April 19, 2002

Council restricted from funding 'Heart' opposition (4/18)

By Whitney Youngs

As the Hermosa Beach City Council prepares to file its lawsuit against the city of Redondo Beach in relation to the Heart of the City plan, a grass-roots organization continues with its effort to reverse the project proposals by putting the matter before voters. Although the group has gained the attention of Hermosa Beach City Council members, the municipality can only do so much due to its limited legal power to advocate the cause.

Citizens for a Vote on the Heart of the City targets two ordinances passed by the Redondo Beach City Council which constitute that city's approval of the harbor redevelopment plan. The Heart of the City proposes sweeping changes to the Redondo Beach waterfront and the AES plant located along Hermosa Beach's southern border. It also calls for upward of 675,000 square feet of commercial development and almost 3,000 residential units by allowing up to 55 units per acre to be built on the plant site.

Hermosa Beach city officials have noted the impacts of the development, to a large extent, will be borne by neighboring Hermosa Beach residents. According to Hermosa Beach City Attorney Mike Jenkins, the City Council is prohibited from expending public funds to help the group in persuading voters to sign the petition to qualify the referendum for the next election ballot.

"The city is allowed to provide information on the matter, but is not permitted to engage in persuading voters," explained Jenkins. "This doesn't mean the council can't express its point of view, but it can't spend public funds beyond publicizing its position. The idea of sending out a letter addressed to Redondo Beach residents advocating the referendum would cross that line."

The court ruled on this particular issue after Los Angeles city officials used county funds to back an initiative for the state ballot put forth by the League of Women Voters. The county spent money on the research and analysis of the issue, drafted the measure and recruited sponsors. The court later ruled using public funds to sway voters was an improper expenditure.

The Hermosa Beach City Council may spend money by sending out informational brochures on the issue. The council recently drafted a letter that will be published in local newspapers this week.

Citizens for a Vote on Heart of the City hopes to reverse the Redondo Beach City Council's adoption of a new Specific Plan and the amendment to the city's General Plan. The group is required to collect the signatures of 10 percent of the registered voters in the city by April 18. As of press time, the group's chairman, Chris Cagle, said the organization has collected more than 6,000 signatures.

"The voters should always have an opinion with a project this large that proposes many changes in an area that will impact many people," he said. "We obviously don't see this as a zoning issue but as a change-of-life issue and we feel we should be voting on this."

Hermosa Beach City Councilman Michael Keegan, who owns Manhattan Bread and Bagel Company, showed his support by serving breakfast to the 180 volunteers who turned out at the drives this past weekend.

Keegan said that if the initiative qualifies for the ballot, he will seek the financial and political support of many Hermosa Beach residents.

"The number of signatures is pretty significant," said Keegan. "The Redondo Beach Council may decide that because so many voters don't like its direction, they make want to rethink everything.

"If this referendum is on the ballot, I want to raise consciousness in Hermosa Beach," he added. "I want to mount a fierce election campaign and hopefully homeowners will donate money to the cause. I want to do as much as the office will allow us both financially and politically."