April 11, 2002

Heart vote backers gaining ground (4/11)

By Michael Hixon

A drive to bring Redondo Beach's controversial Heart of the City plan before the voters is gaining momentum.

The group behind the drive, Citizens for a Vote on Heart of the City, had its first petition drive last week. The group, which claims 75 members, says it needs to gather nearly 4,000 signatures of Redondo Beach registered voters by April 18 to get its referendum on the ballot.

Members of this newly formed group said they are concerned about the proposed plan's high density, traffic, noise and air pollution. They are also concerned about the impact on the schools.

The Redondo Beach City Council approved the Heart of the City plan in February. At its maximum buildout, the plan allows upward of 657,500 square feet of commercial development and nearly 3,000 residential units in the harbor area. The plan allows for the residential development not to exceed 55 units per acre.

"We feel that a project this size impacts a lot of people," said group founder Chris Cagle. "It should be voted on to see if the citizens really want this."

Citizens for a Vote on Heart of the City will have an all-day petition drive April 13 at four different locations, covering all five districts in Redondo Beach. From 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., the group will be at: Albertson's at 1516 Pacific Coast Highway; Whole Foods at Pacific Coast Highway and Beryl Street; Vons at 1212 Beryl St.; and Albertson's at 2115 Artesia Blvd.

"We're hoping people will come to us instead of us trying to find them," Cagle said.

City Manager Lou Garcia said that, if placed on the ballot and passed by voters, the group's referendum would effectively reverse actions taking by the City Council when it gave the go-ahead for the Heart of the City plan.

Garcia said the group's good intentions could backfire.

"It would leave the existing plan in place," Garcia said. "AES would not be able to develop, they would have to stay an electricity-generating facility as they are under the city's General Plan."

Garcia said the current zoning in the area will allow for more commercial development than what the approved Heart of the City plan allows. There would be a hodgepodge of development, he said.

Cagle said the referendum will target two ordinances that were approved by the City Council March 19. One was the City Council's adoption of a new Specific Plan and the amendment of the city's General Plan for consistency with the Heart of the City plan.

Cagle attended the April 9 Hermosa Beach City Council meeting on the invitation of Councilman Michael Keegan.

Hermosa Beach city officials have expressed their displeasure with the Heart of the City plan and have enlisted help from a law firm in a step toward a lawsuit. The city has argued that the mitigation measures outlined in the Heart of the City's environmental impact report are insufficient in alleviating potential increases in traffic and congestion along the city's southern border.

"I want to be able to help this group any way we can," Keegan said at the meeting. "I think we should provide the public with our stance on the issue by a letter where we can list our objections to the project and our proposed solutions to it."

Hermosa Beach council members questioned their city attorney on whether or not they could financially back Cagle's group. According to the city attorney, they could not use city funds to back such a petition drive.

"We don't see this as a zoning issue but as a change-of-life issue and we feel we should be voting on it," Cagle said at the meeting. "Our intention is not to shut the whole thing down but something this large should be put to a vote."

According to Redondo Beach City Clerk Sandy Forrest, the group has 30 days from the approval of the ordinances to get the signatures required in order to place a referendum on the ballot. They also have to get 10 percent of registered voters in the city to sign the petition within that 30-day period. The deadline is April 18.

Once the signatures are collected and given to the city clerk's office, they will be verified with the county to make sure they are registered voters. In order to get them verified, a random sampling of 500 signatures or 3 percent, whichever is greater, is done. In order to be valid, 95 percent to 100 percent of the signatures from the sampling have to be verified registered voters.

"Then it will go before the City Council," Forrest said. "They have the ability to repeal the ordinances or to place it on the ballot."

According to several letters from group members, gathering signatures has not been a problem in the short time they've been collecting them.

According to Gemma Scharfenberger, she circulated a petition in front of a Redondo Beach grocery store. She said about two-thirds of the people she talked to were at least somewhat familiar with the project.

"Almost all of the Redondo residents wanted to sign the petition to put this to a vote after being asked if they wanted to," she wrote. "Many residents said that the council did not listen to them when they went to the City Council meetings and tried to be heard. They said that the council gave preference to the business people and developers who want the changes in the harbor area. The residents expressed displeasure with the response to the council to their pleas."

- Whitney Youngs contributed to this story