City Hall Seeks Competing SMO Voter Initiative

Friday, 27 Jun 2014, 12:00:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

As of this week, Santa Monica voters are now facing the prospect of having two competing ballot initiatives to determine the future of Santa Monica Airport (SMO).

The Santa Monica City Council unanimously approved a direction on Tuesday to find some sort of middle ground with a ballot measure that could compete with another initiative aiming to limit the elected panel’s powers on airport issues.

Also approved as part of the direction: have the City Hall-backed ballot measure give council members enough power to achieve partial closure of SMO and ensure development on the property is limited.

It was Santa Monica City Attorney Marsha Jones Moutrie who proposed the City Council give the green light to a ballot measure that would directly compete with a pending initiative backed by a local group of voters funded by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

The Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions (SMOHDD) gathered more than 15,000 signatures earlier this month and submitted their petition to place an initiative on the ballot to County officials. If the signatures are verified, the group’s ballot initiative will seek to have voters amend the Santa Monica City Charter to reduce the council’s ability to determine the future of SMO.

However, Moutrie said the potential ballot initiative would be too restricting on the City Council’s abilities to manage SMO.

“The reason we are proposing a competing measure is because the aviation community’s measure would, in our opinion, profoundly restrict [the council’s] ability to manage the airport, and the airport’s impact, for whatever amount of time the airport remains open,” Moutrie told council members.

If the minimum number of signatures was verified by County officials and the SMOHDD initiative is placed on the ballot, Moutrie believes it is phrased as such that it has a relatively fair chance of passing.

“It’s staff’s impression that measures that go to the voters, that ask the voters the question, ‘Would you like to be able to vote on something,’ usually pass,” Moutrie told council members.

A competing measure was recommended by the City Attorney’s office as a means to prevent a situation where voters could approve both the ballot initiative sought by residents and the proposal drafted by City Hall.

If both measures make their way onto the Nov. 4 ballot, only one would be allowed to move forward, but it was not made clear which initiative takes precedent. Moutrie told the council of both initiatives received a majority vote the one with the most votes would take effect.

Moutrie added she would look into a way to draft the initiative to allow the City Hall measure to take effect even if it received fewer votes but surpassed the 50 percent threshold.

The City Attorney said the proposed ballot initiative brought by a handful of Santa Monica residents and backed by the AOPA would, if ultimately placed on the ballot and approved by the voters, would interfere with the City Council’s ability to manage the airport’s impacts to the extent they are allowed to do so under the law.

Hence, the intent of the competing ballot measure is ultimately to protect the City Council’s authority, not to discount the rights of the aviation community, Moutrie said.

“We believe the measure is actually designed to maintain the status quo at the airport for as long as possible, and that’s understandable. That’s the right of those who benefit from that status quo to try and maintain it,” Moutrie said. “On the other hand, we’re concerned about protecting the council’s ability to act, to protect the health and safety and welfare of Santa Monica residents and others.”

During the public testimony segment of the SMO initiative agenda item, many speakers spoke out against the airport.

Some accused the City’s staff members of being pro-SMO and said the measure City Hall proposes is actually pretty similar to, not in competition with, the SMOHDD initiative.

There is a sense of urgency to move forward with a City Hall-backed measure. County officials require any proposed initiatives from City Hall to be completed and filed within 88 days of the upcoming general election, which is Nov. 4.

City staff anticipates returning with the proposed measure’s language in time for the council’s next meeting on July 8. If approved, City staff would have less than a month to finalize and file the proposed initiative with County officials.

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