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Slow Growth Initiative Heads for Count

By Mark McDermott
Easy Reader -
January 10, 2008

Let the counting begin. Again. Petitions for the proposed “Major Changes in Land Use” initiative have been sent to the Los Angeles County Registrar’s office for the second time in less than a year.

The City Council Tuesday night voted unanimously to have each of the 8,637 signatures submitted to the city on Dec. 31 by the Building a Better Redondo activist group verified by the county. The council opted for a thorough count, costing approximately $5,000, rather than sampling 5 percent of the signatures at a cost of $300, a method that would have legally and statistically sufficed. “I have no doubt in my mind they have probably obtained enough signatures,” said Councilman Steve Aspel, who nonetheless argued for the most thorough verification possible so that no doubts would linger. “People on both sides of the issue want to see it fair…It just raises questions, so I’d prefer they count them all.”

In June, the activist group submitted 6,988 signatures after circulating petitions for six months to put the initiative on a municipal ballot. The petitions fell 315 short of the required 5,825 valid signatures – 15 percent of registered voters in the city – as almost 1,500 signatures could not be validated by the county. Building a Better Redondo chair Jim Light said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the significantly larger number of signatures would meet all legal requirements to have the initiative put to a public vote. Although the council would have some latitude as to when the matter would be put on a public ballot, according to Light the petitions specifically request that the proposed initiative appear on the November 2008 general election ballot.

If approved by voters, the “Major Changes in Land Use” initiative would require all residential zoning changes be put to a citywide public vote. Additionally, any development projects that would add significantly to traffic counts at key intersections throughout the city would trigger a public vote. Proponents say the initiative would democratize city planning; opponents, including every council member, say the initiative would drive away new investment in Redondo Beach. Light said that the initiative would protect residents from overdevelopment and in no way harm Redondo Beach economically. “Newport Beach had a similar initiative they put through,” Light said. “Newport Beach isn’t rotting away. They are getting investment.”

The difference, Light said, is in what kind of investment the city would get. With the initiative, he argued, developers would be more responsive to residents’ concerns, resulting in “win-win” projects that would both be economically viable and publicly popular. He said investors would not be scared away by the potential uncertainly created by facing a public vote, and referred to Manhattan Beach’s popular Metlox project – which was approved in an advisory vote – as an example. “I think you face more uncertainty [with the possibility] of referendum,” Light said. “This way, they know what the process is and come forward with projects and zoning that is palatable to residents.”

Councilman Steve Diels argued that, if passed, the initiative would destroy the economic vitality of the city. He said comparisons to Newport Beach were not apt. “Newport Beach is an entirely different city,” Diels said. “We are only six square miles. We have a very, very tight economic balancing act – this is not a good time, when you are going into a recession, to be telling people who want to invest in your community that they are not wanted. Not only is the initiative itself flawed, but its timing could not be worse. Blight is not good for Redondo Beach, and this is the blight initiative.”

Light said that recent actions by the city created a “surge” in signature collections, specifically the current rezoning proposal that would allow up to 750,000 sq. ft. of new commercial development in the harbor area. “The city staff continues to propose development that doesn’t take into account current residents,” Light said. “They just don’t show they are listening to the public as they look to the future of Redondo and how to rezone our city.” Diels said that harbor rezoning is a necessary step to bring about economic revitalization to an area currently dominated by parking lots. “He wants to take a parking lot and keep it a parking lot,” Diels said. “I’d rather take a parking lot and turn it into paradise, make it a community asset. Why is he so in love with a parking lot? We need to make the harbor area an attraction for this community – and for visitors to this community, I’m not afraid to say. I want this community to be a place where my children can live. I’m not willing to take a chance now to stay on this downward spiral.”

The petitions will be verified or deemed insufficient within 30 days, at which point the council will consider what its next step will be regarding the “Major Changes in Land Use” initiative. - - ER

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