presentation, McKeown said the purpose of the proposal was to make the City’s Zoning Code update process easier.

“Conversations are difficult and trust is scarce when everyone seems to be looking over their shoulder at three development agreements pending on Ocean Avenue, a very sensitive area,” McKeown said.

He continued, “I don’t think we can do our best work, council, staff, the community … on a Zoning Code in this climate. And I think it would be a good idea to ratchet down the rhetoric a bit by making it clear our most cherished shared asset, which is our coastline [and] the skyline along our beach, is not up for grabs.”

McKeown added he believed the Ocean Avenue hotel projects would end up being on future ballots anyhow because residents were prepared to petition them for referendums if they were approved by the council.

The council heard from several public speakers. A representative from UNITE HERE Local 11, which represents hotel workers, said the union opposed the proposal because “we value the council’s role ... in negotiating these [public] benefits [in development agreements] and we do not want it to be diminished.”

A few slow-growth advocates said they believed the proposal did not go far enough and should be expanded to cover other areas of the city. Andrew Hoyer, president of Santa Monica Mid-City Neighbors, said the measure would have difficulty passing.

“Voters are stupid, unfortunately,” he said. “We see that over and over and over again. They are swayed very easily and right now if this were to go to the ballot, we would be outspent a million dollars to one … the people that own these properties have lots and lots of money.”

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