EL SEGUNDO — A citizens' drive to prevent construction of a 1.1-million-square-foot office development won its first battle this week when a Los Angeles Superior Court judge refused to halt a referendum on the project.
The citizens' organization, Group United for Residential Rights, filed a petition with the city on Sept. 17, seeking a referendum on the City Council's approval of the project. The group says the development, at Rosecrans Avenue and Aviation Boulevard, would drain city services and aggravate traffic problems throughout the city.
Names Being Validated
The group collected 2,208 signatures from El Segundo's 8,733 registered voters--more than twice the 10% needed for a referendum. The city clerk is determining whether enough of the signatures are valid.
In response, the developer, Continental Development Corp., filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the referendum effort. At a court hearing Monday, Continental attorneys argued that the ordinance that approved their project was an "administrative act" not subject to referendum.
They said the council action merely upgraded the site's zoning standards--from heavy industry to commercial manufacturing--to conform with the city's General Plan. They also cited a state law that says a city's zoning must comply with its general plan.
A Legislative Act
Judge Warren H. Deering, however, ruled that "the approval of the (ordinance) constituted a legislative act" and "is subject to the referendum process." Deering also ruled against Continental's claim that the referendum petition was not filed within the prescribed 30-day period.
The decision was a setback for Continental officials, who had planned to begin construction of the $134-million complex in January. If enough signatures are validated, a referendum will be held in April unless the City Council opts for a special election, which would cost about $20,000. The council also could decide to revoke its approval of the project.
The council likely will decide what to do at its Nov. 4 meeting, provided that Continental does not appeal Deering's ruling. Continental officials on Wednesday declined to say whether they would appeal.
Residents opposed to the project were elated by their victory.
"This is a classic David and Goliath battle where the little guy stuck it out and beat the giant," said Nestor Synadinos, who organized the referendum effort. "This should send a clear message to City Hall that we don't buy it when developers who want to build big projects try to tell us that traffic is good for us."
In anticipation of an election, Continental officials have mounted a campaign including glossy mailers and meetings with residents to show El Segundo voters the merits of their project.
"We think people should know that we are spending more than $3 million on traffic improvements that will benefit the entire community," Continental planning director Jerry Saunders said during an interview earlier this month when the company first mailed letters to El Segundo voters.
The Group United for Residential Rights has criticized the mailers and accused Continental of trying to buy votes.
"They think they can dupe voters with a high-gloss campaign," Synadinos said. "We don't have a lot of money to spend. We hope we can just remind the 2,208 people who signed the petition that Continental tried to take away their right to vote on a referendum."
The dispute is the latest in a series of battles that pit commercial and industrial developers against residents who want to curb growth in the city's business center east of Sepulveda Boulevard.
Although city officials could not cite an exact number, they said citizens' groups have launched a half-dozen referendum petitions against development projects in the last five years. In cases where groups collected the required number of signatures, developers withdrew their original plans and built smaller projects.