Initiative Proponents Surpass Their Signature Target

You’ve seen them around the shopping centers sitting at the tables collecting signatures for the ballot initiative they call “The Right to Vote on Development Initiative.” Some of them are volunteers, but more of them seem to be paid by an outfit out of Santa Monica, which hires and trains people to collect signatures for initiatives. I talked to several of the collectors, one of whom told me they make about $9 to $10 per hour. In fact, she gave me the company’s name and phone number and the person to call because I told her a little white lie and said I had a kid looking for a summer job.

On a whole, the paid collectors didn’t seem to have any particular ax to grind. They thought it was an environmental measure and had memorized a little pitch to help get signatures. Really nothing surprising, because that’s the way modern initiative politics is practiced in California, which is one of the reasons it’s so expensive to get a statewide initiative onto the ballot. It’s considerably easier in a city, especially a small city like Malibu, to get something onto the ballot because it only takes 10 percent of the registered voters, and 15 percent to authorize the City Council to call a special election. Last count we had 8,500 registered voters in town, which means they only need 1,275 signatures to make the 15 percent, and they apparently achieved that easily. They turned in 2,370 signatures as confirmed by the city clerk. N ow it goes down to the Registrar of Voters for a check of the names against the voter rolls. Although probably some of the names will be disqualified, it’s fairly clear there will be more than enough, with plenty to spare.

At City Hall Monday I talked to some of the initiative people who were very excited and happy just after the numbers were announced. The next item on their agenda is to try and compel the City Council to put the initiative onto the November ballot. Although no one would admit it, the attempt to get it on the November ballot is because there will also be a race for City Council at that time to fill the rest of Harry Barovsky’s uncompleted term. I suspect they see this initiative as part of a coordinated campaign to get themselves back into political power after their loss this spring.

Several things were clear in talking to the group. It was clear that they are a group of people committed to stopping, if not all development in the Civic Center, at least as much as they can. Several seemed to recognize that in the last election Walt Keller and Carolyn Van Horn may have just overstayed their welcome and the election became one about personality. They want to try and refocus the issue on what they see as the environment.

They obviously want to move as quickly as possible and keep it as simple as possible: “Are you for or against the environment?”

The other side, and the battle lines are not yet clear as to exactly who that is, is going to want to take a long hard look at the initiative. It has some very broad language that some think impacts not just new construction, but also every existing commercial building in Malibu. They see the initiative as enormous in its reach and possibly destructive in its power. In no small measure the initiative removes much of the planning power from the council and throws it into a very expensive political and legal quagmire. The strategy appears to be: “Let’s not rush this thing.”

The initiative people also have a strategy, and it’s tied in with the approval process for the Malibu Bay Company development deal. They gave me a copy of a memo from Terry Huffman, a wetlands specialist, who just completed a survey of the proposed 20-acre Pt. Dume ballfield site alongside PCH. The gravamen of his findings were that there is no way you could build three ball fields and a community center on Pt. Dume because of environmental constraints, principally proximity to Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA’s) and impacts on migratory birds in the Pacific Flyway. If correct, and at this point it’s only Huffman’s opinion, it would impact the political equation. The argument would run: “Why go for the deal? It’s not going to get you what you want anyway, so turn it down.”

The next round probably is back into the council’s hands.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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