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Redondo Beach News

Referendum movement faces deadline, part 1

by Mark McDermott

Mayor Greg Hill and Gale Hazeltine, one of the Citizens for a Vote on the Heart of the City. Photo by Mark McDermott

It began a little more than a month ago with a letter to the editor that included a phone number. It quickly got legs and became the Citizens for a Vote on the Heart of the City, then grew into something of a frenzy over the last week. More than 140 petitioners knocked on doors and stood outside grocery stores asking fellow citizens to join the demand for a ballot measure on the city’s recently approved redevelopment plan.

Now it’s all over but the counting.

Chris Cagle, who started the movement with a letter to this paper on March 14, said that after a busy weekend of petitioning, the group had collected an estimated 5,300 signatures and hoped to add several hundred more before its April 18 deadline

“There was so much energy with all these people,” said Cagle. “They have been upset, and they have felt like they haven’t been able to make any difference. All this energy was just bottled up; this was a way to release it, to make a difference. People feel good that they were out there doing something, that they were able to be a part of something that everyone was involved in. It was very satisfying.”

Mayor Greg Hill watched with dismay as the campaign gained momentum. “It’s an interesting study in how you can create an hysteria out of something not based on reality,” Hill said. “If what they were saying truly was going to happen, I would sign that petition. Hey, I’d be out there circulating it. ”

The group circulated two petitions simultaneously, one aimed at a resolution passed by the city council adopting the Heart of the City specific plan, and the other amending the land use element of the city’s general plan. Both resolutions were passed on March 19. By state law, the petitioners had 30 days to obtain signatures from ten percent of the city’s registered voters in order to successfully appeal for a referendum. Cagle said the group plans to stage a rally outside the city clerk’s office as the petitions are turned in Thursday afternoon.

If the city clerk determines there are enough valid signatures, the council can choose to rescind the resolutions. Otherwise, it can either call a special election—most likely to coincide with next November’s general election—or put the resolutions on the municipal election ballot next year. City Clerk Sandy Forrest said that the process of determining the sufficiency of the petition could take either weeks or months. She indicated that her office would send the signatures to the county clerk’s office, where an initial sampling of three percent will be conducted. If 95 percent of the sample finds valid signatures, the petition will be deemed sufficient, and the results could be reported as soon as the next council meeting. If not, it could take several months as each signature is checked.

The Mayor and the petitioners

Saturday afternoon, Gale and Jeff Hazeltine stood outside the Albertson’s in Riviera Village. “Are you a Redondo resident?” they asked every person who passed. And then, if the answer was affirmative, “Have you heard about the Heart of the City?”

As one elderly woman stopped to sign, Jeff Hazeltine chatted with her about the plan.

“Three thousand new condos,” he said, shaking his head.

“Just what we don’t need,” she said.

“This will stop it, at least temporarily,” Hazeltine replied. “This will stop the city council from making an end run around us so we have a chance to vote on it.”

Another citizen who approached the Hazeltines was a little less agreeable. As Mayor Hill walked up to the petitioning stand, Gale Hazeltine recognized him immediately. “Why, look who’s come to visit us!” she exclaimed. “Have you come to sign, Greg?”

Hill had come to investigate. He had, in the trunk of his car, a copy of the plan he offered to give the petitioners, because he believed that most of their information about the plan had come from “third-party sources” such as newspapers and rumor.

Gale Hazeltine admitted she hadn’t read the plan, but also said she didn’t particularly want or need to.

“It’s very simple,” she said. “I don’t want 3,000 front doors in my back yard. If it says they can build 3,000 condominiums, then they will build 3,000 condominiums.”

“No,” said Hill. “That’s just not true. You say that and you haven’t even read the plan.”

Hill said that he could guarantee that 3,000 residential units would not be built, and that the more likely number would likely be something closer to half that. And he said that he found it difficult to believe that people wouldn’t prefer a new neighborhood to the existing power plant.

“We need to give the private sector, who own that power plant, some incentive to clean it up,” he said. “I mean, what are the options? It takes an enormous amount of energy to be positive, to try and create something. It takes nothing to tear it down, and offer no solutions to replace it.”

Furthermore, he said, the notion that without the plan that no new development would occur in that area was mistaken.

“If you guys think the status quo is going to be the case, you are kidding yourselves,” he said. “Without this plan we will have less control over what goes on down there. This would be much more prescriptive, require much more scrutiny and a higher standard of development than currently exists. And any development would have to be in the context of the area--as opposed to the hodgepodge development that will happen otherwise, which will be far more detrimental to our quality of life.”

Hazeltine was thoroughly unconvinced. In fact, the specter of hodgepodge development seemed more attractive to her than what she knew of the Heart of the City plan. She said she had no problem with the “big box” commercial development that would be allowable under current zoning.

“I think if the Home Depot wants to put something down there and the free market will support it, that’s fine,” she said. “I don’t mind a Home Depot down there. But if they want to put 3,000 front doors there to make it a shopping district, that will be a mess.”

Her main concern is the traffic that would be generated by the proposed residential development. “It would be better if there was a gated community down there,” she said. “I’d like it to be guaranteed that when I am 75 years old I don’t have to mess around with cars. I love the quaintness of our town. If that changes, I might as well be in Santa Monica.”

Before Hill left, he and Gale Hazeltine agreed on one thing, and one thing alone: he went to the truck of his car and retrieved a copy of the plan. She promised to read it.