EL SEGUNDO — The day after his group won what he called a "David over Goliath" victory in Tuesday's special election, the head of Group United for Residential Rights was looking to the future.
"This gives us a lot of credibility and shows that we're not a group of malcontents," Nestor Synadinos said. "What we are is a totally committed group of volunteer residents."
Though it was outspent better than 10 to 1, Synadinos' group defeated Proposition A, which would have given Continental Development the zoning change needed to build a 1.1-million-square-foot expansion of its office and retail project on the northwest corner of Rosecrans Avenue and Aviation Boulevard. The final vote showed 1,620 opposed to the project and 1,371 in favor.
"We did this to save what's left of the city," Synadinos said. "The people of this city are tired of the traffic that this city has."
Continental's opponents have said that the project would cause gridlock at the corner, which already is one of the 10 busiest intersections in the South Bay, according to the Los Angeles County Transportation Department.
Continental said the project would actually improve traffic flow because the city was requiring the company to make $3 million in improvements at the intersection.
The City Council voted 4 to 1 to approve the plan last year, but the residents group gathered enough signatures to put the plan on the ballot.
The city clerk's office said that 33.6% of the city's registered voters cast ballots despite rain and wind. Though the turnout was high compared to special elections in many other cities, it was about normal for close-knit, politically active El Segundo, City Manager Arthur E. Jones said.
A Continental spokeswoman said the company is awaiting a decision from the state Court of Appeal on its lawsuit contending that the City Council's approval of the project was not subject to referendum. A judge had rejected Continental's suit, which attempted to halt the election.
Pat Stitzenberger of Urban Planning Consultants, a company hired by Continental to present its case in the referendum, said that planning issues are too complicated for referendums and that it is unreasonable to expect voters to understand the issues in a short campaign.
"From a practical point of view it is very difficult to put across," Stitzenberger said. "But if the other side says an emotional word like 'gridlock,' people understand that."
If its appeal is unsuccessful, she said, Continental will be forced to reassess its plans for the property, which it owns.
"It's premature to say what those changes would be," Stitzenberger said. "There are a variety of things that we can do there. The property is still usable. How it's usable is under discussion."
Filings with the city clerk's office showed that Continental spent $137,000 on the campaign. Synadinos' group spent $13,273--most of it, he said, for attorneys' fees during the lawsuit. Stitzenberger's company commissioned several mailings and hired precinct walkers to get out the vote.
Synadinos said the vote repudiated the "pro-development attitude" of the council.
Councilman Alan West, who backed Continental, said the Synadinos group's motive was not to stop development but to attack the council.
"That was their intent and I just feel sorry for Continental, which spent a lot of time and money on this project, because it got stuck in the middle," West said.
West said the residents group has a "hidden agenda" that includes running its own candidates for the council. Synadinos' wife, Le, was a councilwoman until she lost a reelection bid last year.
Synadinos said his wife does not intend to run again. He argued that the hidden-agenda charge is being leveled because "the council has lost its credibility."
Charges of dirty tricks were made by both sides throughout the campaign, including election day.
Police were called to the Center Street School polling place after a Proposition A opponent reported that Continental supporters were campaigning there illegally. A police spokesman said that when officers arrived, the only person present was the one who had complained, and it wasn't clear whether the single Continental supporter who had been there had been campaigning or just checking the voter lists.
Charles Bell, an attorney representing Continental, was upset about a flyer, which he claimed came from Synadinos' group, that said the developer had hired "scores of out-of-town street walkers" to canvass precincts.
"That wording has some less- than-good connotations," Bell said. The copy of the flyer in Bell's possession gave no indication of who put it out.
Synadinos said that although he did pass out some of the flyers, another group of homeowners was responsible for its contents. He also said the flyer had the signatures of those responsible on the back.
He said he would not have used the term "street walkers," but resented the use of out-of-towners to promote the issue.